3 to Watch
By Karen Shore | Back to Table of Contents
In the spring of 2020, as countries across the world continued to grapple with the immediate and long-term implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, we checked in with three Ravenscroft alumni in clinical research and public health fields — David Fajgenbaum ’03, Raven King Edwards ’08 and Christina Potter ’14 — to see how their work intersects with state, national and global health efforts. Here’s what they shared with us.
What sparked your interest in/passion for science?
David Fajgenbaum ’03, MD, MBA, MSc: My mom’s diagnosis with cancer ignited a desire to dedicate my life to fighting back against diseases and developing treatments.
Raven King Edwards ’08, MP: It was always a dream of mine to be a pharmacist. So, naturally as I got older I was drawn to science and math. I always loved working with numbers and being able to solve complex problems.
Christina Potter ’14, MSPH: I feel like I started getting really interested when I stopped seeing science just as a subject to understand and memorize and started seeing it more as a process and a tool to solve problems that affect people.
Tell us what clinical research or public health role(s) you currently hold.
Fajgenbaum: I’m an assistant professor of medicine in Translational Medicine & Human Genetics at the University of Pennsylvania. I also serve as Associate Director for Patient Impact at their Orphan Disease Center.
In addition, I lead a center at the University of Pennsylvania called the Center for Cytokine Storm Treatment & Laboratory as well as the Castleman Disease Collaborative Network. We’re focused on accelerating cures for cytokine storm disorders like Castleman disease and COVID-19.
King Edwards: I’m a public health program coordinator in the Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
Potter: I’m an analyst at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and a research associate at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
In general terms, what do you do? What impact are you making/hoping to make in your field?
Fajgenbaum: I study immune hyperactivation (as seen in Castleman disease and COVID-19) and how best to treat immune hyperactivation/cytokine storm disorders. I have discovered therapies that have saved my life and other patients’ lives. I hope to apply these experiences to identify effective treatments for COVID-19.
I also spearhead efforts to fundamentally change biomedical research and accelerate cures through a collaborative network approach and leveraging drug repurposing.
King Edwards: I am currently a program manager for the statewide Minority Diabetes Prevention Program. My hope is to advocate for the elimination of health disparities in communities of color and under-resourced communities.
Potter: I research, evaluate and find ways to address threats to domestic and global health, primarily with a focus on infectious disease outbreaks or related policy. For COVID-19, I’ve authored and contributed to reports that give guidance regarding contact tracing, reopening plans for state governors and information needed to reopen schools in the fall.
Was there a program, teaching method or activity at Ravenscroft that helped prepare you for what you're doing now?
Fajgenbaum: Playing football for Coach Ned Gonet taught me invaluable lessons about hard word, discipline and dealing with adversity that I lean on and benefit from every day.
King Edwards: When I think about my time at Ravenscroft, two teachers that made a lasting impact for me are David Monaco (who served in the Middle School) and Kat Belk (Upper School). They both made me feel seen in a school where most students did not look like me. They truly made a lasting impact on me as I navigated being one of the few minorities and remaining true to myself, my passions and my talents.
Potter: French classes at Ravenscroft were part of what turned me more on to health issues in sub-Saharan Africa, since there are so many French speakers there. English classes throughout Ravenscroft — particularly with Sharon Beineke — taught me that “OK” writing shouldn’t be something to settle for, because effective communication in public health is just as important as the science backing it up. Sports like varsity cross country showed me that the best teams are made up of people who support each other and compete against themselves. Balancing AP courses, sports and everything else helped me develop mental stamina and my work ethic.
Is there something you learned from failure that helped propel you forward?
Fajgenbaum: I’ve failed at a lot of things. One failure that comes to mind is the failure to balance my work with my non-work life. It’s something I still struggle with, but I’ve used these failures to help me to be better at balancing the two. Another failure came in high school, when despite working as hard as we could, we lost in the state championship game. Sometimes you do everything right and you still don’t get the outcome you want or even deserve, but you’ve got to keep grinding.
King Edwards: I grew up wanting to be a pharmacist. During my junior year in college, I did a summer internship at a local pharmacy. I realized after that internship that while I truly value the importance and role of the pharmacist, it did not align with my true passions. At the time this seemed like a huge fail, because I spent most of my academic career taking courses that aligned with applying for pharmacy school. Once I realized that career was not for me, I began to explore other options that fueled my passions. This is what led me to community engagement and public health.
Potter: There have been obstacles in my path, times when my attitude or perspective toward a challenge had to be adjusted or when my goals had to change. I had to pay for part of college and all of graduate school out of my own pocket, which was incredibly stressful — I was working multiple jobs and ended up really struggling in classes. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish my degree because I couldn’t afford tuition payments. I opened up to my boss and she convinced me to ask for help. My university ended up providing me with a grant. That was a huge learning moment for me: understanding the importance of being vulnerable and asking for help, knowing the difference between something you can accomplish from hustle and determination and something where you just need to readjust and ask for help.
What are your next steps?
Fajgenbaum: I’ve recently launched a project called CORONA to search for existing drugs that can be repurposed against COVID-19.
King Edwards: My goal is to continue striving to create a culture of health where all people have the opportunity to thrive! I truly enjoy working for NC DHHS, so my next move would be working toward a leadership role and/or position within the department.
Potter: I just finished my graduate degree recently, so I’d like to continue working for a while before going back to school to get a doctoral degree of some kind (the jury is still out on medical school vs. a Ph.D. versus a DrPH). I’d like to get more opportunities to mentor or manage and do more fieldwork in outbreak preparedness and response some day as well.
Know a Ravenscroft grad we should have on our watchlist? Send us the details via “Submit a Class Note” at www.ravenscroft.org/alumni.
David Fajgenbaum ’03
Raven King Edwards ’08
Christina Potter ’14