Growing up in Florida, Assistant Professor of Biology Tracy Rosebrock became interested in biology because she was surrounded by life. “Literally, life grows on top of life on top of life, from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico to the skies above the oak hammocks,” says Rosebrock.

The recipient of this year’s Louise F. Hegarty Award for Excellence in Teaching, Rosebrock was honored at Academic Convocation for her student mentorship, passion for science and “ability to teach with her whole heart,” as her award citation noted. A public health professional, she is also the recipient of a grant from the American Association of University Women designed to help address barriers for women in science. Here, Rosebrock shares her thoughts on understanding purpose, researching stealthy bacteria and her joy of cooking.

My advice to students:

Focus on purpose—your own purpose, the purpose of a course you may not want to take or the purpose of a nuanced cellular process you need to master. It’s easier to stay committed to a goal during struggle if you understand purpose.

A surprising discovery in my research:

Bacteria are stealthy. I was fortunate to be a small part of an explosion of research in the late 2000s that uncovered how bacteria cause disease. It was an incredible experience to figure out how bacteria use subterfuge to degrade critical components of the host immune system to take over the host’s biology.

One of the first things I tell my students about public health:

A person’s zip code is usually a better predictor of their life expectancy than their genetics. Often, we focus on biological causes of diseases and disorders, which are important. However, the social, environmental, political and economic conditions of our lives are much more powerful determinants of our health.

If I weren’t teaching, I would be:

A full-time researcher. That might not sound exciting, but research is play. It’s a series of puzzles and discovery, where you get to see the world like a child again—full of wonder. What’s better than that?

Most people don’t realize that I:

Began college as a visual arts major. I’m still a fan of modern and contemporary art.

Favorite quote:

“Equity is in the heart” by Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, former health minister of Rwanda, who is a rock star in global health, female empowerment, and advocacy for education. The message is simple: practice empathy for others and our collective actions will move us toward justice.

I’m most curious about:

Life—from the biochemistry that keeps organisms alive in a chaotic world, to the interactions between organisms that create fascinating ecological systems, to the structures in our human societies that determine who has a high quality of life and who does not.

In my free time:

I am a graduate student working toward a Master of Public Health. If I’m not studying or with my family, you’ll find me in the kitchen. I’m a baker, and I love cooking, especially Indian and Thai recipes.