The Graduate School has named Ph.D. student Kate Brandt as the 2022 recipient of the Boka W. Hadzija Award for Distinguished University Service, one of the Chancellor’s Awards at UNC-Chapel Hill. The award recognizes a graduate or professional student with outstanding character, scholarship, leadership, and service to the University.
Brandt is a geography graduate student who has advocated on behalf of her peers at the university, state, and national levels in many ways. As the vice president for advocacy and government affairs with Graduate and Professional Student Government (GPSG), she aims to find support for common issues graduate students may face.
“For me, it’s just the way I’ve approached being part of a community,” Brandt says. “I am talking to my peers all the time. If we have issues, I think there are a lot of administrators and policy makers who would be sympathetic.”
In addition to her work with GPSG, Brandt has chaired a graduate advisory committee for the Office of the Provost and has co-chaired the student advisory committee to the chancellor, served as president of the Department of Geography’s graduate student organization, taught courses in geographic information science, and served as project manager for a National Science Foundation grant researching energy poverty in southern Africa.
“Doing a Ph.D. is sometimes an individual task, but it’s also very team based,” she said. “Identifying the gaps between individual issues and team issues is something I do in my own work.”
Brandt emphasized that graduate students play many roles in the Carolina community: as students, as instructors, and said that many have families or caregiving duties.
“We face a different set of issues than undergraduates, and our status as students erases that sometimes,” she said. “It’s important to be constantly advocating. We’re not just taking classes—we’re producing, mentoring, writing, and doing community service work. It’s important to know that we have multiple functions on campus,” Brandt said.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Brandt organized town-hall-style meetings for graduate students to clarify community standards to graduate students.
As part of GPSG, she has been active in state relations. She launched the NC Graduate Student Coalition, designed to advocate with state government and with the UNC System. Brandt has played a pivotal role in crafting policy recommendations for UNC System institutions.
Her dissertation advisor, Michael Emch, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and professor and chair in the Department of Geography, said Brandt has advocated for graduate students from all areas of campus. The Department of Geography is part of the UNC College of Arts & Sciences.
“Kate has served her department and university more than any other grad student that I’ve ever been acquainted with during my 15 years at UNC-Chapel Hill and my 25 years as a faculty member,” he said in a nomination completed on her behalf.
Brandt spent her childhood in Wisconsin and studied at Rutgers University—New Brunswick before coming to Carolina for her Ph.D.
“The graduate students in my department are all very collegial, collaborative, and support each other,” she said. “That was something that made UNC stand apart for me.”
Brandt’s research as a health and population geographer focuses on dimensions of health and disease spread. Her dissertation will focus on gastric cancer in Honduras.
“I am most proud of getting people to come together, to collaborate, and to communicate with decision makers,” she said. “There are tons and tons of people that I work with who make this possible.”
One student per year receives the award; it is named after a former professor in the Eshelman School of Pharmacy and was established in 2000.