Ralph Cordell
Ralph Cordell

Ralph Cordell is a man who sweats the small stuff. As the CDC team lead in the Career Paths to Public Health Program, part of the Science Education and Professional Development Program Office, he has built a career working on infectious diseases and their impact on public health. A 19-year veteran of the CDC, Cordell has worked extensively on infectious diseases in an out-of-home child care setting. He was a member of the team responsible for drafting national standards and documents for health and safety in child care settings.

Initially, however, Cordell had his sights set on a different path. As a student at Southern Illinois University, his dream was to become a field biologist. In fact, he wasn’t interested in microbiology until a class project investigating an animal for parasites changed that.

It was the H1N1 outbreak that indirectly brought Cordell to the Model Aquatic Health Code project.

“I happened to run into Michael Beach in the Emergency Operations Center,” Cordell explains. “He was reviewing some of our materials that were going out to child care programs. I worked for the Division of Parasitic Diseases when I first came to CDC (parasites are a problem in those kids) and have always kept close to them.  Michael asked me if I would chair the Hygiene Technical Committee and I said ‘yes.’”

Though his direct experience with recreational water illnesses is limited, Cordell’s knowledge of hygiene from a public health standpoint made him an ideal candidate to chair the Hygiene Technical Committee. Prior to coming to the CDC, he was Cook County (Ill.) director of the Communicable Disease Control Division.

“Since this is not my particular area of expertise, I could be very open-minded and neutral,” Cordell says.

Working on the project, he says his team’s process was largely a collaborative effort. Looking ahead, Cordell hopes to see the work have a direct impact on bather health and safety.

“[Participating in the MAHC] I thought, ’I have an opportunity to be a part of a process that 10 years from now if I go to a pool, I will have possibly have had some impact in making sure it is a relatively safe and healthy operation,’” Cordell adds.