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Staff Snapshot: Amina Assefa, UC’s expert on planning for the worst

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In August 2005, Amina Assefa was applying to graduate programs to pursue a doctorate in biology when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, killing more than 1,800 people and causing more than $125 billion in damage. Although she did not have any experience in emergency management, Amina decided to put her academic plans on hold to volunteer with the American Red Cross. While completing her Gulf Coast assignment, she lived side-by-side in emergency shelters with evacuees from Louisiana and Mississippi. During that time, she gained a deep understanding of disasters’ profound impact on people’s lives, and the emotional and physical toll of living through them. This experience would change the course of her own life.

When Amina’s assignment ended, she eschewed her plans of studying biology and instead applied for a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree program at Tulane University in New Orleans. She was accepted into Tulane’s first class of students to return post-Katrina and won approval to create her own degree concentration — an MPH in disaster management. She completed two years of academic training while immersed in a city still reeling from disaster, and learned in tandem with making an immediate impact. After completing her degree, Amina supported Louisiana through several more hurricanes before moving on to multifaceted urban emergency management in New York City. She then returned to her home state of California, where she managed UC Berkeley’s Office of Emergency Management for several years before being recruited as UC’s Systemwide Readiness lead and becoming a UC Center of Excellence.   

Today, in addition to systemwide situational awareness coordination, Amina serves as co-planning lead for the UC Health Coordinating Committee, chaired by Dr. Carrie Byington, Executive Vice President of UC Health.  In this role, Amina supports centralized decision-making and coordination, and helps provide health-focused guidance and support to all UC medical centers and campuses during the pandemic. She led the effort to develop a systemwide COVID-19 situational report and is part of the team that creates a systemwide email digest with pertinent updates about the coronavirus — from infection and hospitalization statistics to news and research developments. She collaborates with subject matter experts throughout the system to help inform locations and find opportunities to coordinate a unified response. “It’s been an amazing opportunity to meet with doctors and researchers throughout the university — all leading experts in their fields — who are coming together to combine their wisdom and knowledge to support UC,” Amina says. 

She also credits her colleagues in emergency management for their ongoing efforts to position UC to weather this and future storms. “There’s an amazing group of talented, dedicated professionals across the system who are working every day to protect the university,” she says. “They think about disasters and make contingency plans so that the average employee doesn’t have to.”

“When I first came to UC, I immediately found it so rewarding to work here — to protect the university’s mission and everything UC has contributed to the world. And now, after being here for several years and having the knowledge of how the university works, all of my education and experience is coming together at this moment to help UC. I really feel like it’s where I’m supposed to be.”

Meet Amina

Name: Amina Assefa 

Title: UC Systemwide Readiness Lead, UC Center of Excellence

Location: UC Berkeley & Office of the President, Oakland

When did you start working for UC? October 3, 2011 

In five words or less, what do you do for UC? Prepare it for the worst

Why do you love working for UC? I love working with so many smart and talented people, who actually care. 

What’s something people don’t know about you? My family has nicknamed me “Dr. Maoci,” which is a combination of Chinese dictator Chairman Mao and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Apparently, they think my public health advice is delivered with an iron hand. 

Who’s your dream dinner guest (living or dead) and why? Governor Gavin Newsom — we’ve spent so much virtual time together (i.e., me watching him on TV) over the last six months that it would be nice to meet him in person!  

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? Be so good that you can be authentic.



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