Afyia Miller

Afyia Miller, MS '16

When Afyia Miller was a child growing up on the southernmost island in the Caribbean, she assumed she’d earn a chemical engineering degree in the United States and return to Trinidad after obtaining a well-paying job in the petroleum industry.

“It’s a very popular career path back home,” Afyia said.

At age 17, she emigrated to the U.S. and began her undergraduate degree at Rutgers University.

She soon developed an interest in biology, and discovered she wanted to pursue a career that would allow her to help people. Initially, she thought she might want to be a medical doctor. Talks with college advisors, however, led Afyia to realize the field of public health matched her interests more closely.

After graduating from Rutgers with a bachelor’s in public health in 2012, Afyia deployed her natural gifts for data analysis and management at various medical organizations. Seeking career advancement and new challenges, Afyia decided to tackle post-graduate education, and in 2014, was accepted into Columbia’s Executive MS Program in Epidemiology.

“I chose this program for two reasons: First, Columbia is a top school in public health. Second, I needed a program with a flexible schedule so I could continue working fulltime and maintain financial security,” Afyia said. Though she attends in-person classes just one weekend each month, she feels supported in her studies and connected to her classmates.

“There’s a great student-professor dynamic and the teaching assistants are very responsive when I have questions,” Afyia said. “My classes are small at around 20 people. It’s easy for us to use the online platform to collaborate on projects and help each other.”

Afyia was “surprised” by how thoroughly she enjoys testing different statistical models to explore various aspects of population health. Right now, she’s preparing to start her thesis. With the help of program director Dr. Katherine M. Keyes, she’s narrowing down a topic and locating an appropriate data set.

“If I can get funding, I plan to pursue a PhD,” Afyia said. “The Exec MS program is amazing and has taught me so much. I just want to keep going.”

In 2015, Afyia obtained American citizenship. She plans to remain in the US and engage in global public research and prevention efforts. Noting the exceptionally high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean (second only to Sub-Saharan Africa), she said she has a special interest in studying HIV-related comorbidities.

Afyia is grateful to have the opportunity to give back to Trinidad — even from over 2,000 miles away. And these days, she has a difficult time imagining herself as an engineer at a petrochemical company.

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