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Alumni Success Story: Alia Bly '20
As a junior at Tallulah Falls School, Alia Bly and her classmate Sophie Alexander found research on particle physics and took them to chemistry teacher Beth Huebner’s room to try and explain them to her. “We would use the conversions that we learned in her class to convert between very inane things, but Mrs. Huebner would happily review our sheets of theoretical conversions between kilojoules and bananas,” Bly said.
Even though chemistry was difficult, Bly developed an understanding of how struggling could make her stronger. “Mrs. Heubner – she was fantastic. I still text her when I do something cool in chemistry.” Mrs Huebner saw that Bly never quit. “She had a drive, she was going to get it,” Huebner said. “She always brought in interesting ideas and applied them to the real world.”
As Bly reached the end of her senior year at TFS, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world. In 2020, Bly finished her senior year online. “It was intellectually and socially challenging, but it encouraged me to develop an individual passion for learning. I spent a lot of time in quarantine reading and exploring new disciplines that I’ve ended up pursuing,” said Bly.
Bly’s inquisitive spirit and passion for learning have taken her on an epic journey. She began her studies at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia as a biology major; however, she started her coursework in biochemistry. She immediately clicked with her chemistry professor, Dr. Nkomo from Zimbabwe. He invited her to work on a project processing the data of a study focusing on climate change mitigation in Zimbabwe. The team interviewed members of the community to learn how they discuss what was happening around them. They asked questions like, “What has happened to your crops and how has this affected your lifestyle?” They developed coding systems to generate empirical scientific data from the lived experiences of the participants. The research team used the data to write a manuscript that is being reviewed for publication.
From there, Bly focused on building concepts in fundamental and data sciences. “I was confident that having the basis of data analytics would be useful information across the sciences,” said Bly. “I was interested in transitioning to the study of infectious diseases.”
This led her to a focused study on co-infections of Hansen's disease (leprosy) and parasitic helminth infections like giardia and schistosomiasis in Minas Gerais, Brazil. “I utilize statistical methodologies to detect if the relationship between a specific factor, like nutrition and disease contraction, is significant in that it is a major driver of infection. This informs future interventions in communities that aim to reduce the spread of disease,” Bly said.
Bly found ways to incorporate her work into community service with Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health supporting the Georgia Coalition for Higher Education in Prison. She was part of a team that tested inmates for COVID at the Fulton County jail. Their mission was to try to mitigate the burden of COVID within the prison setting. Through this work, Bly had the opportunity to join a panel that spoke at Morehouse College regarding community building and re-entry services for previously incarcerated residents of Atlanta.
In October of 2022, Bly had another opportunity to present some of her studies at the American Chemical Society conference in Puerto Rico. There, she was able to meet other researchers in the field including 2021 Nobel Prize winner David MacMillan.
This summer, Bly traveled to Ghana with the OKB Hope Foundation, a non profit organization focused on global health care access. She traveled throughout villages around the outskirts of Kumasi, Ghana to provide chronic and infectious disease screening services and health education. She learned techniques in laboratory diagnosis of malaria and shadowed internal medicine practitioners at the The Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital who specialize in infectious disease diagnostics and therapeutics.
For Bly, TFS provided a level of rigor that gave her the background to be adaptable as she draws on multiple fields, pursing social good, working on partnerships and contributing to knowledge in a transdisciplinary manner. “It gave me the fortitude to get through experiences that are quite challenging,” she said. In addition, Bly is thankful for the emphasis on kindness at TFS. “Kindness has allowed me to make so many strong relationships and build community, and this gives me a perspective on the work that I do,” she said.
Bly is currently preparing to begin her senior year at Emory University while simultaneously starting her master's degree in Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health with a focus on infectious disease epidemiology.