What was your background prior to enrolling in the MPH program at Gillings?

Nashmia Khan headshotI was born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan, and moved to the US in 2016 as an undergraduate. I went to a small liberal arts college – The College of Wooster – in Ohio. Small town Ohio was a big change from the large metropolitan city I’m from, but I loved the people I met there and how it shaped my academic life. I studied Cognitive Behavioral Neuroscience with a Minor in Sociology and Special Education. My research interests were related to child development/child neuropsychology, and I got to explore these through research projects and a year-long research thesis at Wooster. I was on the path of wanting to get a PhD in Neuroscience but wanted to get more practical experience between undergraduate and graduate school. Unfortunately, graduating in 2020 made this a bit difficult, but I was grateful for getting a Clinical Research Assistant job in a neuroimaging lab at Yale University School of Medicine. I led two Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science (TCORS) neuroimaging studies investigating substance use, specifically tobacco control, within an adolescent population. This work gave me a good understanding of substance use behaviors, particularly tobacco use among youth. Through researching adolescent responses to e-cigarette advertisements and warning labels, I learned more about the exploitative tactics of tobacco companies to promote use through targeted ads and promotional events among minority populations. This experience is what made me pivot from pursuing a PhD in Neuroscience to pursuing an MPH in Health Behavior. I became interested in the importance of collaborative research to help improve the delivery of equitable healthcare.


Can you tell us about your involvement with the Gillings International Graduate Student Association (IGSA)?

International graduate students pose for a picture outside during a potluck lunch

Potluck hosted by the International Graduate Student Association last Fall semester!

I would love to! Gillings International Graduate Student Association (IGSA) is a newly created student group (whoop, whoop!) and we aim to improve the experiences of international students. We strive to advocate for and offer support to international students, raise awareness of the challenges faced by international students, and effectively communicate their needs to school leadership and relevant entities/departments. At the Gillings School of Global Public Health, it’s important to be inclusive of students around the globe and highlight their needs and perspectives. Our executive board is comprised of first-year and second-year students at Gillings across departments and I’m grateful for the amazing work the second-year students put in to get this organization off the ground last summer. I joined last semester as Co-President and we are currently working to establish the backbones and foundation of this group to make sure we can help future international students continue to flourish here at Gillings. One of the ways to do that is to get a STEM designation at UNC, and we have been working with various members of the Gillings community to accomplish this. A STEM designation would mean that Gillings international students would get three years of Optional Practical Training (OPT) in the US after they graduate instead of one which is what international students are eligible for under Gillings’ current designation. The reason why these two additional years are so important to the overall experience of international students is because it would give them three years to find work visa sponsorship and take some of the stress off their shoulders. IGSA is hopeful that we will be successful in this process and that UNC Gillings will continue to prioritize the well-being of their students from around the globe!


Can you tell us about your role as a Graduate Research Assistant with the Department of Health Behavior?

I’m currently working as a Graduate Research Assistant for two professors in the Health Behavior Department – Dr. Liz Chen and Dr. Natalicio H. Serrano. With Liz, I’m working on a large scoping review on the use of trauma-informed design and principles and its role in developing digital interventions. Through this experience, I’m learning to manage and analyze data in Covidence and Excel and synthesize results and discussion in a manuscript for submission to a peer-reviewed journal. With Nat, I’m working on understanding how neighborhood development strategies influence physical activity, healthy eating, and health equity. I will be presenting these findings at the Active Living Conference (ALC2024) in March with my co-GRA. I’m learning about survey development, implementation, and evaluation of the public health impacts of affordability and cost of living and received training on how to conduct built environment audits of neighborhoods and recreational access to healthy living behaviors. I’m grateful to work with different professors on different topics as it exposes me to new and exciting health topics. My GRA experience is helping cultivate my interests and plan for my plans. Both professors have also acted as mentors and supported me in professional development experiences and have helped me navigate looking for a practicum opportunity this summer!


When not studying or working, how do you like to spend your free time?

Nashmia doing acro yoga outside with a friend

Sunday Acro Yoga with friends from the Health Behavior Cohort

Some of my favorite ways of enjoying my time outside of Gillings have been dancing Salsa and Bachata, doing Acro Yoga, and rock climbing. I started learning Latin dancing about two years ago and even performed for the last two summers around Connecticut so going to Latin Social when I have the chance has been amazing! One of my cohort mates introduced me to Acro Yoga last semester and now it’s become a part of our Sunday routine. It’s so silly and fun and builds strength without doing a traditional workout. Both acro yoga and rock climbing are great ways for me to be active while still socializing with my friends. I’m a big fan!




Have you tried any restaurants or cafes in the Triangle that you would recommend?

Nashmia salsa dancing with a partner

Latin Social at Bazil Indian Cuisine on the first and third Thursday of the month hosted by CoboBrother Dance Company

I love to work at Lanza’s Cafe in Carrboro; they have an amazing outdoor area and it’s super cozy. I like Steel String Brewery in Carrboro and I went to The Rocky Horror Picture Show screening there for Halloween – what an experience! Both Lanza’s and Steel String host fun events every week which are a great way to unwind with some friends. As for restaurants, I have yet to try the pizza places people have mentioned. However, I’m coming from New Haven and New York, places known for their pizzas, so the pressure is on!

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