Jordan Roiland ’21 was among the unfortunate group of students around the world whose college experience was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. For Roiland, however, the experience brought with it an insight that guided the start of his career and opened the door to work on a tropical island at the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
“I ended up at the CDC in part because of the pandemic,” said Roiland, who graduated with honors and double majored in applied mathematics, statistics and biochemistry. “I felt called to serve in public health, and in the fall of my senior year, I started Googling public health jobs.”
Roiland found a website for the CDC’s Public Health Associate Program (PHAP), a training program for recent graduates that does not require a degree specifically related to public health or previous public health experience. The program aims to attract people with diverse and unique experience in the field.
Roiland applied and was hired after graduation as a public health associate. In his application, when asked about preferred locations, Roiland only asked for somewhere provincial and conservative.
“My previous experience was in Long Island, Queens and New York, and I wanted an experience outside of my bubble,” said Roiland, who grew up in South Huntington, New York. “I also asked to work in sexual or reproductive health as that is my passion area.”
Roiland said he expected to be matched in a Midwestern state, but to his surprise he found a match in Saipan in the Community of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), a remote US territory near Guam in the Pacific Ocean, nearly 8,000 miles from home.
“I had never heard of this amazing place before [I received] this email,” he said.
She immediately felt she was exactly where she needed to be and is currently working in the field of cervical cancer and HPV prevention.
“I’m interested in how public health departments balance the work related to COVID with the work not related to COVID,” he said. “I think that side — the chronic and non-communicable side of public health — is often forgotten or underestimated because it’s incredibly important work, but it’s often not in the news cycles. At my hosting site, I have completed a report on the current status of HPV, HPV vaccination, and cervical cancer, and am now interviewing community members to gauge their readiness to develop a response plan to increase cervical cancer screening.”
Roiland describes his current work as a major 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 connections 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 for educators to explore and teach their passion, and I learned what to consider when trying to find my own passion.”
Roiland believes these studies prepared him to feel comfortable continuing to study on his own after graduation. Using these skills, Roiland is currently working on an interagency effort to improve care for LGBTQ* patients.
“Most of my local friends are in the LGBTQ* community and I’m trying to use my position at the hospital to make meaningful reforms to training standards and bring recognition to the Hospital’s Human Rights Campaign’s Health Equality Index,” he said.
Although he was accepted to other schools, Roiland said he chose Stony Brook — where his parents met — because of the diversity, affordability and strength of the academic programs and research.
“I became interested in social issues as a young queer man, but I wasn’t equipped with the necessary tools and perspective,” he said. “In my second year as an RA, my co-RA spent a lot of time explaining things to me that I hadn’t learned or thought about, and I slowly began to dismantle my way of thinking. I applied to transfer as an RA to the BA College of Social Justice, Justice and Ethics, Chávez and Tubman Halls, and my learning and passion skyrocketed, thanks to my fellow RAs and professional staff.”
When not working, Roiland takes advantage of his island surroundings, enjoying scuba diving, reading, writing, photography, hiking, snorkeling, dancing, and sailing. He has also participated in the opening and closing ceremonies of the Pacific Mini Games, a series of athletics competitions for Pacific Island Nations and Territories held every four years.
“I trained with my team for months and sometimes six days a week,” he said. “It was a beautiful display of 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 further his education.
“I’m not sure exactly where I want to be, but I know I want to continue working for the under-resourced population,” he said. “Part of me fell in love with the CNMI, but another part of me knows that there is much to be done in terms of LGBTQ* health equity in the United States and around the world. And 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, ex- or current-prisoners, and minority ethnicities, and he’s excited for his deployment around February 2023. “I don’t know what my theme will be, but I can’t wait to to help again in a meaningful, immediate way in a new place.”
— Robert Emprotto