A life beyond her wildest dreams

Alumna Salome Scherer '15
Alumna Salome Scherer ’15

Alumna Salome Scherer’s career trajectory hasn’t always been linear — nor has it been easy. But with years of hard work, grit and determination, she has come further than she ever dreamed possible.

In 1998, she emigrated from Kenya to the United States with her husband and infant son in search of new opportunities. “I had to say goodbye to my parents, my siblings, most all of my family. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done,” Scherer said. “And while I was given new opportunities when I came to the U.S., I was also faced with new challenges.”

These included being a new mother, in a new country, all while searching for a new home and a new job. “Back then, I never would have believed you in a million years if you told me that I would one day be working for the Centers for Disease Control.” Scherer said. “I mean never. But here I am. It’s beyond my wildest dreams.”

A desire to do and be more

Scherer had worked as a fitness instructor in Kenya and continued in this line of work when she came to the United States. She got her first job at 24-hour fitness center where she was employed as a health and fitness specialist, creating individualized nutrition programs and offering one-to-one and group training. She liked it well enough, but as the years passed, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was destined for something more.

In spring 2000, she shifted her career path and began working at the University of Washington Medical Center. During the 16 years she spent there, Scherer held a variety of positions including office coordinator, billing assistant, patient service specialist and gastrointestinal technician. But after a while, that pull to something greater returned.

This time, however, the pull wasn’t just to find another job opportunity. It was a pull to pursue her bachelor’s degree.

This was certainly a daunting task for Scherer, who had never attended school in the U.S. and hadn’t been in a classroom for years, let alone for a college-level course. Her apprehension was exacerbated by the fact that, in addition to being a student again, she would need to continue as an employee, mother and wife.

“I had a lot of responsibilities. Managing all of that certainly wasn’t easy,” she said, “but I was determined.”

Searching for the spark

By attending UW Bothell, Scherer hoped that she would walk away not just with a degree but also with new passion. “I had held so many different jobs, but you know, none of them felt completely right,” she said. “I was still searching for that spark.”

She found it her junior year while working with Dr. Charlie Collins, associate professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences. “I did a project with Professor Collins and conducted a sleep study for UW Bothell students. I collected data from people across campus who were of different ages and majors,” she said. “Generating statistics and graphing the data — that was the spark that ignited my passion for the work I’m doing now.”

Scherer graduated in 2015 with a degree in Community Psychology and in 2016 enrolled in the Health Informatics & Health Information Management master’s program at UW’s School of Public Health. During this time, she started volunteering at Public Health – Seattle & King County where she was subsequently hired as an epidemiologist, right before the start of the pandemic.

“I worked there for two years, uncovering COVID-19 data patterns, trends and outcomes for the homeless population in King County,” she said. “I also worked on data analysis, searching for ways to create a strategic response that improves health care.”

Dream turns into reality

From this job, Scherer was well positioned to work for the CDC as a data analyst. She is currently working with the Illinois Department of Health on electronic case reporting, an automated, real-time exchange of case report information between electronic health records and public health agencies.

“It makes contact tracing really easy,” Scherer explained. “If a person goes in and tests positive for COVID-19 or another infectious disease, an alert is sent out to the state health department that will then go to the CDC.”

Right now, Illinois is upgrading its electronic reporting system, and Scherer is making sure all of the jurisdictions register and upload their health records. “They are a major jurisdiction, so this is critical,” she said. “Having this information is essential to creating a safe, healthy community.”

Scherer finds great pride knowing that the work she does makes an impact.

“I love that I am a part of something bigger than myself and that the work I am doing will help a lot of people,” she said. “I never in my life thought I would be here.”

Nod to immunization awareness

Recognizing that August is National Immunization Month, Scherer said she encourages people to get vaccinated.

“From my time in Kenya, I know that people still get sick with polio,” she said. “It is largely eradicated here in the U.S., but all it takes is one person to travel to a country where viruses like polio still exist, and if they are not immunized and make contact with a sick person they can bring it back to the states.

“It’s not like the old days where you would have to take a steamship to travel,” she said. “All it takes is one person, one flight, one interaction.”

Having worked at Public Health – Seattle & King County during the height of the pandemic, Scherer also said she understands vaccine hesitancy.

“A lot of people of color were choosing not to get vaccinated, and I realized that you have to meet people where they are,” she said. “A lot of times, there is historical trauma, like the Tuskegee experiments where Black people thought they were getting treated for syphilis but instead were lied to so scientists could observe what would happen if they went untreated.

“I want to help people understand that vaccinations aren’t harmful but instead prevent harm.”

Working at the CDC, this kind of advocacy is just one of the many ways Scherer is making a positive difference in the world. “I am so happy to be where I am today, and I got here by working hard and believing in myself. It’s been a journey, and it’s been the very best,” she said. “I can’t wait to see where the road takes me next.”

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