Our People: Katherine Gora Combs
Katherine Gora Combs molds her passions into strengths.
Name: Katherine Gora Combs
Position: I’m a senior in the Department of Biostatistics and co-president of the School’s Student Government Association
Time at the Gillings School: I’ve been studying here for three years.
What I do at UNC Gillings (and why I love it): I study biostatistics, which I describe as the source of any number you see related to a health issue. Basically, if the CDC or WHO reports on a number, a biostatistician probably calculated it.
As an undergraduate student, what I love most about Gillings is that a lot of my classes have undergrads studying with master’s and doctoral students and people from allied health sciences. This has given me an understanding of public health from so many viewpoints. I really appreciate gaining such a comprehensive view of my field.
Student government has played a part in that, too, since we have representatives from every department at the School. We act as the student voice of Gillings, support academic and social events, and have a direct connection with the deans, the alumni board and other leadership. Last year, we did our first big collaboration for National Public Health Week, and we served more than 500 students at over 20 events. We’re planning even more activities for this year, because we really care about celebrating everything our School contributes to public health.
I also study music: which is the reason I chose to come to UNC. This is one of the only universities that was willing to support both my passions with a double major in biostatistics and music. I never could have chosen just one path to follow! The double major has given me a lot of opportunities, like performing in ensembles and taking classes in history and music theory. I plan to study health communications in graduate school, and I ultimately want to work in epidemiology — but I’ll keep playing music no matter where I go.
The pivotal moment that led me to public health: happened early in my life. My dad is a member of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The Corps focuses on advancing the health and safety of the nation. Commissioned Corps officers can be deployed for various needs, including responding to natural disasters. When I was eight years old, my dad — who is a dentist and an MPH graduate of the Gillings School — was deployed to help after Hurricane Katrina. The stories and pictures he brought back changed everything for me. Seeing how the course of just a few days could completely destroy a community crystallized the impact I wanted to make with my life.
When it comes to biostatistics specifically, I discovered that passion when I joined the North Carolina Science Olympiad. I started in middle school, competed through high school, and now I help write the state exam and mentor coaches for the “Disease Detectives” event.
The best advice I ever received: was from my parents, who instilled in me the value of following your passions, no matter how disconnected they may seem! This advice led me to develop research interests at the intersection of many public health areas. I think success in all disciplines lies in an interdisciplinary approach that combines multiple strengths.
The thing I’m looking forward to most in the next year: is exploring a new field and maybe a new city. Grad school will be another chapter in my life, and I don’t know exactly how the pages will be filled. Honestly, I’m excited for what the future holds.
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