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HHS Ignite: Science and Happiness Converge for CDC Scientists

Scientists in public health are typically portrayed in laboratory settings or laboriously crunching data on computers. But public health also finds answers in people as sources of data collection. Last year, the HHS Ignite Accelerator Program (Ignite) Summer 2019 Cohort provided six Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) scientists the opportunity to pursue happiness through laboratory science and integrated human centered design (HCD).

CDC Ignite


The Ignite Program is an internal innovation startup program for HHS staff who want to improve the way their program, office, or agency works. Since 2013, the program has selected small teams who identify complex problems and propose ideas on how to make improvements. Cohort participants receive training on HCD methods, coaching on how to solve problems, and how to design a solution in a fast-paced environment. At the end of the three-month process they present their findings.

It's All about Collaboration and Partnership

Sue Lin Yee, MPA, MPH, a senior health scientist in the Science Office at CDC's Center for Global Health (CGH), became "hungry for an opportunity" to apply the concepts of HCD in the public sector after attending the Lab at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Summer Design School in 2018. When the annual Ignite application was announced, Yee felt compelled to pursue this journey of happiness by applying for this opportunity. She approached her immediate supervisor, Vik Kapil, director of the CDC CGH Science Office, and embraced his suggestion of approaching laboratory safety in the global setting as a collaborative intra-agency project. The CGH and CSELS (Center for Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Laboratory Services) partnership was ideal because of a common focus on laboratory safety and training and both had a large laboratory presence." Both centers expressed an interest in the Ignite proposal.

The CDC "Laboratory safety in low resource countries" Ignite team evolves from then to beyond

During each stage in the Ignite process, from orientation, weekly meetings, boot camp, and preparing for their presentation in September 2019, there was a sense of confidence and joy emerging from the need for the work they were doing as a team. Their innovative project not only addressed how to improve laboratory safety and quality in low resource countries in Central America; it also created an opportunity for each of them to pursue the fulfillment of finding solutions using human centered perspectives. Aufra Araujo, PhD, a microbiologist with the CSELS Division of Laboratory Systems (DLS) who is fluent in Spanish said the opportunity blended her professional expertise and interests with her personal journey as a scientist. "I was able to communicate with end users from Central American laboratories in their mother language and gather their perspective on what their needs were to improve laboratory safety," she said.

CDC Lab Safety Team (l-r): Aufra Araujo, Sue Lin Yee, Sabrina DeBose, Michele Parsons with Ed Simcox, HHS chief technology officer on HHS Innovation Day. Photo by John Moynihan
CDC Lab Safety Team (l-r): Aufra Araujo, Sue Lin Yee, Sabrina DeBose, Michele Parsons with Ed Simcox, HHS chief technology officer on HHS Innovation Day. Photo by John Moynihan

The team's "what's next" is more than an end of story happy ending, but a continuous pursuit of happiness through their work. They have received support from CDC's CGH and CSELS leadership and have received the green light to move forward with developing a prototype of their concept. They will share the prototype with CDC's Central American Office and seeks to pilot the approach with laboratories in the region. Eventually, they would like to pilot the concept in clinical labs in the United States.


Posted In: 
Global Health
Public Health and Safety