School Career Fair Sets 3rd-Grader on the Path of a Dream

In 2006, a relatively new development officer at The Carter Center, Madelle Hatch, took part in a career fair at Midvale Elementary School in an Atlanta suburb. At the time, there were about 25,000 cases of Guinea worm disease in the world, Hatch informed the children. This was a big improvement from 20 years earlier, when an estimated 3.5 million people suffered from the parasitic disease.

A yard-long Guinea worm in a jar added a fun “ick” factor to her presentation. Hatch got the attention of third-grader Phong Le, who became enamored with the idea of fighting the spread of dangerous diseases and changing the world like former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

  • Phong Le and Madelle Hatch hold bottles of preserved Guinea worms.

    Carter Center staffers Phong Le (left) and Madelle Hatch hold bottles with preserved Guinea worms. A presentation by Hatch in 2006 about Guinea worm disease inspired young Le. Today, they both work in Carter Center health programs: Hatch as chief development officer and Le as a data analyst.

Inspired, Le spent his formative years studying hard in school, attending “disease detective” camps, and even modeling disease outbreaks like strep throat in his own classrooms. He eventually earned a bachelor’s degree from Emory University and a Master of Public Health from Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health, majoring in epidemiology.

Atlanta is home to many renowned public health organizations, but Le had his sights set on just one of them. In 2019, Le set up several informational interviews at The Carter Center to learn about its programs — and to demonstrate his interest in its mission. He scored an internship with the Center’s development office and then a graduate assistantship with the Trachoma Control Program.

It was Le’s turn to grab someone’s attention. Supervisors recognized that his expertise in data science could help bring The Carter Center into a new era of data-driven decision making. After his internship, Le headed up several projects, including automating geospatial analyses, developing analytics dashboards, and training artificial intelligence to diagnose disease using photographs.

Now, 16 years after Hatch’s career fair presentation, Le is a full-time data analyst in the Carter Center’s health data support unit, assigned to the Trachoma Control program, and Hatch is the chief development officer for the Center’s health programs.

Le’s new dream is to present at a career fair and inspire another generation to change the world for the better. The data indicate he’ll do it.

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