Alum Promotes Diversity, Public Health in a Pacific Paradise

Jordan Roiland ’21 was in the unfortunate group of students around the world who had their college experience disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, for Roiland, the experience brought with it an epiphany that has guided the beginnings of his career and opened the door to a job on a tropical island with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

“I ended up with the CDC partially due to the pandemic,” said Roiland, who graduated summa cum laude and double majored in applied mathematics and statistics and biochemistry. “I felt a call to serve in some public health capacity, and in the fall of my senior year I started Googling jobs in public health.”

Roiland cdc

Roiland found a website for the CDC’s Public Health Associate Program, a training program for recent graduates that does not require a degree explicitly related to public health or prior public health experience. The program is intended to draw people with diverse and unique backgrounds to the field.

Roiland applied and was hired after graduation as a public health associate. In his application, when asked for preferred locations, Roiland asked only for somewhere rural and conservative.

“My prior experience was in Long Island, Queens and New York City, and I wanted experience outside of my bubble,” said Roiland, who grew up in South Huntington, NY. “I also asked to work in sexual or reproductive health, as this area is a passion of mine.”

Roiland said he expected to be matched in a state in the Midwest, but to his surprise he matched in Saipan in the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), a remote U.S. territory near Guam in the Pacific, nearly 8,000 miles from home.

“I had never even heard of this incredible place before [I received] that email,” he said.

Immediately, he felt that it was exactly where he needed to be, and he currently works in cervical cancer and HPV prevention.

“My interest is in how public health departments were balancing COVID work with non-COVID work,” he said. “I think that this side — the chronic and noncommunicable side of public health — is often forgotten or underappreciated, as it is incredibly important work but often not in the news cycles. At my host site, I completed a report about the current state of HPV, HPV vaccination and cervical cancer, and now I am interviewing community members to assess their readiness for developing a response plan to increase cervical cancer screening.”

Roiland scuba

Roiland describes his current work as a pivot from his undergraduate studies in the departments of Applied Mathematics and Statistics, Biochemistry and Cell Biology and Chemistry, but said he learned key life lessons at Stony Brook and maintains relationships with faculty in each department.

“I learned a lot from my professors,” he said. “One of the most important things was learning what it looks like to see faculty researching and teaching their passion, and I learned what to consider when trying to find my own passion.”

Roiland credited those studies with preparing him to be comfortable continuing learning on his own after graduation. Leveraging those skills, Roiland is currently working on an interdepartmental effort to improve care for LGBTQ* patients.

“Most of my local friends are in the LGBTQ* community, and I am trying to use my position in the hospital to make meaningful reforms to training standards and bring the hospital Human Rights Campaign Healthcare Equality Index recognition,” he said.

Although he was accepted to other schools, Roiland said he chose Stony Brook — where his parents met — because of its diversity, affordability and strength in academic programs and research.

“I became interested in social issues as a young queer man, but was not equipped with the tools and perspective I needed,” he said. “In my sophomore year as an RA, my co-RA spent a lot of time explaining to me things I hadn’t learned or thought of, and I slowly began to disassemble my way of thinking. I applied to transfer as an RA to the Social Justice, Equity and Ethics Undergraduate College, Chávez and Tubman Halls, and my learning and passion skyrocketed, thanks to my fellow RAs and professional staff.”

Roiland reed

When not working, Roiland takes advantage of his island surroundings, enjoying scuba diving, reading, writing, photography, hiking, snorkeling, dancing and sailing. He has also performed for the opening and closing ceremonies for the Pacific Mini Games, a series of athletics competitions across Pacific Island nations and territories that occurs every four years.

“I practiced with my team for months and, at times, six days a week,” he said. “It was a beautiful display of the local Chamorro culture and history and an honor to be allowed to perform with my group, Songsong Måmi.”

Roiland is now applying to medical schools to continue his education.

“I’m not sure exactly where I want to be, but I know I wish to continue working for populations that are under-resourced,” he said. “A piece of me has fallen in love with the CNMI, but another piece of me knows there is much to be done regarding LGBTQ* health equity in the United States and globally. And yet another part of me has recently become very passionate about serving people who are incarcerated.”

Roiland said many of his friends are some mix of queer, formerly or currently incarcerated, and of minority ethnicity, and he is excited for his deployment around February 2023. “I don’t know what my topic will be, but I am eager to again be assisting in a meaningful, immediate way somewhere new.”

— Robert Emproto

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