Joy Ann Matthias has years of experience helping communities recover from hurricanes. Now she’s preparing for bigger roles by studying for a master’s degree in Adelphi’s emergency management program.

Joy Ann Matthias Headshot

Joy Ann Matthias has seen her share of disasters.

When she was in the U.S. Army, she was deployed to Nicaragua in 1998 to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch. Working for the federal government, she was dispatched to help coordinate the efforts in response to Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy and Irma.

But even with all this experience, Matthias realized she could be better prepared to assist those affected by major storms. That’s why, in 2015, she enrolled in the emergency management program at Adelphi. She’s on track to graduate from the joint certificate and Master of Science program in 2020.

The program has been extremely helpful for her deployment work, especially the law courses.

“They just give me a wider knowledge and the background that is needed to better serve while working in those capacities,” Matthias says. “Because in emergency health, every disaster is unique. But once you understand the legal part of it, your role that you’re playing on that deployment team, it’ll just make it better.”

Born and raised in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Matthias now works for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and serves as a member of one of the 11 volunteer Regional Incident Support Teams (RIST) created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services after Hurricane Katrina.

“I usually work in command centers where we provide support and backup,” Matthias says about her work as a RIST officer. “It’s how I became familiar with emergency management.”

Matthias’ previous work had been on the front lines of emergency response. In her deployment to Nicaragua, for instance, she was sent to help a small village recover from the flooding caused by Hurricane Mitch.

“We built a hospital while we were there because the hospital for the village got flooded out,” Matthias says. “It was so lucky no one in that little town passed away from the flooding. We helped them clean up the neighborhood and also traveled throughout the country to other little towns and provided healthcare.”

Matthias received a Certificate of Achievement from the United States Department of Defense for her contributions.

“Working on the ground is challenging and there are long days and hard hours,” Matthias says. “But at the end, when you see a smile on someone’s face, it’s worth it.”

In her day job as a supervising officer in bioresearch at the Food and Drug Administration, Matthias helps ensure that new drugs and medical devices are safe for use by humans and animals. She also connects this work with her studies at Adelphi.

“One thing I like about Adelphi is that professors will help guide you into doing research based upon your line of work,” she says. “Since I’m at the FDA, most of my papers have been on immunization and mandatory vaccines, especially during a time of disaster.”

This research has been particularly relevant given the recent political discussion around vaccinations and the measles outbreak in New York City. After months of new measles cases appearing in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency in April, requiring that unvaccinated residents receive the measles vaccine.

“The mayor had to declare an emergency, and he has the right under the public health law to minimize the spread of this disease,” Matthias says. “I now understand the legal part of that, and I see how it’s all part of emergency management.”

After graduating, Matthias looks forward to continuing her work in the community and at the FDA, where she’s worked for 17 years. She may even set her sights on a role as director of the department. “I am exploring my options in the fields of public health and emergency management,” she says.

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