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Big Green rower had front-row seat to the crisis response at CDC

  • Dartmouth College junior rower Michael Green in action in an undated photograph. Green spent 10 weeks this winter as an intern with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta as the coronavirus pandemic was growing.

  • Dartmouth College junior Michael Green in an undated photograph. Green spent 10 weeks during the school's winter term as an intern with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

  • Junior Michael Green, far right, competes with Dartmouth College heavyweight men's crew fifth varsity boat in an undated photograph. Green spent 10 weeks during his winter term working as an intern with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

  • Michael Green

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/29/2020 8:52:26 PM
Modified: 3/29/2020 8:56:22 PM

HANOVER — When Dartmouth College junior Michael Green began his winter-term internship in January, the novel coronavirus outbreak was limited to China and Green’s future with the Dartmouth heavyweight crew team held promise.

Green is now at home in Columbia, Md., awaiting the start of a new term away from Hanover, uncertain when he’ll be able to return north. Dartmouth rowing won’t have a spring season. The virus has become a worldwide concern.

Green observed the virus’ progress from a cubicle at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Initially assigned to work with the CDC’s communications efforts — what a predecessor had told Green would be “boring” work, he said — it proved to be anything but.

“Seeing our public health infrastructure at work on a virus which started as just a few cases evolve into a global pandemic in the course of my 10-week internship was truly astonishing,” Green recently wrote in an essay for the Dartmouth athletics website. “The communication channels responsible for the distribution of information persisted at a constant roar throughout the day. I have never experienced being so fully engulfed in a real-world event in my life.”

The CDC protects the country “from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S.,” according to its mission statement. Green, an anthropology major with an interest in public health policy, learned a lot from being a part of it before the internship ended at the beginning of March.

“Even when you really dedicate an entire career to something, it takes very large teams to create change in anything, especially in public health,” Green said in a phone interview. “If you have a couple of missing pieces or have the logistics wrong on an issue, it will still have a widespread impact. All things being simple on face value, behind the scenes it’s very, very complex.”

Green initially began working on communication access projects, with the goal of making CDC information usually absorbed by academics and health care professionals more easily available to the general public. That quickly changed as the pandemic grew.

Over the rest of his internship, Green helped his CDC superiors identify professionals capable of volunteering for work evaluating arrivals at several U.S. airports, collecting data from screenings as those ports of entry and analyzing the results.

“This provided perspective on a very global issue to me,” Green said. “The world is such a connected place now. Before, if I wanted to go anywhere in the U.S. from Baltimore-Washington International Airport, I could get anywhere for $300 round-trip with a couple of clicks on my phone. I could end up in San Diego tomorrow.

“(COVID-19) is something that can escalate very quickly. … This is an issue that is not easy to understand, but you get a lot more context on how something like this could happen, how it could be more plausible when you look at it as globalized rather than U.S.-centric.”

Although Columbia — located midway between Washington and Baltimore — is home, Green spent three high school years living with his father outside of Milwaukee. The younger Green played football, ran track and served as student senate president at Wauwatosa West High before arriving at Dartmouth.

Green discovered crew with the help of Big Green coach Wyatt Allen’s on-campus recruiting efforts. Despite no prior experience on the water, Green discovered for himself a new athletic and competitive outlet. Allen has roughly 50 athletes spread out over five boats; Green rowed fifth varsity last spring.

“He’s still playing catch-up like most walk-ons,” Allen said in a phone interview from his Etna home. “But what strikes me about Michael is he loves being part of a team and appreciates the opportunity. He’s one of those guys who is enthusiastic and working hard every day. He could be the odd man out, but he really seems to appreciate the opportunity, which makes him a real pleasure to work with.”

As the virus crisis grew and his CDC responsibilities changed, Green could tell this spring would be like none other. His initial return plan included driving from Atlanta to Clemson, S.C., where Allen was scheduled to bring the Big Green on March 14 for preseason training. The Ivy League canceled its basketball tournaments on March 10, and the spring sports season soon followed.

“We were ranked eighth in the country in the preseason coaches’ poll,” Allen noted. “That, for us, is a good starting point rankings-wise.”

Instead, Green begins spring term on Monday remotely, taking Dartmouth classes on a laptop from the kitchen table in his family’s Maryland home. In addition to losing his season, Green recently had an offer for a summer internship with a Connecticut-based research and advisory company rescinded. However, his CDC experience provides perspective.

“Because I’ve been worrying about this for 10 weeks on winter term, I guess the worry I have is a little less now,” Green said, “because I know why things are going this way.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.

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