Sharon Daves grew up in a in a small Arkansas burgh that is literally and figuratively a world away from her current residence. A native of Heber Springs, who graduated from high school in Trumann (population 7,000), Daves currently hangs her hat in New Delhi, India, a city whose population is nearly 3,500 times larger than her hometown.
“It’s a bit of a winding road,” Daves explained of the odyssey that lead her from rural Arkansas to her position as Deputy Director of Global Disease Detection Regional Center in India, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That road winds through University of Central Arkansas, University of Texas and then on to the global stage, making stops in Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Cambodia and Morocco before making its current stop in India.
Daves began attending UCA in 1994 and graduated with a bachelor of science in family consumer science education in 1998. That was followed with a year of UCA grad school and a master’s degree in public health from the University of Texas, and then a dietetic internship.
“Because of my master’s in public health, I had an interest in a training program at CDC and had an opportunity to work with chronic diseases, which I was interested in at the time,” Daves said.
The training program was set on the island of Saipan, the largest island of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, an unincorporated territory of the United States, and involved studying teens with type II diabetes, which fit well with her study of nutrition, physical activity and overall chronic disease prevention.
“After that, I was interested in doing international health,” she said. That interest led to a job in the international influenza program at CDC, responsible for the Middle East portfolio.
“I travelled to Egypt and Afghanistan and Pakistan and Morocco. Because of that position, I became more acquainted with the program and was offered a job in Egypt and was working in the global disease protection program and worked there a little over 2 and a half years.,” Daves explained. “Then the position in India opened and I took it”
Daves credits her experiences at UCA for opening the door to international travel. During her time as a student, she made friends with several international students, one of whom was from Egypt.
“I never thought I would visit Egypt, let alone live there,” Daves said. “I met my friend’s parents when I was in Cairo, which is priceless. Because UCA built that bond with international students, I had already met an Egyptian. I knew some things about the culture and I’m still friends with that person.”
While Daves was in Egypt she also witnessed history. For the first eight days of the revolution, Daves hid out in her apartment until she and other Americans were evacuated.
“There was no Internet, no phone. I went outside my apartment for 15 minutes for those entire eight days,” she recalled.
The evacuation brought her back to the United States and work at the CDC Headquarters, when the opportunity to go to India presented itself.
Her current project involves creating a global foodborne infection network. The CDC and the World Health Organization are partnering in several countries to help create these networks. While the U.S. has these networks in place, other countries have “so many other public health issues, it is not something that has been looked at in serious way,” Daves explained.
“It’s interesting because it ties into my nutrition interest and making sure that families are eating safe food,” she added.
Other projects she has been involved with include the 2009 flu pandemic, prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and also prevention of chronic diseases.
“When you work with infectious diseases, it is never a dull moment,” she said. “There is always something going on.”
Though it is difficult to be away from family, Daves said technology has made overseas living much easier. Skype, voice-over-Internet protocol phone service and social networks keep her in contact with her family.
Even with such a busy life, Daves makes it back to Arkansas several times a year, spending about a week with family and friends.
“I was in Alpha Sigma Alpha, so I stay in contact with my sorority sisters and some of my professors,” she said. “I feel very connected to UCA. It’s a large enough university that you feel like you are getting lots of opportunities, but it’s a small university in regards to getting to know the people in your classes and other people on campus.”