photo of Kristin Wall smiling with tree in background


This fall, Kristin Wall, BS, '06, will begin working as an assistant professor in epidemiology at Emory University. There she'll continue research she began in 2009 on HIV-prevention in Africa.

Wall's interest in research began while she was a biomedical engineering undergraduate student. At UT, she worked with Professor Surangani Dharmawardhane in biology (currently with University of Puerto Rico) and with Professor Rebecca Richards-Kortum in biomedical engineering (currently with Rice University). With these professors she used microscopy and imaging to detect early cervical and oral cancers and learned to love being in a lab.

"My professors encouraged me to apply for awards and attend conferences, and seeing them, as women who were successful at research and also had families was inspiring and motivated me to take a similar path," says Wall.

After graduating in 2006 from UT Austin's inaugural biomedical engineering undergraduate class, Wall attended The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston to focus on global health and work on a master's in epidemiology. During this time, she collected data on screening women for breast cancer in Mexico.

During her MS, Wall applied for an NIH Fogarty Fellowship that took her to Africa, specifically Rwanda and Zambia to conduct HIV-prevention research. While in Africa, she applied the lab skills she learned as an undergraduate in biomedical engineering and worked alongside a researcher from Emory University, Dr. Susan Allen.

Her experience in Africa helped her later acquire a position with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta where she conducted malaria research. A year later, she moved across the street from the CDC to Emory University where she began doctoral work with Dr. Susan Allen who she met in Africa. Wall continued her HIV research and earned a Ph.D. in epidemiology.

"One of the main goals of my research is to increase HIV-testing rates in sub-Saharan Africa," says Wall. "The key to HIV prevention is testing. If people don't know if they're positive or negative, they're not getting care, and they could be spreading disease."

Wall works with the Rwanda Zambia HIV Research Group which provides HIV counseling and testing, as well as family planning services, to couples in Rwanda and Zambia. The result has been successful, particularly in Rwanda, where couples testing is now incorporated in government clinics and is a component to national policy. There are still challenges in Zambia, which is a larger country with 72 different languages, and logistical barriers.

"In Rwanda, one radio commercial can reach a number of people in one language, whereas in Zambia, people are spread out across the geography and there are different cultures, which make it more challenging to reach people with the information we want to provide," says Wall.

Wall credits her time at UT with giving her a fundamental understanding of the scientific process, and she's grateful that today, she can apply engineering principles to HIV and other global health issues.