Gillings Merit Scholars and Gillings Dissertation Awards announced

August 29, 2017

Seventeen students at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health have been selected as recipients of Gillings Merit Scholarships or Gillings Dissertation Awards for the 2017-2018 academic year.

The scholarship and dissertation award funds, established in 2010 to help the Gillings School recruit and support graduate students with exceptional promise and potential, were made possible through the $50 million Gillings gift and are administered through the Gillings School’s Research, Innovation and Global Solutions office.

Fifteen students are 2017-2018 Gillings Merit Scholars, and two received Gillings Dissertation Awards.

The Merit Scholars are Yunwei Chen and Holly Deng (health policy and management), Katherine Dickson (public health leadership), Shara Evans (maternal and child health), William Green (nutrition), Sydney Hartsell and Mandy Horner (public health leadership), Andrew Koltun (environmental sciences and engineering), Amalia Lee (public health leadership), Molly Remch (epidemiology), John Sperger (biostatistics), Miriam Tardif-Douglin (health policy and management), Aurore Victor (nutrition), Yuzhu Xia (health policy and management) and Belinda-Rose Young (health behavior).

The Dissertation Award winners are Emily Mangone (health policy and management) and Briana Stephenson (biostatistics).

Julie MacMillan, MPH, managing director of Research Innovation and Global Solutions, was excited about this year’s awardees.

“As I learn about these students’ interests and accomplishments,” MacMillan said, “all I can think is, Aren’t we lucky? The world’s public health problems are hard, and we need plenty of exceptional hearts and minds to help solve them. It is and will be a privilege to have these students at the Gillings School.”

Yunwei Chen

Yunwei Chen

Kate Dickson

Kate Dickson

Shara Evans

Shara Evans

William Green

William Green

Sydney Hartsell

Sydney Hartsell

Mandy Horner

Mandy Horner

Emily Mangone

Emily Mangone

John Sperger

John Sperger

Briana Stephenson

Briana Stephenson

Miriam Tardif-Douglin

Miriam Tardif-Douglin

Yuzhu Xia

Yuzhu Xia

Yunwei Chen, who has worked in the public health field for five years, is now enrolled in a Master of Science in Public Health program at the Gillings School. Her career goal is to improve the lives of underserved populations and to reduce health inequities.

“As Bertrand Russell said, ‘Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind,’” Chen says. “The Gillings School and the honor of scholarship embody my belief that we have the duty to make a difference for people that are suffering and ensure all people have access to high-quality health-care services.”

Holly Deng, a recent graduate of Cornell University, is a first-year Master of Healthcare Administration student this fall. Her goal, she said, is to help patients have more seamless and pleasant hospital experiences by working to improve health-care quality and efficiency.

“I’m excited to meet the faculty at the Gillings School and discover my research passions,” she said. “I’m grateful for the scholarship, as it helped me choose to attend Gillings – and I think I made the right choice!”

Katherine (Kate) Dickson has completed three years of medical school at UNC, and with the help of the Gillings Merit award, will complete her Master of Public Health degree in the coming year.

“I’m really thrilled to receive the scholarship, as the MD/MPH degree will help with my career goals,” Dickson said. “I plan to go into psychiatry, so learning about mental health from a public health perspective is exciting. I’m especially interested in addiction, mental health policy and community-based care.”

Dickson also received a bachelor’s degree in geography at UNC in 2011.

Will Green’s dissertation research examines the effects of obesity on the T cell response to the influenza vaccination.

Specifically, Green says, he wants to determine whether directed pharmacological therapy in vitro or restoration of the metabolic and hormonal milieu following gastric bypass surgery can recover obesity-impaired T cell function in adults who have received the flu vaccine.

After graduation, Green, a 2012 alumnus of Davidson College, will seek a postdoctoral position in nutrition-immunology or related fields, investigating the impact of metabolism on the immune response in immune-compromised hosts such as people who are obese, elderly, or have cancer. He plans a career as a principal investigator furthering the understanding of metabolic diseases and their impact on the treatment of chronic and infectious diseases in clinical settings.

“The scholarship,” Green says, “gives me the opportunity to follow my dreams while continuing the tremendous progress the nutrition department has made in shaping the future of public health.”

As an undergraduate at UNC-Chapel Hill, Sydney Hartsell became involved with family planning research at UNC Project-Malawi.

“That experience showed me the incredible synergism between patient care, research and education,” she says. “It feels surreal to be able to follow my MD/MPH dreams at the Gillings School, in the same community that inspired me to pursue academic medicine in the first place.”

Hartsell says she is honored to be a Gillings Merit Scholar.

“The award will help me become a clinician-scientist who is better equipped to combat health inequities with research skills, socioeconomic awareness and multidisciplinary team experience,” she says.

Mandy Horner, who earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing at East Carolina University, is currently nurse manager of the Open Door Clinic at Urban Ministries of Wake County. She is pursuing a Master of Public Health to improve her clinical leadership skills.

“With a certificate in nonprofit work as part of my agenda,” she says, “I can help Urban Ministries support a clinic for uninsured poor in our community that continues to demonstrate increased patient outcomes for a larger number of patients.”

Molly Remch is a first-year Master of Science in Public Health/Doctor of Philosophy student in epidemiology. As an undergraduate at Washington University in St. Louis, she studied anthropology, with minors in public health and urban studies. After graduation, she was the study coordinator for the WTC-Heart Study, a cohort study of nearly 6,500 9/11 World Trade Center responders.

“I’m looking forward to expanding my epidemiological skills at the Gillings School and determining exactly how I want to focus my research,” Remch says. “The Gillings Merit Scholarship will relieve a lot of financial pressure and allow me to focus on my studies, my research and my transition to Chapel Hill and the Gillings School.”

For several years, Miriam Tardif-Douglin has worked on health systems program implementation evaluations.

“I’d like to gain a deeper understanding of health-care reimbursement systems, theories of shared decision making and policy related to mental health care access,” she says. “I’d also like to improve my quantitate research skills.”

Tardif-Douglin’s bachelor’s degree is in public policy and political science, and after earning her master’s, she would like to work for a contract research organization or health-care consulting company.

“The merit award will help me financially so I can focus on working with professors, taking classes that provide the skills to reach my goals, and getting involved in student organizations,” she says.

Aurore Victor, JD, earned a bachelor’s degree (cum laude) at Yale and Juris Doctor at Harvard Law. Before pursuing her Master of Public Health, she taught law for many years and has been an invited speaker on topics ranging from domestic violence to the impact of reproductive technologies in divorce and custody matters.

“The merit scholarship is essential to allowing me to pursue an additional graduate degree,” Victor said. “I will continue to advocate for individuals and communities in need, but my passion now also includes health-care advocacy and nutritional intelligence.”

She hopes to be a full-time teacher at the graduate level in nutrition policy, to work on nutritional policy and law development in a government agency or nonprofit organization and/or to work in community and patient outreach, education and advocacy in nutrition.

As a graduate student majoring in health-care management in China, Yuzhu Xia participated in research regarding telemedicine’s impact upon health conditions of people in China.

“Thanks to the Gillings Merit Scholarship,” she says, “I feel more confident to pursue a career in health-care management and make contributions to improve people’s health,” she says.

Belinda-Rose Young’s research interests include the intersection of HIV incidence and the perpetration of sexual violence against women. After completing her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in health education, she worked as an evaluator for a translational research institute, served as a U.N. Women Global Community Champion for Women’s Economic Empowerment, taught public health-focused courses in Jamaica and completed a two-year fellowship with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I am honored and excited to begin my doctoral studies at The Gillings School,” Young says. “Through my studies in health behavior and involvement in student organizations, I know I’ll be prepared to conduct global sexual violence prevention research. The Gillings Merit Scholarship will afford me the opportunity to combine service with science to make an impact locally and globally.”

Biostatistician Briana Stephenson wants to determine variations in dietary patterns in various groups in the U.S. She is working to create a flexible clustering model that adjusts for individual differences in different subpopulations.

“The Gillings Dissertation Award will help support my efforts to advance my methods and share its applications to a wide variety of interdisciplinary efforts in public health and beyond,” she says.


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