Groves and Paich win Gillings Dissertation Awards

June 15, 2012
Allison Groves

Allison Groves
Heather Paich

Heather Paich

Allison Groves and Heather Paich, students at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, received the 2012 Gillings Dissertation Award, a $5,000 prize to support doctoral research and dissertation writing at the School.

Groves, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education,* is studying intimate partner violence (IPV) in South Africa. The country has high rates of IPV against women, but little is known about IPV during the pregnancy and postpartum periods. Groves’ dissertation will describe the scope of IPV during that time and use modeling to describe the trajectories of IPV and the relationship characteristics associated with those trajectories.

“A better understanding of whether and how IPV changes for South African women will address a gap in violence prevention research and may inform clinic-based IPV prevention interventions that target women who seek prenatal and postnatal care,” Groves said.

Suzanne Maman, PhD, associate professor of health behavior and health education,* wrote in support of Groves’ award application.

“Allison is the strongest and most productive doctoral student with whom I’ve ever worked,” Maman said. “She possesses a unique combination of sophisticated research skills, excellent critical thinking skills and real-world experience that have enabled her to define important public health research questions.”

Paich, doctoral candidate in nutrition, studies how obesity impacts people’s response to influenza infection. Her research involved vaccinating individuals against the PH1N1 strains of influenza and, 30 days later, stimulating blood cells from the vaccinated healthy-weight, overweight and obese individuals with a live pH1N1 flu virus. Cells from overweight and obese adults showed significant impairment, compared to healthy-weight adults.

“These data are particularly compelling because they indicate that both overweight and obesity result in impaired immune function and suggest that overweight and obese individuals are not able to mount an appropriate immune response to influenza vaccination,” she said.

Melinda A. Beck, PhD, professor and associate chair in the Department of Nutrition, wrote in support of Heather’s application for the award.

“Heather’s work is extremely important, as it demonstrates the ability to use the animal model data to develop a clinical translational project,” Beck said. “Findings from her project are directly applicable to vaccine development strategies that may need to be modified for an increasingly obese population. From a public health standpoint, Heather’s work potentially could be utilized to alter vaccine strategies. I find her work to be truly transformative and highly relevant for public health improvement.”

The School’s student awards selection committee evaluated applicants’ dissertation abstracts on criteria including quality, potential for public health impact, dissemination plans, and metrics that measure near- and long-term impact.

The Gillings Dissertation Awards are made possible by a $50 million gift to the School from Dennis Gillings and Joan Gillings. To date, the gift has funded 18 Gillings Innovation Laboratories designed to accelerate solutions to important public health problems, including water and the environment, obesity, disparities and other issues across North Carolina and around the world. Visiting professors and an executive in residence teach, develop opportunities for faculty members and students, and extend the School’s reach into the community. Students are supported through the innovation labs, visiting professorships, scholarships, curricular support, an award for student service organizations, and these annual dissertation awards.

For more information about the Gillings awards, visit

* Note: As of July 1, this department will be named the Department of Health Behavior.




UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: Linda Kastleman, communications editor, (919) 966-8317 or