Spring 2011

Student News

Around the School

International travel awards expand student research opportunities

The School of Public Health and Health Sciences International Travel/Research Award is designed to support travel and research costs for international public health and health science research by full time graduate students in the SPHHS. Last year’s recipients received up to $2000 for research and travel conducted between May of 2010 and February of 2011.

SPHHS graduate students Ayush Giri, Rodrigo Gramajo-Rodriguez, Brooke Nichols and Mairi Thomson received the awards and conducted research on four continents, highlighting the diverse interests and research opportunities available to the School’s graduate students.

Ayush Giri, front, in Nepal with FHI

Ayush Giri conducted his research project in Kanchanpur, Nepal, serving as a research intern for FHI, formerly known as Family Health International. Giri was actively involved in an Integrated Bio-Behavioral Study (IBBS) that attempted to evaluate the prevalence of HIV among wives of migrant workers and behavioral indicators, including migrant-husband's type of job, destination of migration, length of stay, alcohol use, and condom use, among others. He performed Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) duties under the supervision of a fellow officer from FHI, and conducted a secondary analysis of a previous study relating to migrant workers and HIV prevalence. The findings of his M&E trips and secondary analysis were presented to the staff members in FHI Nepal.

“My time as an intern in FHI Nepal was a great learning experience,” Giri comments. “We as students are normally used to having data sets handed to us. My experience in FHI was a much-needed reminder on how difficult it is to conduct a study (as small as the study may be) as planned on paper. I have a stronger appreciation about the complexities of conducting research in developing countries with extremely inadequate infrastructure and resources. I have similarly realized that it is even more difficult to implement a given public health program in impoverished countries like Nepal, partly due to logistical challenges, acceptance among society, lack of education, social structure and economic disparities.”

Giri notes that FHI staff members were extremely cooperative and willing to accommodate his needs as an intern. “I would recommend FHI as an awesome organization to intern with, especially for those individuals who want to pursue health-related research in an international, resource-stricken setting.”

Rodrigo Gramajo-Rodriguez in Guatemala

Rodrigo Gramajo-Rodriguez used the award to travel to Guatemala for a project entitled “Chagas Disease and Risk of Cardiac Disease.” The Center for Health Studies (CHS) of the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala (UVG) had previously conducted a cross-sectional study, the primary objective of which was to assess the prevalence of infection of the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi in an endemic rural area of Guatemala. The parasite causes Chagas Disease.

Gramajo-Rodriguez spent the past summer collaborating at the CHS with the Parasitic Research Team to create a dataset and discuss an analytical approach with experts from other institutions such as the Tropical Disease Research (TDR) from the World Health Organization (WHO). He is analyzing this dataset for his master’s thesis.

After the completion of the analysis and manuscript, Gramajo-Rodriguez plans to discuss the results and recommendations with experts on Chagas Disease at the WHO and present his findings at the Vector Control Program of the Ministry of Health (MOH) in Guatemala. Regional and central disease control coordinators from the MOH will be invited to the presentation to discuss the implications of the study and how these findings can be used to improve the vector control in Chagas Disease endemic areas.

Brooke Nichols presents findings in Vienna

Brooke Nichols used her travel grant partly last summer and again in October in order to perform HIV/AIDS mathematical modeling at the Erasmus Medical Center (MC) in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, as well as to present at the AIDS 2010 conference in Vienna, Austria. At the AIDS 2010 conference, Nichols presented research entitled “Aspects of migrant work status and HIV prevalence in a migrant town in Namibia.” At the Erasmus MC, Nichols worked on a project to model the potential impact of using “test and treat” in combination with pre-exposure prophylaxis - both are methods that use HIV antiretroviral therapy as prevention. Currently, Nichols is working on this model and hopes to submit it for publication in the near future.

“It was a great experience to be able to enter into the math modeling field with guidance from the Erasmus MC,” Nichols comments.

A fourth student, Mairi Thomson, a recent graduate of the MPH program, conducted her project “Studies of Pediatric Antiretroviral Therapy: Programmatic and Service Delivery Issues” in Cape Town, South Africa. There she assisted a pediatric infectious disease specialist with recruitment of participants for a cross-sectional study of HIV and infant feeding.

Click here if you would like to provide a student with support for an international research opportunity.

MPH student awarded scholarship by Michigan Environmental Health Association

Rebecca Burns

Rebecca Burns, a graduate student enrolled in the online MPH program, was awarded a scholarship by the Michigan Environmental Health Association (MEHA) in March 2011. MEHA is a professional organization focused on promoting environmental health through education. The MEHA Endowment Fund was created in memory of David H. McMullen, Ferris State University professor of Environmental Health. The intent of the Endowment Fund is to broaden the scope of environmental health on a local, state, national and international level. One of the ways MEHA has chosen to accomplish this goal is to provide educational scholarships to students who are committed to working in the field of environmental health.

Ms. Burns serves as the Environmental Health Director for the Branch-Hillsdale-St. Joseph Community Health Agency.


Undergraduate program in Public Health opens new peer advising drop-in center

The Department of Public Health has announced a new undergraduate peer advising drop-in center. The peer advisors are available to answer questions, support fellow undergraduates in their academic journeys and provide information on the major, the public health club, internships and more. To learn more, visit the peer advising center online at or contact them by email at

Student club updates

The UMass Nutrition Association (UMNA) participated in numerous community outreach activities this year. On October 2, 2010, members from the club went on an apple picking excursion to Hamilton Orchard in Orange, MA. All apples were donated to the Amherst Survival Center, a regional resource for those in need, providing food, clothing, health care and community through volunteer efforts.

UMNA apple picking
The UMass Nutrition Association (UMNA) picks apples to donate to the Amherst Survival Center

Members also participated in several fundraising events. UMNA members raised over $400 to benefit Type 1 diabetes research at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Walk to Cure Juvenile Diabetes held at Six Flags New England on October 17, 2010. On Veteran’s Day, members also participated in the Run/Walk for Tara in Easthampton, MA. The race is held in memory of Tara Sheehan, a young woman who died after a long struggle with anorexia nervosa. Proceeds benefit the Tara Fund, which assists people with eating disorders.

UMNA members also attended the ADA Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo, held November 6-9, 2010 in Boston, MA. A group of UMNA students attended the conference in order to network with nutrition professionals and listen to a variety of lectures and panel discussions covering the latest topics in nutrition.

UMNA also participated in the WAMDA Road Race, as well as the UMass Dining 5K "Dash and Dine" in March. Finally, the semester ended with the UMNA sponsoring the UMass Amherst Healthy Body, Healthy Mind Symposium.

The UMass chapter of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association (NSSLHA) invited author Jennifer Rosner to speak to their organization on November 8, 2010. Ms. Rosner is the mother of two girls who were born deaf. Her memoir, If a Tree Falls: A Family’s Quest to Hear and Be Heard, shares her journey into the modern world of deafness and the controversial decisions she and her husband have made about hearing aids, cochlear implants and sign language. Ms. Rosner provided the students, many of whom had read her book in advance of the author’s visit, with a different perspective on deafness and hearing impairments, a topic studied in their communication disorders classes. Ms. Rosner also answered student questions and read passages from her book.

NSSLHA also geared up for their annual holiday card project. The group made cards and wrote holiday notes for the residents of assisted living homes in Amherst. The cards were personally delivered by members of the association as they spread some holiday cheer.

Step Out for Diabetes
The Kinesiology Club participates in the Step Out for Diabetes fundraiser in Northampton, MA

On September 26, 2010, members of the Kinesiology Club took part in the "Step Out for Diabetes" event to raise money for the American Diabetes Association at Look Park in Northampton, MA. The students raised over $500 from the event. Four of the university athletic teams were also on hand to lend support and fire up the crowd. The "Step Out for Diabetes" events are held all over the country and are organized around the theme that "Every step you take and every dollar you raise helps the American Diabetes Association provide education programs in our community, protect the rights of people with diabetes and fund critical research for a cure." Associate Professor Barry Braun, the faculty advisor for the Kinesiology Club, spoke at the event about the direct benefit a 3-year award from the American Diabetes Association had to support his research program, which is focused on optimizing the use of exercise to prevent/manage Type 2 diabetes. Research Professor Stuart Chipkin, MD, was also on hand in his dual roles as faculty member in the Kinesiology department and endocrinologist at Valley Medical Center in Amherst.

The Kinesiology Club also organized a 5-kilometer race on Oct. 24, 2010 to benefit Soles4Souls, a nonprofit organization that collects any and every kind of shoe and distributes them to people in need around the world. Participants were given the option to walk, run, bike, skateboard, rollerblade or even ride scooters around the race course.

The race began at noon at Totman Gym, with the racers following a course that wound throughout the campus. Chris Copeland, a UMass sophomore, finished in first place among the men while Raquel Manley, a UMass freshman, finished first among the women.

The Kinesiology Club received over 160 pairs of shoes in donations. Sponsors including the Northampton Running Co., Trader Joe's, Cinemark, Arizona Pizza and the Newman Center Café helped support the club’s effort.

The Public Health Club hosted a CPR night in the beginning of the fall semester in which 30 members were certified. This event was hosted by the club’s new treasurer, Travis Roberts, who is an experienced EMT. In October, just in time for Halloween, the club’s president, Hollen Clark, led a drive to hand out goodie bags equipped with candy and condoms to promote safe sex during the holidays. In late November, the previous treasurer, Janey Scuzzarella, hosted a Poker Night at the Arbor’s Assisted Living Area and provided an opportunity for students and residents to interact. The Club also assisted Janey in the Webster/Dickinson blood drive.

In the beginning of the spring semester, the Club hosted a resume night led by Mary Ellen Liseno to prepare students for two massive career fairs. Later, the vice president, Jessica He, invited two public health professionals to speak with the club about their careers and backgrounds. Marija Popstefanija, an epidemiologist, and Richard Peltier, associate professor of Environmental Health Sciences, answered numerous student questions and provided them with inspiration for future careers in the field of public health.

The major spring events culminated in April during National Public Health Week. The week kicked off with a screening of the documentary film PROTECTION: A film about men and condoms in the time of HIV and AIDS, followed by a Q&A session with the film’s producer, Jill Lewis. Club members also attended the first-ever Public Health Internship Poster Fair and helped with the DKMS Bone Marrow Drive. Finally, the semester ended with the Public Health Club attending the UMass Amherst Healthy Body, Healthy Mind Symposium.


In This Issue

School News

Dean's Welcome

The SPHHS Celebrates Its History
Kinesiology Earns Top Rankings
SPHHS Welcomes Fulbrights

Faculty News

In the Spotlight: New Faculty
Conferences & Appearances
Honors & Awards
Grant News


Student News

Creating a Healthier World
Teleconference Therapy
Career Fair
Around the School

Alumni News

Alumni Profile: David Blake
Alumni News Briefs

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