How two Milwaukee natives are leading the city’s fight against COVID-19

Milwaukee Health Department Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik and her chief of staff, Lilliann Paine, have much in common.

The public health officials in charge of Milwaukee’s pandemic response were born and raised in the city — Kowalik in the Sherman Park neighborhood and Paine on the city’s Northwest Side.

They were both McNair Scholars, a program that prepares undergraduate students underrepresented in graduate education through research opportunities and mentorship, and UW-Milwaukee Panthers. Though they passed through the programs at different times, they always supported each other’s aspirations.

And they both began their careers as interns in the Health Department they now lead.

But there was a time that neither of them wanted to come back to the department.

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