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Infectious Disease Fellow made most of year at UGA

Jolanda Walker poses for a photo with her husband Ronald Walker.
Jolanda Walker, UGA's Army War College Fellow for 2020-2021, is pictured with her husband Ronald Walker. (Submitted photo)

Army War College colonel wraps up yearlong Senior Service College Fellowship

While on campus during the 2020-2021 academic year, Col. Jolanda Walker, University of Georgia’s Senior Service College Fellow from the Army War College, made deep connections on campus—both through her academic work and by building relationships with UGA faculty and staff.

The U.S. Army War College provides a yearlong opportunity to broaden the perspectives of up to 80 Army officers each year and prepare them for service at the strategic level through the Senior Service College Fellowship Program. The fellowship’s primary goal is professional development that integrates unique ambassadorial opportunities for Army officers to conduct research and communicate with key civilians who shape national and international security policy at universities, institutes and government agencies across the nation and world.

UGA has hosted Walker as an Infectious Disease Fellow for the 2020-2021 academic year, with the fellowship concluding at the end of June. She attended classes and worked with professor Pej Rohani, an expert in infectious diseases with joint appointments in UGA’s Odum School of Ecology and College of Veterinary Medicine. As key components of her fellowship, Walker completed two papers—one outlining a national laboratory testing strategy as part of pandemic response and another on the impact of COVID-19 on Army recruitment.

“My placement at UGA occurred at the perfect time in my career and in the nation’s history.  As a clinical lab scientist, I was interested in UGA’s Infectious Disease Fellowship and the dynamic nature of COVID-19 over the past year only enriched this experience. UGA’s contributions to COVID-19 research provided me with an invaluable opportunity to apply what I was learning in this program to real-time problem sets currently impacting the world. This past year has taught me to think through multilayered, complex problems related to public health and the U.S. Army,” Walker said.

Prior to her fellowship, Walker served as commander, troop command of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center at Fort Gordon, Georgia. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Jacksonville State University and her master’s degree in clinical laboratory sciences from Rutgers University. Among many awards and decorations, she earned a Bronze Star Medal for service in Afghanistan.

“We were delighted to host Col. Walker at the University of Georgia,” said Michelle Cook, vice provost for diversity and inclusions and strategic university initiatives, who served as Walker’s academic point of contact during the program. “She leveraged her background in laboratory science and her experience fighting the COVID-19 pandemic to engage directly in cutting-edge infectious disease research.”

Walker is UGA’s third U.S. Army War College Fellow, and the fourth fellow will arrive on campus in July 2021. During her time in Athens in what is a relatively new program for the Army, Walker examined how UGA addressed the COVID-19 pandemic, speaking with senior academic leaders such as Provost Jack Hu, College of Veterinary Medicine Dean Lisa Nolan, AU/UGA Medical Partnership Dean Shelley Nuss, and Director of the University Health Center Garth Russo, among many other faculty and staff. She also toured UGA’s COVID-19 testing lab and attended several COVID-19 response meetings with senior leaders.

“The UGA Preventative Measures Advisory Board and Medical Oversight Task Force’s implementation of campus-wide pandemic safety policies was nothing short of phenomenal. From the daily COVID-19 check in messages prior to coming to campus all the way down to marking available seats in the classrooms to allow for social distancing, they thought through every aspect of the educational experience through a lens of safety. UGA’s COVID response was deliberate, robust and exceedingly effective,” said Walker after her experiences with UGA’s COVID-19 response leaders.

In addition to making important connections with UGA’s leaders, Walker engaged in outreach to UGA and state leaders. She was invited by the Director of the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development Matt Bishop to speak at the Fanning Institute’s Community Leadership Conference.

“Col. Walker was an outstanding ambassador from the Army to the University of Georgia,” said Toby Carr, vice president for government relations, whose office provided coordination with campus contacts during Walker’s fellowship. “Her passion for solving problems paired with her intellectual curiosity and engaging personality enabled her to make meaningful connections with faculty and staff across campus.”

Walker utilized this year at UGA to engage her interests, make the most of every opportunity afforded to her, and pave the way for future senior service fellows at UGA and other institutions across the U.S.

She said, “My goal at any duty station is to work myself out of a job by building the bench with junior leaders trained to take over my position. It is not about being the only one who can do my job effectively, it’s about ensuring the success of the organization after my departure by sharing all the knowledge I have with those who will take over after me. And I love being able to do that because of all those who have done it for me.”