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

2023 Impact Awards, 11 headshots

The eleven students, 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.

Graduate students and recent graduate alumni apply for the annual awards and are nominated by their academic departments; this year, students representing more than 15 programs applied for the awards.

The Impact Awards are generously supported by The Graduate School’s Graduate Education Advancement Board (GEAB).

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 The Graduate School’s Dean Beth Mayer-Davis. “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

Keerthi S. Anand (‘18, Ph.D.) candidate
Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering
UNC-Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University

High Framerate Carotid Plaque Imaging with Concurrent Assessment of Blood Flow and Wall Shear Stress to Predict Stroke Risk
Anand’s research focuses on ischemic strokes, which affect close to 300,000 North Carolinians annually. Anand is developing a rapid, real-time realizable, and non-invasive method of ultrasound plaque imaging. Ultimately, this research hopes to better predict stroke risk and to reduce the number of unneeded surgeries.

Adams Bailey, Ph.D. candidate
Department of Public Policy, College of Arts and Sciences

Who benefits from business attraction? Three essays.
Bailey’s research focuses on local and state economic development incentives and how they impact the welfare of residents and inequality within societies. Through his research, Bailey argues that these incentives should focus on the well-being of current citizens and the equitable distribution of harms and benefits, instead of focusing solely on whether incentives create growth.

Molly Bost ‘13 (‘16 MS; ‘22 Ph.D.)
Earth, Marine and Environmental Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences

Drivers of tidal creek accretion over the last century
Bost’s research focuses on the health of tidal creeks, which directly impact coastal communities. Her research dives into a grassroots concern among North Carolina fishermen and waterfront residents that tidal creeks are becoming shallower and more turbid, which limit their ecosystem services. Ultimately, this research will recommend how to prioritize resources toward sediment conversation or restoration to maintain ecosystem function of tidal creeks and their salt marshes.

Emily Duffy ‘12, (‘14 MS), Ph.D. candidate
Department of Nutrition, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health

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 (NC) WIC participants. Her research uses focus groups among N.C. WIC participants to understand the effects of this policy change on families and their food access.

Emily Fennell ‘17
Department of Pharmacology, Ph.D., UNC School of Medicine

Multi-omic Analysis of Pharmacological ClpP Activation in Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Cells
Fennell’s research focuses on breast cancer—which is the leading cause of new cancer diagnoses in women. Triple-negative breast cancer is considered the most aggressive breast cancer subtype and is in need of more effective treatments. A drug, ONC201, has been identified in a chemical screen as a promising new anticancer therapeutic. Fennell’s research could be used to develop co-treatment regimens to enhance overall therapeutic effects.

Amy Kryston, Master of Public Health graduate student
UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health

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. It will highlight how decision making and legal frameworks continue to systematically impede marginalized communities. This research will provide data to communities and inform policy and funding decisions.

Anna Naples, Master of Public Administration graduate student
UNC School of Government

Produce Distributed in Urban and Rural Areas through the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina
Naples’s research focuses on the distribution of produce for people who live under the poverty line in order to better understand differences between urban and rural counties. Specifically, her research has produced a map that informs agencies as to where they should increase equitable produce distribution, such as through pop-up produce markets, partnerships with healthcare providers and to map chronic disease trends.

Haley Plaas, Ph.D. candidate
Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health

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 waterbodies. As summers are getting hotter due to climate change, cyanobacteria are thriving more readily in important North Carolina water resources. These bright green algae can produce toxins which cause serious and 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 blue-green algae and their toxins can get into the air, posing previously unrecognized health issues.

Sophie Ravanbakht, Ph.D. candidate
Department of Health Policy and Management, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health

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 be on the rise. Acculturation, the process and effects of adjusting to a new culture after immigration, has been shown to be related to obesity in immigrants and their children. Her research explores this among eight- to 13-year-olds, which will shed light on how clinical providers and policymakers can improve resources, guidance and treatment of obesity among this growing and vulnerable population.

Brittany Rickard, Ph.D. candidate
Curriculum in toxicology and environmental medicine, UNC School of Medicine

Understanding Mechanisms by Which Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Contribute to Platinum Resistance in Ovarian Cancer
Rickard’s research focuses on patients with ovarian cancer who suffer high levels of mortality because of resistance to chemotherapy. Environmental contaminants called Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) pollute drinking water across North Carolina. Her research found that PFAS can increase ovarian cancer cell proliferation and induce resistance to chemotherapy. Findings from this work support PFAS testing in people with ovarian cancer to identify those likely to become resistant to chemotherapy and to identify better treatment options.

Adrien Wilkie, (‘21 Ph.D.)
Department of Epidemiology, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health

Maternal gestational exposure to coal-fired power plant-related air pollution and adverse birth outcomes
Wilkie’s research focuses on the adverse association between gestational ambient sulfur dioxide exposure and pre-term birth. This research will inform decision-making processes regarding a move away from or reinvestment in coal for electricity regeneration and considers health and climate impacts.

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