Stepping into a New Role

Kristen Obbink

Stressful. Challenging. Meaningful.

Those are just a few of the emotions that Dr. Kristen Obbink is facing every day as Iowa State University’s COVID-19 public health coordinator. Obbink (’11) recently assumed this temporary role as Iowa State prepared to welcome back students for the fall semester amid a global pandemic.

“The job is stressful and can be overwhelming at times,” she said, “but the work is meaningful and I’m enjoying the challenge. I’m lucky to be working with a great team and also to have the support of many mentors, colleagues and friends.”

Obbink comes into the new role after working both in the Center for Food Security and Public Health (CFSPH) and at the Iowa Department of Public Health.

“This position aligns well with my past work experience and gives me an opportunity to work with a variety of partners both on and off campus,” Obbink said. “I’m able to fully utilize my skill set to have a broad and meaningful impact within our campus community and beyond.”

In her new role, Obbink is coordinating, implementing and monitoring the university’s comprehensive strategy to mitigate the risk of coronavirus spread. This includes elements of symptom checking, testing, contact tracing, quarantine, isolation and case management.

She works with a variety of units at Iowa State including the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, Thielen Student Health Center, the Department of Residence and other campus administrators. She is also in frequent contact with public health partners at both the state and county levels.

Obbink describes her days as fast-paced and challenging. She meets (virtually of course) daily with senior leadership, the campus emergency operations center, public health team and other campus partners.

“On any given day, I may be working on everything from contact tracing and case investigation to monitoring of data and metrics,” she said. “In just the short time I’ve spent in this role, I’ve come to fully recognize the complexity of the factors that must be considered and the decisions that must be made at all levels of the university because of the pandemic.

“It truly takes a village and I’m constantly impressed by the dedication of our campus community and the ways they have risen to the many challenges we face because of COVID-19.”

One of the biggest challenges Obbink has had to face was preparing to bring students back to campus in August. She helped develop a comprehensive strategy for health and safety including testing, case investigation, contact tracing, reduced campus density and promoting mitigation behaviors.

It has been a daunting task to complete, but Obbink credits her veterinary medicine training with helping her through the rough spots.

“I was taught critical thinking skills and a systems-based approach that has allowed me to work collaboratively with others while approaching complex problems in a successful manner,” she said. “I am doing my part to model our healthy behaviors while encouraging and empowering others both within and outside our community to do the same.

“We each have a personal responsibility to help keep our campus and communities as safe as possible.”