Impact Awards: 5 Gillings students blaze new trails with discovery and research

January 12, 2023

The UNC-Chapel Hill Graduate School’s Impact Awards are designed to recognize the significance of graduate student research and their contributions to North Carolina in areas of education and economic, physical, social or cultural well-being.

This year, five of the eleven recipients are from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

The eleven students and recent alumni honored in 2023 — whose research interests range from tidal creek accretion to pediatric obesity — are emblematic of graduate students and their dedication to improving the lives of North Carolinians. The Impact Awards are generously supported by The Graduate School’s Graduate Education Advancement Board.

More than 300 individuals have received Impact Awards since their inception. A cross-disciplinary team reviews the nominations and selects award recipients based on the significance of their work to North Carolina and on their ability to effectively communicate their research.

“This year’s Impact Award recipients are creating new knowledge in order to respond to our society’s greatest challenges,” said Beth Mayer-Davis, PhD, dean of The Graduate School. “In a state where the workforce and intellectual ecosystem continues to advance, we need graduate student research to help us continue to prosper. It’s all part of how we serve our state.”

2023 Impact Award recipients from the Gillings School

Emily Duffy

Emily Duffy

Emily Duffy 12, (‘14 MS), doctoral candidate
Department of Nutrition

Estimating the Effects of the Shock of COVID-19 and a Fruit and Vegetable Benefit Increase on Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Participants in North Carolina: A Mixed Methods Study
Duffy’s research focuses on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic-related increase in the in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) among North Carolina WIC participants. Her research uses focus groups to understand the effects of this policy change on families and their food access.

Amy Kryston

Amy Kryston, Master of Public Health graduate student
Global Health Concentration

On-site sanitation in North Carolina: Barriers to safe sanitation and associated adverse health outcomes
Kryston’s research seeks to address knowledge gaps regarding on-site sanitation, its social determinants and the associated adverse health outcomes in marginalized North Carolina communities. Her work highlights how decision making and legal frameworks continue to systematically impede marginalized communities; the goal is to provide data to communities and inform policy and funding decisions.

Haley Plaas

Haley Plaas

Haley Plaas, doctoral candidate
Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering

How Do Harmful Cyanobacterial Blooms Affect Air Quality?
Plaas’s research focuses on blue-green algae compounds in the air and weather conditions that promote their emission from North Carolina’s bodies of water. As summers get hotter due to climate change, cyanobacteria are thriving more readily in important state water resources. These bright green algae produce toxins which can cause serious — sometimes fatal — illness in humans and animals. In addition to the obvious effects that blue-green algae have on water quality, recent research has shown that their toxins can get into the air, posing previously unrecognized health issues.

Sophie Ravanbakht

Sophie Ravanbakht

Sophie Ravanbakht, doctoral candidate
Department of Health Policy and Management

The Influence of Intergenerational Acculturation and Stress on Pediatric Obesity in U.S. Latinos: An Exploration Using Decision and Systems Science
Ravanbakht’s research focuses on pediatric obesity, which continues to rise. Acculturation — the process and effects of adjusting to a new culture after immigration — has been found to be related to obesity in immigrants and their children. This new research explores the phenomenon among eight- to 13-year-olds, with the goal of shedding light on how clinical providers and policymakers can improve resources, guidance and treatment of obesity among this growing and vulnerable population.

Dr. Adrien Wilkie

Dr. Adrien Wilkie

Adrien Wilkie, (‘21 PhD)
Department of Epidemiology

Maternal gestational exposure to coal-fired power plant-related air pollution and adverse birth outcomes
Wilkie’s research focuses on the adverse association between ambient sulfur dioxide exposure during pregnancy and pre-term birth. This work will inform decision making processes regarding a move away from versus reinvestment in coal as a power source, considering health and climate impacts.


See the full list of 2023 Impact Award winners at The Graduate School website.


Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at sphcomm@unc.edu.

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