Alumni Spotlight: Elizabeth Huttinger '68
After graduating from Westridge, Elizabeth Huttinger ’68 spent most of her career as a two-time grant recipient of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges in Global Health Program for the study of water parasite diseases. Spyglass talked with her to learn about what she is up to now, her favorite part of her job, and the advice she would give to current students who want to pursue a career in research.
Q: What are you doing currently? What is keeping you busy these days?
A: Right now, I am between projects. I am helping my two daughters, who are both pregnant at the same time, get ready for their babies. I took the time to do that while looking for the next project that I want to get engaged in. I work project to project as an independent contractor for the US State Department and the World Health Organization. Sometimes they call me to do things, and other times I organize my own projects and apply for grants, and usually implement them.
Q: The water parasite disease you researched was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Tell me about that. How did you get into contact with them?
A: That’s fairly easy. [The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation] has various grant programs where they give money to research good ideas, and the one I applied to was called Grand Challenges in Global Health, which is very competitive. I applied for [the grant] three years in a row, and the third time I got [it]. A couple of years later, [I got] a second Grand Challenges award. I think when you’re applying for grants, you should never think that you’ve got such a great idea that they’d be interested in if it doesn’t check all the boxes. You really have to be very spot-on. Your idea has to respond exactly to the call for proposals.
Q: What have you done with the money given to you, and how has that grant affected your research in the way you live today?
A: I spent 100 percent of the money and some of my own in the field on the project. We created ten test sites where we reintroduced an indigenous species of water shrimp into village watering holes along the Senegal River. Those shrimp are the predator of the snail that harbors the parasite. The shrimp remove and completely interrupt the life cycle of the parasite, making it disappear. The grant paid for the test site research and studying those results, and then several years later, Stanford University picked up the project once we had produced such promising results.
Q: What is your favorite part of your job?
A: Certainly the human interactions with local people—going into a community and explaining things to people, no matter what the community. It’s always really fascinating because you have to capture their interest. It’s very exciting to see when people catch on to what you want to do because they can take it to new levels. To introduce an idea and take the feedback that you get and expand it makes it even better because the local people know best what works in their own environment. You’re going into an environment that’s completely different from your own. It's always an honor to be invited into somebody else’s community and be shown around.
Q: How has Westridge impacted your career and where you are today?
A: I think Westridge teaches you that you can do anything that you want to in life, as long as you apply yourself. You need a good work ethic. But at Westridge, you also get a sense that you can do anything in life that you choose to do. And that’s a really amazing, liberating feeling. Many people have internal limits, thinking that they can’t do something. Part of it is experience, and part of it is in an environment where people can thrive and learn that you can do anything you want to do. Work hard and learn all you can about any topic that sparks your interest.
Q: What advice would you give to students who want to pursue a career in researching?
A: It depends on what you’re researching. My advice would be to earn as many professional credentials as you can because those enable you to work anywhere in the world. Go to graduate school, maybe even get a Ph.D. It’s probably fair to say that you shouldn’t expect to have a career in the field of public health unless you go to graduate school. Get as much professional training as you can.