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Dirks named Public Health Specialist

South Dakota State University President Barry Dunn announced today Laura Dirks will serve as the university’s public health specialist, a new position that will play a critical role in helping the university operate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dirks will be responsible for working with SDSU and Brookings community leadership to create, implement and communicate systems and strategies to monitor, promote and maintain individual and community health. She will develop programs and plans related to education, assessment, public health and policy that supports SDSU’s planning efforts and engages the Brookings health care system and community leaders.

“We are excited to have Laura join the SDSU family as we continue to bring employees and students back to campus and prepare for the fall semester and beyond,” said SDSU President Barry Dunn. “We are committed to an environment where our employees and students can be successful, and Laura’s training and experience is extremely valuable as we navigate an everchanging environment. She will ensure we are considering the proper guidance and protocols within all areas of our planning and operations and coordinating the campus’ efforts with the community of Brookings and its health care system.”

Dirks graduated from SDSU in December 2017 with majors in both chemistry and biochemistry. She minored in health communication and biology. In May, Dirks earned her Master of Public Health in global health from the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta. Her studies included a concentration in infectious disease.

During her time at Emory, Dirks served as a One Health practicum student at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention where she supported COVID-19 zoonotic response efforts, in addition to serving in a support role for the development and implementation of CDC workshops throughout the world.

Dirks was also a graduate research assistant for Emory’s Center for the Health of Incarcerated Persons where she managed and supported various research projects and research-related activities. The center works to improve the health of individuals in correctional facilities.

“I am excited to join the ongoing efforts at SDSU to address COVID-19’s impact on higher education,” Dirks said. “As an SDSU alum, I look forward to serving as a resource for both the SDSU and Brookings communities as we navigate reopening. I am grateful to be welcomed back to a university and community so dedicated to the health of their students.”

“Laura will be a tremendous resource for our community and provide valuable coordination and communication with our community and its health system,” said Brookings Mayor Keith Corbett. “The pandemic has certainly impacted our community and its businesses, but together we have managed to date its health impacts. Working together to bring students back to the university is important and it will help our community recover from an economic standpoint. We must work closely together to ensure we create the best environment possible and consider everyone’s safety and well-being. Laura will have an important role in that process.”

Dirks will serve on the SDSU Emergency Management Team and the JackRBack Task Force, a group currently developing and implementing plans for employees and students returning to campus before the start of the fall semester. Dirks will report to Tracy Greene, SDSU’s general counsel and incoming chair of EMT.