From the Air Force to the private sector, COPH alum Michael Klingshirn aims high

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Michael Klingshirn was on the verge of graduating the University of Toledo with an undergraduate degree in pharmacy sciences when he realized he still didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life.

“There was an Air Force recruiting office down the road from where I lived and one day I decided to stop in,” commented Klingshirn, who earned his MPH with a concentration in epidemiology from the USF College of Public Health (COPH) in 2010. “The recruiter told me that if I wanted to study epidemiology, I could get a scholarship. I actually had to go home and look up epidemiology, because I didn’t know what it was. But once I read about everything that public health touches—the way it works on preventing disease and influencing change—I knew it was something I wanted to pursue.”

Klingshirn’s reason for settling on the COPH was twofold. “I’m from Ohio, so, of course, the weather appealed to me,” he said. “But I was also impressed with the amount of research the college was putting out. At the time, the COPH was doing biodefense work. I knew that was the world I would join with the Department of Defense when I graduated. USF seemed to be the best fit.”

Being the “new kid” in Tampa, Klingshirn says he dove into his life as a COPH student. He got involved with student organizations, such as the, Public Health Student Association, Infectious Disease Association, Global Health Student Association, and joined the Tampa Krewe rugby football club, which—he proudly states—won a Division II national championship while he was a player. “I had activities that appealed to my jock side and my nerd side, “ Klingshirn said. “And while you can’t play rugby forever, you can be an epidemiologist for life!”

After graduating the COPH, Klingshirn was stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Wash., where he worked as a public health flight commander—a role similar to director of a local public health department.

COPH alum Michael Klingshirn at fjords in Iceland. (Photo courtesy of Michael Klingshirn)

One of his first tasks involved taking a 500-page disease-containment document the air base used and whittling it down into a workable document. “I threw it all out the window,” Klingshirn. “Well, not literally—although I wanted to! But I got it down to a 30-page base plan that included roles and responsibilities with annexed responses to specific threats.” 

Klingshirm also organized and took part in a variety of “live-action exercises,” which were essentially disaster simulations conducted on base. “We covered everything from exposure to aerolized plague to drinking arsenic-laced coffee to coming down with food-borne illnesses,” Klingshirn said. “The idea was to test capabilities and keep skills sharp.”

After a short deployment to Africa’s Djibouti where he trained military personnel on the prevention of vector-borne diseases and developed a reverse osmosis process to eliminate the troops’ need for bottled water, Klingshirn took another public health flight commander role, this one at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, S.C. With a bigger base came more industrial hazards, from the paints used on the planes to the hydrazine that jump-starts the engines. 

Klingshirn is welcomed home from deployment by his family. (Photo courtesy of Klingshirn)

Klingshirn is now transitioning out of the military. He has maintained his CPH certification and has earned a Project Management (PMP) certification. He is taking on the role of director of consulting services with Fusion Cell, a company that focuses on bringing military personnel into nonmilitary sectors.

Klingshirn is busy working with local, national and international businesses and schools on reducing the risk of COVID transmission in the workplace or academic setting. 

“We integrate onto their planning teams and help navigate the most current recommendations on targeted and layered health protection interventions. We address everything from HVAC system upgrades to reconfiguring their floor plans to allow for social distancing to assisting them in developing checklists for cleaning and choosing the right disinfectant for their population,” he explained. “We have gotten teams past the first hurdle of risk reduction. We’re now getting into some interesting questions like can schools use Porta Potties at outdoor sporting events and how do we keep those safe?”

It’s the COPH’s faculty and curriculum that Klingshirn says has led to his success. 

“The COPH has given me a lot of tools to put in my toolkit,” he said. “They did a great job of taking very scientific material and making it accessible to a dumb rugby player like me. I feel like I’m living the dream as an epidemiologist. The coursework plus military experience have made me into a great leader and problem solver and helped me stay relevant during a global pandemic.”

Alumni Fast Five

What did you dream of becoming when you were young?

A doctor, which morphed into a pharmacist.

Where can we find you on the weekends?

Since COVID-19, home. But prior to that, we liked to be at the lake and hang out on a boat fishing.

What was the last book you read?

I’m in the middle of “Humble Consulting,” by Edgar Schein

What superpower would you like to have?

I’m not interested in going through time but being zapped onto a beach in Australia would be awesome.

What’s your all-time favorite movie?

I should say “Contagion,” but I’m going to go with “Dr. Strange”

Story by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health