Students Interview Anthony Fauci in His Home
Earlier this year, a pair of Columbia Mailman students got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interview a legendary figure in public health and medicine—Anthony Fauci, who is also the 2023 recipient of public health’s highest honor, the Calderone Prize. The video of that on-camera interview in Fauci’s Washington D.C. home was screened at the School’s Centennial Gala fundraiser and again the following day at the Calderone Prize ceremony. (Watch the video below.)
The concept for the video came from Perri Peltz, an Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker, journalist, and member of the Columbia Mailman Board of Advisors. Peltz pitched her idea to Dean Linda P. Fried and Caitlin Bristow, Assistant Dean for External and Board Relations, who both enthusiastically greenlighted the project.
It was early February when second-year MPH students Antony Nguyen and Jordan Williams received the email invitation. Neither had a background in journalism or video production. Nguyen says, “It was obviously a surprise”—so much so that his family was initially skeptical. Of course, the email was genuine, and soon the duo was in touch with Peltz who explained her vision and asked them to come up with a list of questions.
“We have all become so accustomed to seeing Dr. Fauci in front of a lectern at a press conference. The chance to experience him ‘unplugged’ at his home felt like an extraordinary opportunity to experience the more human side to this major figure in modern public health,” says Peltz. “Antony and Jordan knocked it out of the park, but no surprise given that they are Columbia Mailman students.”
On March 6, Nguyen and Williams traveled by train to Washington, D.C., trailed by a film crew. When they arrived at Anthony Fauci’s home, he warmly greeted his visitors, inviting them into his living room. As the camera crew set up for the interview, the former director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Disease and advisor to seven presidents busied himself in the kitchen washing dishes.
Over the course of an hour, Fauci fielded the students’ questions, reflecting on his proudest moment (the creation of PEPFAR, which has saved 25 million lives), his concerns for the future (another respiratory pandemic), and why he is optimistic (“because there are a lot of bright young people interested in public health.”) Of his legacy, he said he wants people to remember that “I left it all out on the field.”
Of her interview questions, Williams says, “I went for the opportunity to ask some burning questions based on what I’ve learned at Mailman,” including queries on the history of HIV/AIDS activism and the development of effective therapeutics—topics Fauci later spoke to in detail during his Calderone lecture.
Nguyen sums up the experience, saying, “Two words come to mind: ‘passion’ and ‘humility.’ He told us to find something that we're passionate about and to chase after it, and it showed during the interview that he lives by his own advice.” At the same time, Nguyen got a glimpse of what a regular day looks like for the legendary scientist-leader. “We saw that he lives an everyday life—from morning runs to washing dishes. It was, for me, a reminder to be humble.”
The interviewers first got to see the finished video projected on a big screen at the Columbia Mailman Centennial Gala on April 26. Before the video screened, Williams says she and Ngyuyen were just two young guests at the fundraiser—albeit ones seated in a place of honor with the Calderone family whose namesake prize was given to Fauci the following day. But once it screened, she says, “We got many compliments, hugs, and requests for pictures. It really set in that I made a lot of people proud.”
Watch the Video