BUHS grad carves a career niche for her own curiosity

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BRATTLEBORO — Growing up in Windham County, Blanche Greene Cramer never dreamed she would one day become a "disease detective" for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"I was more focused on physics and becoming a biomedical engineer," she told the Reformer during a recent telephone interview from the CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service Conference in Atlanta.

Greene-Cramer attended St. Michael's Catholic School, Marlboro Elementary School, and Hilltop Montessori before graduating from Brattleboro Union High School in 2002.

"I came out of BUHS with a really strong science background and advanced mathematics," she said.

While a student at BUHS, Greene-Cramer took courses at SIT Graduate Institute and Marlboro College as part of BUHS' independent studies program.

Following graduation, she attended Brown University in Providence, R.I., where she enrolled in Brown's Science Studies program.

"At a different school, I might not have thought outside the box of mathematics or physics," said Greene-Cramer, who had a moment of epiphany when she took a public health course.

"I realized this was a field where I could apply the math and science I had learned in high school. After Brown, I knew I wanted to go into public health, so I got my master's from Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health with a focus on global health."

But after receiving her master's, Greene-Cramer wasn't exactly sure how to apply her newly found knowledge until she became a VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) volunteer with Americorps and was assigned to the United Way in Austin, Texas. It was through her Americorps experience that she became aware of the University of Texas Health Science Center in Austin where she received her doctorate in 2015.

"I first started working in childhood obesity research while working on pursuing my master's," said Greene-Cramer. Her thesis dissertation for her doctoral studies was on childhood obesity in India. "I brought that back home to Texas for my post-doc."

While a student at Emory, Greene-Cramer first heard about the CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service and considered applying to the program, but instead decided to pursue her doctorate.

"When I finished with my doctorate, folks encouraged me to apply because the EIS was looking for behavioral scientists," she said. "It became clear to me that it was really the direction I wanted to go, coming back to that idea of service and applied epidemiology on topics that are timely and actionable that serve populations at home and abroad."

On April 11, Greene-Cramer was one of a number of speakers who presented at the 67th Annual Epidemic Intelligence Service Conference. Her topic was "Trajectories of Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms among International Humanitarian Aid Workers." She also presented her study on "Infant and Young Child Feeding Practices among Rohingya Refugees in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh" at this year's EIS conference.

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"International aid workers often work in places where there is violence and human suffering, and witnessing these things can trigger post-traumatic stress symptoms," she said. "We identified potential risk factors that make it more likely that an aid worker may experience such symptoms, such as having children, having fewer organization support services, and having previous treatment for mental illness. Establishing these risk factors allows organizations to identify workers who may need additional support, as well as organizational actions that can help workers cope."

Greene-Cramer credited her parents and the schools she attended in Windham County for sparking her interests in the sciences. Greene-Cramer is the daughter of Mary Greene and Walter Cramer, who live in Marlboro. She has three younger siblings — Rebecca, Oliver and Charles.

She had special thanks for David Holfzpal, Chris O'Brien and Steve Perrin for helping her develop her critical thinking skills.

"Mr. Perrin was really phenomenal in getting me interested in chemistry and before Mr. O'Brien I didn't even know what physics was," she said. "And because of him it became this really amazing thing."

"I would credit her intellect and curiosity and all-around brilliance on genetics," Holzapfel said with a chuckle.

He taught Greene-Cramer in the fifth and sixth grades at Marlboro. He said that though it's hard to tell what kind of a career path a child might take when they are only 10 or 12 years old, he is not surprised at how successful Green-Cramer has been since graduating from BUHS. "Clearly there were evident attributes that pointed in that direction; a combination of curiosity, perseverance and a flexible mind."

"I am pretty humbled that she credited me with being a part of the body of work she has become," said Perrin, who is now principal at BUHS. "Blanche is an amazing student, incredible and self-motivated. She is one of those rare students who really pushed me to be a better teacher."

Greene-Cramer was a remarkable, unforgettable, and multi-talented student, wrote O'Brien in an email to the Reformer.

"She had an extraordinarily high personal standard with respect to effort and performance," he wrote. "She was intrinsically self-motivated and intensely curious; a course grade was incidental to her. Instead, she was driven by her need to fully understand material presented to her or discovered by her. It was truly a gift to be able to learn some physics with her."

Greene-Cramer truly believes this little corner of Vermont is unique in the way it prizes intellect, education and inquiry. "The offerings are so unique. I don't come across that in a lot of places. There are phenomenal things Brattleboro has to offer students." She returns to Vermont each year to visit family and hopes during one of those visits she can speak with students.

"Currently, I mentor college and graduate students. Getting to talk about the work I do and opening doors for ideas as to what their work might look like is something I care a great deal about. I would love to talk to high school kids. The direction I took is an example of how life can be fairly non-linear."

Bob Audette can be contacted

at 802-254-2311, ext. 151,

or raudette@reformer.com.


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