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Three students begin IIAD undergraduate internship program

Following a nationwide application process, the Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases (IIAD), a Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Center of Excellence, recently selected three interns to participate in the IIAD Undergraduate Internship Program. Since 2015, the Institute has hosted undergraduate students majoring in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or agricultural education and sciences to conduct research and extension activities with IIAD principal investigators and programs. This year, all three of the students chosen are from Texas A&M University.

Senior Hannah Kulak is from Boling, Texas. She is an agricultural science major with a double minor in agronomy and horticulture and is working towards obtaining a teaching certificate in secondary agricultural science. During her internship, Kulak will be working under IIAD’s evaluation specialist, Jessica Cargill, MPH and will be assisting with conducting evaluations of IIAD’s educational training programs – including assisting in the development of survey instruments, administering surveys and preparing evaluation reports to summarize research findings. Kulak said she applied to this internship for the opportunity to learn about new aspects of professional programs.

“I hope to gain a better knowledge of the education and outreach programs that IIAD offers,” Kulak said. “I also want to learn the most effective way to use surveys to evaluate knowledge learned and how behavior was affected for an event or program.”

After graduation, Kulak plans to pursue a career as an agricultural science teacher at the high school level.

Charlotte Whittaker is a junior from Austin, Texas and is majoring in animal science with an equine certificate. During her time with IIAD, her duties include assisting with the Texas 4-H Veterinary Science Camp and trainings for teachers using the Veterinary Science Certificate Program curriculum. Whittaker said she applied for the program in hopes of getting involved in the youth veterinary paraprofessional community and learning more about the veterinary science field.

“I like working with young people and teaching,” Whittaker said. “I hope to gain experience teaching and writing educational material, while also establishing contacts in the veterinary industry that can help prepare me for veterinary school.”

Whittaker will be working under Joe Mask, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and IIAD as an assistant professor and extension specialist. After graduation, Whittaker intends to pursue a Master of Science in animal reproduction and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine with a focus on large animals.


Brianna Willis was born in Kaiserslautern, Germany to U.S. military parents, and graduated from TAMU in May 2017 with an animal science degree. Her internship is based in Manhattan, Kansas, at Kansas State University (KSU). Willis’ duties include assisting with projects relating to epidemiology and disease surveillance of high consequence animal and zoonotic diseases. She will also be working on projects with IIAD, KSU and the National Agricultural Biosecurity Center (NABC) and will be supervised by Ken Burton, DVM, NABC Program Director.

Following an international internship in 2016, Willis applied for this internship to gain a different perspective of the disease surveillance field.

“My internship with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations last summer introduced me to the international aspect of disease surveillance and networking,” Willis said. “I wanted to learn more about disease surveillance efforts on the state side.”

Willis plans to pursue a career as an epidemiologist and hopes to work internationally.

The IIAD Undergraduate Internship Program is an annual program that places high achieving undergraduate into mentorships with IIAD personnel or partners who are conducting research, development, surveillance, or outreach activities to support U.S. Department of Homeland Security agricultural biosecurity efforts. The program introduces the next generation of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, agricultural education and agricultural sciences students to the homeland security enterprise, enabling and empowering the development of the next generation of homeland security professionals. The program is managed by Kelly Soltysiak, Ph.D., IIAD program coordinator. For more information, please contact Soltysiak at Kelly.Soltysiak@ag.tamu.edu.

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