Before They Were Scientists, They Were Students. These Are The Teachers Who Inspired COVID-19’s Leading Experts To Change The World.

It was Steve Lantos. 10th-grade chemistry. High school biology, Mrs. DeSmet. Probably more than anyone, it was my high-school chemistry teacher, Ms. Thornburg. For me, it was biochemistry. That was my favorite subject. Rohini was her name. My first science teacher in high school, Mr. Alicia. He was the one who inspired me to pursue infectious diseases. I would credit who I am today to him. He continues to inspire me even today. Dr. Melvyn Mosher, a funny man who looked like Albert Einstein and was a guest chemistry teacher at my high school.

I spoke to six people on the frontlines of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. I wanted to know who set them on their path to do this lifesaving work. Each one, leading epidemiologists and researchers, told me about a high-school science teacher who changed the course of their life. Sometimes, it was how they taught the subject matter. Sometimes, it was that these teachers believed in them when others didn’t. Most often, it was both. But one thing was clear: If it weren’t for these STEM teachers, the doctors and researchers keeping us safe today wouldn’t be doing this work. As much as we all are indebted to the frontline scientists, doctors, and researchers keeping us healthy and safe, they are indebted to the teachers who set them on their path. Here are their stories.

Nahid Bhadelia is the Associate Professor of Infectious Diseases at BU School of Medicine and the Medical Director, Special Pathogens Unit, at Boston Medical Center. Krutika Kuppalli is the Assistant Professor, Division of Infectious Diseases, Medical University of South Carolina and was the medical lead for an Alternate Care Site for San Francisco’s COVID-19 response. Syra Madad is the Senior Director of the System-wide Special Pathogens Program at NYC Health + Hospitals and is helping oversee New York City’s COVID response; she was also on the breakout Netflix show Pandemic (and shared an inspirational talk at 100Kin10’s Summit in April 2020). Gary Krishnan, a senior research fellow at the pharmaceutical giant, Lilly, is leading a team working on a cutting-edge treatment for COVID-19. Raga Krishnakumar is a researcher at Sandia National Labs, working at the intersection of bioscience and national security, looking at a therapeutic molecule that can reduce or alleviate COVID-19 symptoms. And Janelle Sabos is the Global Head of COVID-19 Neutralizing Antibody Clinical Development and Delivery, also at Lilly.

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