Graduate Division

Public Impact Fellowship

Section 1

Overview

Public Impact Fellowships highlight and support doctoral or MFA students whose current research has the potential for substantial impact in the public sphere. Ideal candidates will be involved in research designed to significantly improve or enrich the lives of Californians and/or national and global communities.

All Schools are eligible to nominate students to compete for a total of 14 fellowships. Four Public Impact Distinguished Fellows will each receive $12,000. Ten Public Impact Fellows will each receive $1,000. Awarded students may choose to accept their awards during Winter or Spring quarter, or over both quarters, at their discretion. 

School nominations must be submitted to the Graduate Division by 12:00pm on Friday, October 25, 2019Students should consult with their program's graduate affairs staff member before applying, as Schools and programs typically set earlier internal deadlines.

Please use the following forms in preparing nominations:

Award Info

Graduate Division Public Impact Distinguished Fellowships: $12,000 to be used as a stipend

Graduate Division Public Impact Fellowships: $1,000 to be used as a stipend

Students who receive full $12,000 awards may not be appointed as ASEs during the award period, but may be appointed as GSRs. Students who receive $1,000 honorable mention awards may be appointed as ASEs or GSRs.

Eligibility

For UC Irvine Public Impact Fellowships, nominees must, at minimum, meet the following criteria:

  1. Have a minimum graduate-level UCI GPA of 3.7
  2. Be a current, full-time doctoral or MFA student 
  3. If a doctoral student, be advanced to candidacy for the Ph.D. by October 25, 2019
  4. Conduct research that has critical public impact. (Examples of relevant research include studies that aim to improve economic opportunity and well-being, health care, social justice, political participation, cultural engagement, and scientific or technical solutions to pressing social issues.)
  5. Be willing to have research spotlighted/featured on both the Graduate Division’s and UCI’s website, brochures and social networks, and be able and available to effectively communicate and discuss their research in lay terms with prospective donors, legislators and/or their staff, and the media during winter and spring quarters.
  6. If selected as a finalist, students must be available to give a brief in-person presentation to the selection committee, with no visual aids, immediately followed by a brief interview, on Monday, November 18, 2019. Remote participation is not permitted.
  7. If selected as an awardee, students must be available to attend a lunch in early Winter Quarter and accompany the Vice Provost and Graduate Dean to Sacramento for Graduate Research Advocacy Day in the event they are selected to participate.

Application Process

Schools are asked to collect nominations from each department and forward the most promising nominees, based on merit and the potential public impact of the student's research. There is no limit to the number of nominations. The final selection committee will consider several factors when choosing the awardees, including each student's presentation, interview, ability to convey their research to a broad audience, academic record, letters of recommendation, degree progress, and potential research impact.

Instructions for Students

  • Complete the Student Information Form and save it as a Microsoft Word document (please save as "IMPACT APP - SID#.doc", e.g. "IMPACT APP - 12345678.doc")
  • Please email the following materials to your program’s graduate affairs staff member:
  1. Completed Student Information Form saved as a Microsoft Word document using the naming convention described above
  2. PDF of the completed Student Information Form with your signature.
  3. Your current CV
  4. Letter of recommendation from your primary faculty advisor/PI

Instructions for Programs/Departments

  • Complete the Nomination Form and save it as a Microsoft Word document (please save as "IMPACT NOM - SID#.doc", e.g. "IMPACT NOM - 12345678.doc")
  • Print the Nomination Form and obtain the Program Graduate Advisor’s and Associate Dean’s signatures.
  • Please create a single PDF file for each nominee in this order:
  1. Nomination Form (signed by the Program Graduate Advisor and Associate Dean)
  2. Student Information Form (signed by the student)
  3. CV
  4. Letter of Recommendation from the student’s primary faculty advisor/PI
  • Please save this new PDF file as "IMPACT - SID#.pdf", e.g. "IMPACT - 12345678.pdf"
  • When all documentation is complete, please send an email to Turner Dahl containing the following documents for each nominated student:
  1. The completed Microsoft Word (.doc) Nomination Form
  2. The completed Microsoft Word (.doc) Student Information Form
  3. PDF of the complete nomination packet (to include all bold items listed above)

Contact Information

Please direct any questions to Turner Dahl at tdahl@uci.edu or (949) 824-0490.

Deadline

School nominations must be submitted to the Graduate Division by 12:00pm on Friday, October 25, 2019. Students should consult with their program's graduate affairs staff member before applying, as Schools and programs typically set earlier internal deadlines.

Notes

  • Students who receive full $12,000 awards may not be appointed as ASEs during the award period, but may be appointed as GSRs. Students who receive $1,000 honorable mention awards may be appointed as ASEs or GSRs.
  • For students already receiving financial aid, acceptance of a Public Impact Fellowship may affect their overall financial need-based support package. In such cases, students are encouraged to consult with the UCI Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships. 
  • Students should review the terms of any funding that they have accepted for AY 2019-2020 to ensure that they are eligible to receive additional fellowship funding before applying.
  • Previous winners (full awardees and honorable mentions) are not eligible for this year’s competition.

Current Fellows

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Benjamin Leffel, Sociology

Public Impact Distinguished Fellow

Degrees:

  • Sociology, University of California Irvine, Ph.D. (June, 2020)
  • Sociology, University of California Irvine, MA, 2017
  • International Affairs, American University, MA, 2013
  • Political Science, Otterbein University, BA, 2010

Research:

How cities and corporations around the world reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Biography:

Benjamin Leffel uses big data to develop a global, systemic understanding of cities in climate change governance, economics and diplomacy. He has publications in The Hague Journal of Diplomacy and Global Society and Op-Eds in the Harvard Business Review, The Hill and Orange County Register. He works closely with the UN’s Cities Climate Finance Leadership Alliance, the Connected Cities Lab (University of Melbourne), the Connecticut Green Bank and many others. He is co-creator of the Center for Innovative Diplomacy Archive, co-author of the UCI Long U.S.-China Institute’s U.S.-China Barometer, and has performed research for the U.S. Department of State and the United Kingdom Government Office for Science. His current research focuses on the determinants of city and corporate greenhouse gas emissions reductions and has received support from the National Science Foundation.

What this Fellowship/Award Means To Me:

This Award will allow me to directly apply my research to the City of Irvine’s own climate action planning. This includes applying globally-viable approaches to building energy efficiency, innovative public-private partnerships with local companies and harnessing green markets and big data. The ultimate goal is to maximize the City’s ability to reduce direct, Scope 1 greenhouse gas emissions.

Significance of My Research to California:

By delivering this public impact, I advance a tradition of environmental governance innovation achieved through UCI-City of Irvine collaboration. As told in the new digital archive of materials on this history that I unearthed, collaboration between Nobel Prize-winning UCI chemist Sherwood Rowland and the City of Irvine once led to the creation of the world’s largest international environmental city network, ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability (formerly, the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives).

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Chandra L. Middleton, Anthropology

Public Impact Distinguished Fellow

Degrees:

  • Anthropology, University of California, Irvine, PhD 2021 expected
  • Anthropology, University of California, Irvine, MA 2017
  • Lewis & Clark Law School, JD 2004
  • Anthropology, Washington University in St. Louis, AB 1999

Research: 

How civil servants make environmental policy through administrative and legal processes

Biography:

Chandra L. Middleton is a doctoral candidate in anthropology in the School of Social Sciences at UCI. She returned to graduate school after a decade as an attorney in Washington, DC, where she worked with public interest organizations focusing on crime victims’ rights within the criminal justice system and on environmental policy. She draws on her legal expertise to ethnographically study participatory environmental governance, focusing on how federal government employees at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency use administrative and environmental law to engage the public during policymaking. While such a focus might seem distant from the immediacy of environmental injustice or climate change-induced hazards, it relocates legal and administrative processes from the domain of inexplicable actions taken by “the government” to being the products of human social relations. This focus offers a more robust understanding of how government operates, how to hold it accountable, and how to improve it. Chandra has also conducted research and advised credit unions on how emerging and artificial intelligence-driven technologies are used in the financial services industry. Chandra’s research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the UCI Department of Anthropology, and the Filene Research Institute.

What this Fellowship/Award Means To Me:

Understanding how government works—who creates policy and what processes are undertaken—is a key first step to making it work better. I am honored to have received the Public Impact Fellowship and hope to inspire people to think more robustly about government employees and how policy is made. I look forward to the opportunities to disseminate my research that are presented by this fellowship.

Significance of my research in the public sphere:

Administrative law forms the bedrock of how our government works, offering protections that are obscure to most of the public, even as the decisions it governs directly affect public health and welfare. My research offers insight into the ways in which small decisions are made throughout the process of creating policy and explains the various roles played by a diverse cast of federal agency employees. Without differentiating the roles of different agencies and employees public trust in the institutions of democracy will erode, placing effective environmental policies further out of reach due to ineffective governance and a lack of public will to invest in such agencies.

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Christopher Toh, Biomedical Engineering

Public Impact Distinguished Fellow

Degrees:

  • Biomedical Engineering, University of California - Irvine, PhD, Expected 2021
  • Biomedical Engineering, University of California - Irvine, MS, 2019
  • Bioengineering, University of California – Los Angeles, BS, 2017

Research:

Prediction of cancer and other complex diseases through inherited genetic variations and machine learning

Biography:

Christopher Toh is a PhD candidate in Dr. James P. Brody’s laboratory in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at UCI. During his undergraduate years at UCLA, he was an active undergraduate researcher in Dr. Jacob Schmidt’s Bioelectricity Laboratory and is a co-author of a publication in the Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics examining the toxicity of nanoparticles. He will also be listed as a co-author in another publication with Dr. Jacob Schmidt’s laboratory which is currently under consideration.

Christopher has also been working as a part-time Software Automation Tester within Boeing’s Digital Solutions & Analytics division since 2016. His projects primarily include software development in support of logistical programs for the Department of Defense. These projects include the Integrated Computerized Deployment System (ICODES) which is the primary integrated load-planning platform for USTRANSCOM.

He joined Dr. Brody’s laboratory in 2017 with the intent of apply computer science to healthcare and was awarded the Engineering Bridge Fellowship in 2018 from the UCI School of Engineering. His research primarily focuses on inherited genetics and the application of machine learning to better predict and understand how genetics affects complex diseases including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and more. He regularly works with datasets such as The Cancer Genome Atlas and the UK Biobank which contains genetic information of hundreds of thousands of individuals and terabytes to petabytes of data. Christopher entered graduate school with the hopes of leveraging lessons learned in other fields towards the betterment of healthcare.

In his free time, Christopher runs a podcast titled “Talks With Toh” where he explores a wide variety of topics across multiple fields and enjoys rock climbing, running, and soccer. He also dedicates time to the Graduate Association of Biomedical Engineering Students and serves as the communication chair, facilitating outreach to the surrounding community and industry preparation events for fellow graduate students. He also spends his time mentoring undergraduate students at UCI.

What this Fellowship/Award Means To Me:

I have always been interested in how scientific discoveries in different fields can be used to improve human health. The Public Impact Fellowship will enable me to help build and improve upon our healthcare by understanding the complex nature of our own bodies. It will also help me share and educate others regarding what is possible in the new information age that we live in. This fellowship will allow me to continue exploring the complex web of how human genetics works with the goal of finding solutions to some of the most difficult diseases.

Significance of My Research to California:

Cancer is still the second leading cause of death in the United States. The CDC reports that the number of cancer deaths has been steadily increasing in the last decade. In Orange County, other complex diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease is quickly becoming the third leading cause of death and globally Alzheimer’s Disease is rapidly rising. These diseases have a significant genetic component to them, though how genetics plays a role in the onset of these diseases is still difficult to understand. Developing a robust understanding of how these risk factors work and predicting which individuals may have elevated risk will allow for earlier detection and screening of these diseases, which is critical for providing the best possible outcomes for patients.

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Gray Abarca, Anthropology

Public Impact Distinguished Fellow

Degrees:

  • Anthropology, UC Irvine, PhD, 2020 expected 
  • Anthropology, UC Irvine, MA, 2015
  • Philosophy, Anthropology, UC Berkeley, BA, 2013

Research:

Cultures of inclusion and the use of community knowledge to promote health equity

Biography:

Gray Abarca is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology at UC Irvine. His research explores the cultural and political meanings of community knowledge, and how these meanings interact with contemporary discourses over community inclusion. He conducted ethnographic fieldwork at a local nonprofit to examine how community health workers are mobilized as representatives and experts of the city’s Latino population, whose inclusion and participation in decision-making is envisioned as key to promoting health equity and social justice. He is currently writing about the tacit cultural barriers created by efforts to “include the community,” and what these barriers mean for hopes of a more equitable future. 

What this Fellowship/Award Means To Me:

This award will further support my doctoral research, and help me complete my dissertation. It also affirms my commitment to share my knowledge and skills in the public and nonprofit sector. 

Significance of my research in the public sphere:

My research speaks to contemporary efforts to integrate community residents into decision-making practices that address social inequalities and health disparities. My findings highlight the cultural dynamics underlying the subtle ways community residents are excluded from decision-making, which can inform strategies to better include community knowledge aiming to create health equity.

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Jessica Grace Cabrera, Sociology

Public Impact Distinguished Fellow

Degrees:

  • Sociology, University of California, Irvine, PhD, expected 2021
  • Sociology, University of California, Irvine, MA, 2017
  • Sociology, Women and Gender Studies, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, BA 2015

Research:

Jessica’s research investigates how feminist social movements, university administrators, and men’s rights groups shape the meaning of Title IX laws and policies.

Biography:

Jessica Cabrera is a doctoral candidate in Sociology. She originally became interested in studying Title IX as an undergraduate student working in a domestic violence center at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, the birthplace of a student-led movement that pushed universities to comply with new Title IX anti-harassment laws from the Obama administration. She decided to pursue a PhD in sociology because she wanted to understand how, after so much work by student activists, the law still seemed to be ineffective. In 2018, Jessica’s research on mandatory reporting and Title IX won an honorable mention from the Ford Foundation and was accepted as a book chapter in The Research Handbook for Gender, Sexuality, and Law. Jessica is a graduate of the UCI Law, Society, and Culture Emphasis, as well as the UC Intercampus Exchange program, through which she completed a course on sexual harassment law at UC Berkeley Law. Jessica’s research is also supported by the Eugene Cota-Robles Fellowship, the UCI Initiative to End Family Violence, the UCI Center for Organizational Research, and the UCI Center for Citizen Peacebuilding. Jessica is the proud co-founder of the UCI Womxn’s Center’s first ever Queer Womxn Collective. She will be speaking on the importance of her research at the United Nations Commission for the Status of Women in NYC in March 2020.

What this Fellowship/Award Means To Me:

The Public Impact Fellowship is a strong reminder to engage in research with questions that will help create meaningful, positive social change, and to put knowledge back in the hands of the stakeholders who have helped me develop my project.

Significance of my research in the public sphere:

It is with great urgency that feminist advocates of survivors, progressive social movements, lawmakers, legal advocates, and university administrators search for both cultural and legal solutions to the problem of sexual harassment on college campuses. My dissertation will help various stakeholders to understand how civil rights laws like Title IX become susceptible to influence by progressive social movements, university administrators, and conservative counter-movements, processes that typically render socially-conscious laws ineffective. The theoretical implications of the work may be of use to interdisciplinary scholars researching barriers to implementing and mobilizing other types of civil rights laws in universities regarding hate speech and affirmative action, which are also shaped via contestation and cohesion among progressive social movements, university administrators, and right-wing counter-movements.

 

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Kerrigan Blake, Mathematical, Computational, and Systems Biology

Public Impact Distinguished Fellow

Degrees:

  • Mathematical, Computational, and Systems Biology, UC Irvine, PhD, Expected 2020
  • Mathematics, University of Kansas, BS, 2014

Research:

Characterizing the response of microglia to breast cancer brain metastasis.

Biography:

Kerrigan Blake is a PhD candidate in Mathematical, Computational, and Systems Biology (MCSB) in the Lawson lab where she studies breast cancer metastasis. In her research, she uses her quantitative training to identify metastatic biomarkers and immune responses from single cell genomic and transcriptomic datasets. She also studies the breast in homeostasis as part of the Human Cell Atlas project. Outside of lab, she is passionate about teaching and outreach at all levels of education. She received an ASCB COMPASS Outreach Grant for holding a middle-school essay contest and a TAR fellowship for her participation in the design and analysis of a research study on quantitative learning in undergraduate genetics. She also developed multiple computational modules which she teaches yearly for the Cancer Systems Biology Short Course and the MCSB gateway bootcamps. In 2016, she co-founded the current Biophysics and Systems Biology Seminar Series, a weekly talk forum that allows students and invited speakers to present their work to a diverse, multidisciplinary audience. More recently, she has enjoyed acting a research mentor for a high school student through the UCI Cancer Research Institute Youth Science Fellowship program and as a peer mentor though the MCSB Peer Mentoring Program. In the future, she hopes to become a professor with a research focus on human health and quantitative education in biology.

What this Fellowship/Award Means To Me:

I am honored to be a Public Impact Fellow. I have been consistently inspired by our interactions with patient advocates and local charity groups and hope that this award encourages others to reach out and learn more about our research. Receiving this fellowship brings attention to breast cancer brain metastasis, a devastating disease with few treatment options. Greater public awareness and investment in research into this disease will help expedite the path from basic science to therapeutic opportunity.  

Significance of my research in the public sphere:

Brain metastasis affects 10-25% of metastatic breast cancer patients and has a median survival time of less than two years. Breast tumors in the brain are particularly difficult to treat due to the blood brain barrier and supportive interactions between breast tumors and the non-cancerous cells around them. Microglia, an immune cell type that resides only in the brain, is present at the earliest stages of breast cancer brain metastatic seeding and accumulates around the growing tumor. Due to their close interactions with brain metastases, our research has focused on identifying mechanisms by which microglia may support or block metastatic seeding and outgrowth. To do this, we use cutting-edge single-cell sequencing technologies to survey the behavior of thousands of individual microglia Our results so far suggest that microglia are critical components of the anti-tumor response in breast cancer brain metastasis and that microglial depletion results in an increased tumor burden. We believe that this work leads to a better understanding of how the immune system influences the progression of breast cancer brain metastasis and suggests therapeutically actionable targets for further investigation.

 

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Margaret Lugin, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Public Impact Distinguished Fellow

Degrees:

  • Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of California, Irvine, PhD, 2020 expected
  • Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of California, Irvine, Master’s, 2016
  • Chemical Engineering, University of Michigan, BSE, 2014

Research:

My work focuses on gene therapy for cancer treatment by encapsulating a virus in a nonviral carrier, which increases its efficacy, allows it to avoid the immune system, and allows it to deliver a second gene in the form of RNA for a multi-faceted attack against cancer.

Biography:

Margaret graduated from the University of Michigan with honors in 2014 with a BSE in Chemical Engineering and a French minor. During her undergrad, she researched the effect nanoparticles have on immune cells under Dr. Lola Eniola.

In 2014, Margaret began at the PhD program at UCI. She works under Dr. Young-Jik Kwon to develop gene therapy to treat cancer. This system utilizes a virus encapsulated in a nonviral carrier, allowing it to be effective, escape the immune system, and to  integrate a second gene (RNA) to have a two-fold attack on the cancer cells. This work was furthered by using chemotherapeutic drugs in conjunction with the carrier. The drugs and carrier combined saw up to 90% efficiency in killing cancer cells, but do not harm healthy cells.

Margaret has been a graduate opportunities fellow and a trainee on an NIH T32 training grant in virology. She has been the vice president and president of the CBEMS GSA for her department. She has served as a SURF mentor, a competitive edge mentor, and has mentored 4 undergraduate students in her lab. Margaret also served as a writer and then managing editor for the “Loh Down on Science,” a daily science podcast that broadcasts new discoveries in a fun and accessible manner.

What this Fellowship/Award Means To Me:

I was honored and grateful to receive this fellowship. This award will allow me to spread my work to a larger community. Expanding scientific knowledge to the world at large is empowering for all everyone. With better understanding of scientific discovery, the world can move forward faster and we can impact positive change.

Significance of my research in the public sphere:

My work focuses on increasing the efficacy of cancer treatments by targeting them directly, as opposed to chemotherapy and radiation, which will kill healthy cells along with the cancerous ones. Through this work, we can decrease side effects from cancer treatments, which can often be debilitating. The gene carrier also is more effective at treating cancer, as it targets mutations of the cells. This work will hopefully reduce side effects from treatment for cancer patients, and give them a better fighting chance at defeating this horrible disease.

 

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Mary Ryan, Statistics

Public Impact Distinguished Fellow

Degrees:

  • Statistics, UC Irvine, PhD, Expected 2021
  • Statistics, UC Irvine, MS, 2019
  • Statistics, University of Missouri, BA, 2016
  • Journalism, University of Missouri, BJ, 2016

Research:

Development of statistical methods to accurately identify Alzheimer’s Disease biomarkers more quickly.

Biography:

Mary Ryan is a PhD candidate in the Department of Statistics at UCI, working under the mentorship of Dr. Daniel Gillen. She earned dual Bachelor’s degrees in Journalism and Statistics from the University of Missouri (MU). During her undergraduate career she had to opportunity to work as a research assistant in the Statistics Department, where she investigated the spatial connections between suicide and bullying, and explored changes mean earnings gaps between racial and ethnic groups around the Great Recession. While at MU, she was both a Walter William Scholar and an Albert Winemiller Scholar, and graduated with University Honors.

Mary joined the Grill/Gillen lab at the UCI Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC) in 2017 as a trainee under the Neurobiology of Aging T32 Training Grant Fellowship. At the ADRC, her work has focused on the role study partners play in Alzheimer’s Disease clinical trials. For her dissertation, she is developing new statistical methodology to speed efforts and reduce costs of identifying valid biomarkers in Alzheimer’s disease.

Outside of research, Mary is a co-chair of UCI REMIND, a student-led outreach organization which aims to promote education on neurodegenerative diseases to the community at large. She is also a member of the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (CNLM) Ambassador Program.

What this Fellowship/Award Means To Me:

It is an honor to be named a Public Impact Fellow. This fellowship will allow me to continue my research into conducting observational studies more efficiently and pioneering new methods to analyze data, so we can have all the tools necessary to work toward ending Alzheimer’s disease. This fellowship will also allow me to communicate to the public how statistics affects their lives, through outreach with neurodegenerative disease education organizations.

Significance of my research in the public sphere:

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a debilitating neurodegenerative disorder that progressively strips patients of their physical and mental independence, representing a condition that is associated with high levels of morbidity and mortality. This condition currently affects approximately 5.6 million Americans over the age of 65, and is projected to double to 11.6 million in the next 20 years. A primary objective of contemporary AD research is the discovery of early biomarkers: observable or measurable characteristics that act as an indicator for some biological process or disease. Discovery of such biomarkers for AD may provide new targets for treatments and early warnings to patients. My research aims to speed the efforts and reduce the cost of identifying new AD biomarkers by extending an existing experimental study statistical methodology, called group sequential design, to observational study settings, and to also develop new assessment measures to accurately use sequential biomarker data to predict shifts in cognitive ability.

 

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Samantha Garcia, Public Health

Public Impact Distinguished Fellow

Degrees:

  • Public Health, University of California, Irvine, Ph.D., Expected 2021
  • Community Health Education, California State University, Northridge, M.P.H., 2013
  • Public Policy, University of California, Riverside, B.A., 2011

Research:

Explore individual, interpersonal and community factors associated with Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine hesitancy among foreign-born and US-born Mexican American young adult women.

Biography:

Samantha Garcia is a fourth-year PhD student in the Program in Public Health at the University of California, Irvine working in Dr. Suellen Hopfer’s lab exploring HPV vaccine decision stories using Narrative Engagement Theory. Ms. Garcia has a Master’s in Public Health in Community Health Education from California State University, Northridge and a Bachelor of Arts in Public Policy from the University of California, Riverside. Before pursuing a doctoral program, Ms. Garcia spent 3 years working on community-based projects related to cancer prevention, obesity prevention and tobacco control. These experienced have influenced her research interests which include health communication strategies, cervical cancer prevention, and Latino health. Her current research focuses on advancing the understanding of mechanisms contributing to health behaviors which lead to cervical cancer disparities among Mexican American women.

What this Fellowship/Award Means To Me:

The Public Impact Fellowship protects my time as a young researcher and gives me the opportunity to further develop skills needed to become a health communication and health disparities scholar. During my time as a fellow, I plan to explore modifiable factors associated with HPV vaccine hesitancy. Results obtained from this study will be used as pilot data for future postdoctoral applications and grants. I am honored to receive this award that supports my goal to make meaningful contributions in the field of public health.

Significance of my research in the public sphere:

My research focuses on understanding which individual, interpersonal and community factors are associated with HPV vaccine hesitancy amongst Mexican American women, a population adversely affected by HPV-associated cancers. Uncovering which level of influence explains the most variance in HPV vaccine hesitancy will aid in developing a more impactful clinic-based intervention. It is my hope that this study’s findings may lead to efficacious and culturally grounded interventions.

 

 

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Sanjana Sen, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry

Public Impact Distinguished Fellow

Degrees:

  • Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, University of California, Irvine, PhD. Candidate, Present
  • Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology, University of Toronto, MSc., 2011
  • Human Biology, Specialist Program, University of Toronto, BSc., 2008

Research:

Developing a real-time insulin biosensor towards improving automated Type 1 Diabetes disease management

Biography:

I graduated with a High Distinction BSc. in Human Biology. I began my journey studying metabolic diseases during my Master’s at the University of Toronto, where I studied the protective role of insulin in genetic vascular diseases. Currently, I am a PhD. candidate at Prof. Gregory Weiss’ laboratory, where I am developing a real-time insulin sensor for improved automated Type-1 Diabetes (T1D) management. I am highly motivated by impact that my research aims to have on the millions around world that are burdened by T1D.  Volunteering with the local T1D community through The Savvy Diabetics and The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation has provided me with valuable opportunities to both learn and share knowledge. I am also focused on learning about delivering scientific innovations to society. Through my participation in the National Science Foundation (NSF) ICorps BioEntrepreneurship Workshop and my training as a Fellow at UCI’s Beall Applied Innovation Center, I have gained new perspectives on evaluating scientific discoveries still at the bench for its potential public impact. I aim to channel these insights to drive my research forward.

What this Fellowship/Award Means To Me:

It is a great honor to have my research on developing automated Type 1 Diabetes management technology recognized for its significant public impact. The fellowship provides opportunities for me to communicate the burdens of Type 1 Diabetes disease management, and demonstrate the need and solutions for accurate automated disease management at conferences, to policy-makers, and the medical community. I work within a team of chemists, molecular biologists and biomedical engineers, and the fellowship also allows a platform for me to highlight the strengths of an interdisciplinary team towards developing new technologies to tackle global health issues. The fund from the fellowship provides support towards the development of the sensor technology during the fifth year of my PhD program.

Significance of my research in the public sphere:

More than 1.25 million Americans live with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D), and by 2050 the T1D population is expected to reach 5 million. T1D patients cannot produce the hormone insulin, responsible for regulating blood glucose levels and therefore must rely on its external administration. Tipping the blood glucose level outside the optimal range, high or low, can lead to severe neurological, cardiovascular, renal diseases or death. Despite some automation in glucose regulation with the advent of the artificial pancreas (AP), patients still spend approximately 33% outside optimal ranges. Because the AP only approximates insulin in circulation, discrepancies between administered and circulating insulin levels can cause unhealthy swings in glucose levels. Therefore, having a direct measure of insulin in circulation can significantly strengthen feedback between the AP and glucose regulation, resulting in safer, more accurate automated T1D management. My research aims is to develop a real-time implantable insulin sensor. We base the design of our sensor biosensor on nature’s own insulin sensor, the insulin receptor (InR), to develop a real-time insulin sensor with an optical signal. The sensor will be housed in a miniature implantable device created through our collaboration with Prof. Elliot Botvinick’s biomedical engineering laboratory.

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Yan Li, Biomedical Engineering

Public Impact Distinguished Fellow

Degrees:

  • Biomedical Engineering, UC Irvine, PhD, Expected 2020
  • Biomedical Engineering, UC Irvine, MS, 2019
  • Optical Engineering, University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, MS, 2014
  • Electronics Science and Technology, Tianjin University, BS, 2011

Research:

Multimodal intravascular imaging technique for characterization of atherosclerosis

Biography:

Yan Li is a PhD candidate in Prof. Zhongping Chen’s laboratory at the Department of Biomedical Engineering of UC Irvine.  Her research focuses on multimodal intravascular imaging techniques for characterization of atherosclerosis, and her contribution to the field awarded her the American Heart Association Predoctoral Fellowship in 2016.  During her graduate studies, she has first-authored more than 15 peer-reviewed publications in the leading journals of biomedical engineering as well as 2 book chapters.  Several of her research studies were featured on OCT News and ASLMS.  In addition to her scholarship, Yan is actively involved in many outreach programs.  She is the mentor to undergraduates from HBCUs for the Pathways to Biophotonics and Biomedical Engineering program, international students from UCInspire, and young women attending the St. Margaret’s Episcopal School internship.  She currently serves as a DECADE student representative and commits to promoting diversity in UC Irvine.  In 2019, she has been awarded the American Heart Association Postdoctoral Fellowship to continue her research on novel intravascular imaging technology for atherosclerosis diagnostics.

What this Fellowship/Award Means to Me:

I am beyond grateful to receive this fellowship, which not only supports my study but also recognizes the public impact of my research.  This award encourages me to continue advancing intravascular imaging techniques with the goal of improving patient care.  More importantly, it allows me to expand the awareness of atherosclerosis to the public.  With the support from this fellowship, I will continue to investigate new imaging approaches for accurate and early diagnosis of cardiovascular disease and to translate the developed imaging devices from bench to bedside.

Significance of my research in the public sphere:

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in United State.  Vulnerable plaques in the blood vessels are responsible for the majority of heart attack events.  The imaging technology I am working on will enhance the clinicians’ ability to identify vulnerable lesions, tailor interventional therapy, and monitor disease progression.  It will be a powerful tool that provides a quantitative means to benchmark and evaluate new medical devices and therapies.

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Ying Xu, School of Education

Public Impact Distinguished Fellow

Degrees:

  • Education, University of California, Irvine, PhD, 2020 (expected)
  • Chinese Linguistics and Literature, Sun Yat-sen University, BA, 2010

Research:

Using conversational technologies to support children’s language development and science learning from digital media

Biography:

Ying Xu is a PhD Candidate in Dr. Mark Warschauer’s Digital Learning Lab in the School of Education at UCI. Xu has contributed to multiple research projects, funded by the Institute of Education Sciences and the National Science Foundation, in which she enthusiastically embraces using learning principles to maximize the benefits of cutting-edge educational technologies in supporting student learning in diverse communities. She is currently exploring the potential of using artificially intelligent conversational agents to promote children’s language development and science learning through scaffolded conversations. Xu has published her work in high-impact journals and conference proceedings, including Scientific Research of Reading, Journal of Family and Child Studies, British Journal of Educational Technology, and the Proceedings of CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. Xu received the Best Short Paper Award at the 2019 ACM Interaction Design and Children (IDC) conference and a Best Paper Award nomination in “Technology as an Agent of Change in Teaching and Learning” at the 2018 American Educational Research Association (AERA) conference.

What this Fellowship/Award Means To Me:

I am truly honored to have received the Public Impact Fellowship, which has recognized my dedication to improving our knowledge of supporting child development in the digital era. This award reinforces my commitment to share my research with broader audience to empower families and communities and bring about actionable changes in the children’s media industry.

Significance of my research in the public sphere:

Young children spend a sizable portion of their time on watching educational television shows, and governmental and non-governmental organizations in the U.S. have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on creating science-oriented television programming. In partnership with PBS KIDS, my research aims to maximize the benefits of educational programming through allowing children to interact with the content they are seeing in a meaningful way. My research could potentially transform television shows, which reach millions of young content consumers through massive public broadcasting, from their current passive format to an active informal STEM learning experience.

 

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Valerie Pham

Public Impact Fellow

Degrees:

  • Nursing Science, UC Irvine, PhD, 2021 expected
  • Nursing, CSU Fullerton, MS, 2013 (dually awarded)
  • Nursing, CSU Fullerton, BS, 2013 (dually awarded)
  • Psychology, UC San Diego, BA, 2008

Research:

Reach and effectiveness of TB prevention services for immigrants seeking permanent U.S. residency

Biography:

Valerie Pham is a PhD candidate in the Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing at UCI, under the mentorship of faculty advisor Dr. Sanghyuk Shin. She is the inaugural trainee of the UCI Infectious Disease Science Initiative. Pham is also the recipient of the National Research Service Award Predoctoral Fellowship from the NIH for her research on TB prevention services. Prior to UCI, she was awarded a research residency with one of the largest health maintenance organizations in the nation.

Her dissertation project, “Assessing the Public Health Impact of CDC Guidelines for Green Card Applicants with Latent Tuberculosis Infection (LTBI)”, aims to evaluate the reach and effectiveness of CDC guidelines on TB prevention services for immigrants seeking permanent U.S. residency. Her research will incorporate implementation and evaluation frameworks to determine civil surgeons’ adherence to CDC guidelines and whether adherence leads to increased treatment rates.

What this Fellowship/Award Means to Me:

This fellowship validates the significance of my research and acknowledges my contribution to knowledge to move the needle forward. Latent TB treatment efforts have faced many challenges and this award provides me the opportunity to discuss strategies to combat latent tuberculosis. This award supports the beginning of my journey to become a leading independent researcher on interventions to reduce health disparities among underserved migrant, refugee, and immigrant communities.

Significance of my research in the public sphere:

Tuberculosis is the world’s most lethal infectious killer. In the US, 13 million people have latent TB infection (LTBI) and serve as reservoirs from which deadly active TB disease can develop. Of the total number of TB cases reported nationally, non-US-born individuals accounted for ~70%, but the disproportion is even greater, ~90%, in Orange County. Last year, the CDC released new screening guidelines for green card applicants (GCAs). For the first time, LTBI-positive GCAs must be informed of their status, be provided with LTBI education, and their LTBI-positive result must be reported to the local health department. These new guidelines could lead to significant improvements in LTBI treatment and TB prevention among GCAs. However, little is known regarding the extent to which these new guidelines are implemented correctly and their impact on treatment seeking behavior among GCAs. My dissertation will generate critical preliminary data for developing public health outreach programs to maximize the uptake of the new guidelines and, ultimately, prevent TB among immigrants. As TB screening is already routinely done in this population, focusing on extending treatment services to status adjustors may be a sustainable strategy that substantially contributes to TB elimination in the US.

 

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Nicole Stivers

Public Impact Distinguished Fellow

Degrees:

  • Chemistry, University of California, Irvine, BS, 2012

Research:

Sex differences in chemotherapy-induced toxicity in non-cancerous mouse tissue.

Biography:

          In undergrad at UCI, I studied Chemistry and Women’s Studies. In college I also joined Dr. Limoli’s laboratory in the Department of Radiation Oncology, where I developed a passion for biology research and decided to continue my studies as his PhD student. As an Environmental Health Science student in the School of Medicine, I investigate sex-specific mechanisms of toxicity after chemotherapy exposure in mice. I have observed stark differences in sex-specific toxicity after paclitaxel treatment, a commonly used chemotherapeutic to treat both sexes. My work has helped me attain funding from UCI’s School of Medicine Institute for Clinical and Translational Medicine as a TR-1 predoctoral trainee. I have also been awarded the 2019 Newkirk Science and Society Dissertation Fellowship and the Dr. Lorna Carlin Dissertation Fellowship.

          Outside of lab I enjoy teaching yoga at the UCI gym and exploring the beautiful Southern California outdoors with my beloved husband and dog. I am also interested in current topics in health, wellness, and environmental toxicology and am passionate about improving my science communication skills on a regular basis.

What this Fellowship/Award Means To Me:

          I greatly value the scientific literacy and critical thinking skills I have developed as a scientist and PhD student. I am fortunate to be a student in the midst of some of the most profound scientific and technological advances and scholars of the millennia. However, I also feel the painstaking work and tremendous advances scientists and academics make can be easily overlooked or forgotten without proper skills and avenues of scientific communication. I believe I have a responsibility as a scientist and scholar to effectively communicate what I have learned to the public and provide insight and perspective to help solve the biggest global challenges of our generation. To me, awards like this— that acknowledge the larger, societal impact of research— give the much-needed opportunity to think about my work from a broader perspective, bringing me out of my academic ‘bubble’ into the public sphere.

Significance of my research in the public sphere:

          I have long supported sex-difference research as a way to address the decades of basic and clinical research preferentially performed on male animal models. I was further galvanized by NIH’s 2016 policy that aimed to rectify this sex-discrepancy by mandated that all future NIH funded research address sex as a biological variable and pursued a dissertation project that sought to investigate and characterize sex-differences in rodents. In following my interest and passion, I was able to come across a significant sex-dependent toxicity for a commonly used chemotherapeutic, paclitaxel. Despite the fact that this drug has been studied for over 50 years and used in patients for more than 20 years, this effect has never been tested or reported in the literature. I believe this research finding will have a significant impact on how this chemotherapeutic will be studied and used for treatment in the future. In addition, I think this finding provides further justification for the necessity of studying sex-differences in current and future drug development.

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