Ever wondered where Ebola, anthrax, E. coli, COVID-19, and Swine Flu samples go? And when white powder is found on an envelope, who tests the potentially-lethal contents? If you’re Garrick Gillispie ‘02, you suit up, sit down behind the microscope, and settle in for a typical day of work.
After graduating from Hill Country, Garrick attended Texas A&M University, where he received a Bachelor of Science in Molecular and Cell Biology. Now a biosafety officer for the Texas Department of State Health Services, Garrick oversees all microbiological work at the Austin lab. He also assists multiple labs in safety planning, performance, and response to the unique needs they face processing various pathogen samples.
“I was very fortunate to go into my field of study and have had some amazing experiences,” says Garrick. “In 2009, I was able to work on the Swine Flu Pandemic. I’ve been able to work in several public health outbreaks such as West Nile virus, measles, mumps, E. coli, Zika virus, and testing white powder letters for unknown substances. I have stayed with the public health lab here in Austin in various roles, but mostly working as a microbiologist with everything from tuberculosis and E. coli to anthrax and Ebola. We handle some interesting organisms, but the safety and training of our staff is honestly world-class. Texas has some outstanding Public Health professionals!”
Although he can process and analyze dangerous and highly-infectious diseases without breaking a sweat, Garrick remembers the days of Hill Country gridiron sweat on the football field. “We started as a flag football team in a church league,” says Garrick. “Since this was a church league, it was made up of grown men, some of whom had played college football. They were bigger, stronger, and sometimes faster. Senior year however, we did pretty well, finishing fairly high overall. I want to say we only lost two games that year. It was a really good experience to work that hard for four years and finish that struggle with a sense of earning something you almost hadn’t thought possible. Much thanks to Coach Hudgens and Coach Horne for putting us through some refinement by Texas summer heat, [helping] us accomplish holding our own against some formidable competition!”
Garrick recalled the early days of Hill Country from an educational standpoint, remarking how he was prepared for the future with college and his career just over the horizon. “The level of education we received, I think, became more apparent to me in college,” says Garrick. “Working with other students from a wide variety of backgrounds allowed me to appreciate some of the extra effort we were forced to put forth at Hill Country. I believe the education gave us a bit of a head start in college and smoothed out some potential learning curves with which others had to navigate. And the experience we had helped us to be as foundationally solid as possible to face the challenges of life – in college and beyond. We were fortunate to have incredible teachers who invested in our education but also our lives in building us up as strong men and women. The classmates I had and their parents and families were also some of the best people I could have asked to be around in high school. Simply being immersed in that environment allowed me to have a strong core of education, faith, responsibility, and ethics which has benefited my personal life as well as career. The coaches, teachers, and staff at Hill Country truly did have an immense and positive impact on my life, and I am very grateful for their investment in us.”