Biostatistics presents Distinguished Alumnus, other department awards

March 29, 2017

A Department of Biostatistics reception on March 23 honored the recipient of the James E. Grizzle Distinguished Alumnus Award and winners of other department awards during the 2016-2017 academic year.

Left to right are Dr. James Grizzle, Dr. Seunggeun Lee and Dr. Jianwen Cai. Dr. Lee was recipient of the biostatistics department's 2017 James E. Grizzle Distinguished Alumnus Award. Dr. Cai is Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor and interim chair of biostatistics.

Left to right are Dr. James Grizzle, Dr. Seunggeun Lee and Dr. Jianwen Cai. Dr. Lee was recipient of the biostatistics department’s 2017 James E. Grizzle Distinguished Alumnus Award. Dr. Cai is Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor and interim chair of biostatistics.

Seunggeun (Shawn) Lee, PhD, assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, was the 2017 Distinguished Alumnus awardee.

A 2010 graduate of the Gillings School’s biostatistics doctoral program, Lee has established himself as a young leader in statistics and genetics. He has co-authored more than 30 peer-reviewed papers, many of which have appeared in top-tier statistics and scientific journals – such as the American Journal of Human Genetics, Annals of Statistics, Biometrics, Biometrika, Journal of the American Statistical Association and Nature Genetics – and which have been cited frequently in other publications.

Fei Zou, PhD, biostatistics professor at the Gillings School and Lee’s former adviser, nominated Lee for the Grizzle Award.

“Since graduation, Seunggeun has become an independent researcher, carrying out impressive and influential work on mapping rare variants with next-generation sequencing data,” Zou said.

In addition to Lee’s independent research on gene-environment interactions and gene-based association studies, he also has demonstrated effectiveness as a mentor, as evidenced by the publications of his mentees.

Lee previously served as a research fellow at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health, working in the lab of Xihong Lin, PhD, Henry Pickering Walcott Professor of biostatistics and chair of the Harvard biostatistics department from 2010 to 2013. There, Lee authored several papers on rare-variant association studies.

“These works have made tremendous impact on the field of statistics genetics,” said Wei Sun, PhD, adjunct professor of biostatistics at the Gillings School, who also nominated Lee for the award. “Their method, the Sequence Kernel Association Test (SKAT), has become one of the standard and most popular approaches in the topic of rare variant associations.”

While studying at the Gillings School, Lee excelled in both statistical theories and applications. In 2007, he received a special commendation for highest score on the qualifying exam. The exam is a requirement for all biostatistics doctoral students who progress through the program.

“Seunggeun impressed me as an extremely sharp, hard-working, modest and productive student,” Sun said. “His work demonstrated his deep thinking and extraordinary technical capabilities.”

Lee also received other prestigious awards, including the 2010 Institute of Mathematical Statistics (IMS) Laha Travel Award, which provides funding for students to present their research at an IMS meeting, and the 2012 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Pathway to Independence Award, which helps mentored postdoctoral researchers transition to stable, independent research positions.

Other award recipients also were recognized at the event.

Laura Zhou, MS, doctoral student, received the Regina C. Elandt-Johnson Best Master’s Paper Award for her paper, “Treatment Comparisons Through Sequence Group Comparisons in Crossover Studies with Time to Event Data.”

Lu Mao, PhD, 2016 alumnus, won the Larry Kupper Dissertation Publication Award for his paper, “Efficient Estimation of Semiparametric Transformation Models for the Cumulative Incidence of Competing Risks.”

Matthew Psioda, PhD, 2016 alumnus and research assistant professor of biostatistics at the Gillings School, won the Barry H. Margolin Award for Excellence in Doctoral Research for his paper, “Statistical Methods for Bayesian Clinical Trial Design and DNA Methylation Deconvolution.”

Three students were inducted into the Delta Omega Honorary Society in Public Health. They were Jingxiang Chen, MS, doctoral student, Matthew Psioda, PhD, alumnus, and master’s student Natalie Smith.

Eric Van Buren, MS, doctoral student, received the Academic Excellence Award.

Elizabeth Chase and Mengbing Li won Undergraduate Awards of Excellence.

Nicole Butera and Yue Jiang, doctoral students, won service awards.

Matthew Wheeler, PhD, 2013 alumnus, won an alumni award.

Jason Fine, ScD, professor, won a faculty award.

A number of students were recognized for having been awarded scholarships and fellowships in 2016-2017. They included doctoral student Teeranan (Ben) Pokaprakarn (the Nguyen V. Dat Endowed Scholarship); doctoral student Paloma Hauser (the John and Diane Fryer Fellowship); master’s students Derek Gazis and Allisa Urbano and doctoral student Rachel Hoffman (the Bernard G. Greenberg Scholarship); doctoral student Pedro Baldoni, MA (the Max Halperin Award); doctoral student John Kidd, MS (the Hardison Scholarship in Bioinformatics); doctoral student Taylor Lagler (the Mohberg Family Scholarship); and doctoral student Daniel Garbinsky, MS (the Smith Anderson Biostatistics Fellowship).


Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or