SPHHS Announces 2019 Summer PhD Fellows

UMass Amherst SPHHS 2019 Summer PhD Fellows

Top row (from left): Deniz Azarmanesh, Qiong Chen, and Daniel Gregory.
Bottom row (from left): Bi-Sek Hsiao, Samantha Scripture, and Seok-Yeong “Sean” Yu.

July 26, 2019

The School of Public Health and Health Sciences has awarded six Summer PhD Fellowships for 2019. The $7000 awards provide support for PhD students in excellent standing to pursue their research and complete their dissertations during the summer months. Students received nominations by their faculty mentors with concurrence from their graduate program directors.

The 2019 Fellows are:

Deniz Azarmanesh, Nutrition (Mentor: Dr. Elena Carbone). For her dissertation research, Azarmanesh is examining the association of the inflammatory potential of diet with depression and inflammatory biomarkers. The Dietary Inflammatory Index (DII), a newly developed index by researchers at the University of South Carolina, is being used for the assessment of the inflammatory potential of the diet. The DII ranks the diet of individuals based on the amount of pro- and anti-inflammatory nutrients they consume compared to the average global intake. Azarmanesh is investigating the association of the DII with depression in two different populations: one that represents the adult American population using the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), and the other among young college-aged women from the UMass Vitamin D Study. She will also explore the possibility of this association being mediated by systemic inflammation, as assessed by inflammatory biomarkers. She hopes her research will further elucidate the role that diet may play in depression and its pathways in order to better target treatment plans in the future.

Qiong Chen, Nutrition (Mentor: Dr. Elena Carbone). Chen’s dissertation research focuses on health literacy levels and the use of an integrated mobile app WeChat among Chinese mothers with children age 0-3 years. Chen is assessing the current status of health literacy and eHealth literacy level among women of reproductive age in China; developing and implementing a WeChat intervention using a participatory approach; and evaluating its impact on women’s health literacy, eHealth literacy, and behaviors related to the health information on WeChat.

Daniel Gregory, Kinesiology (Mentor: Dr. Julia Choi) Gregory aims to understand the mechanisms of gait stability, adaptation to perturbing environments, and learning for rehabilitation. The risk of falling during walking is heightened in older and neurologically impaired people, however, factors which increase their risk of falling are not well understood. Furthermore, current rehabilitation practices are limited in the ability to generalize learning from the clinic to the community. To address these problems, Gregroy is using treadmill-based perturbations which simulate slips and trips, allowing him to measure and assess gait stability and learning from the disturbances. This work is important because it will allow researchers to be able to classify at-risk populations, identify specific deficiencies in gait which increase fall risk, and suggest targeted rehabilitation approaches which will generalize outside of the clinic.

Bi-Sek Hsiao, Nutrition (Mentor: Dr. Lindiwe Sibeko). Hsiao’s dissertation research explores understudied factors related to racial/ethnic disparities in breastfeeding practices and maternal and child health outcomes. Using longitudinal data and multilevel hierarchical models, she is examining ways that geographical contexts (e.g., residential segregation, lactation support services and policies), social influence (e.g., intergenerational practices, partner support), maternal stress (e.g., experiences of racism and discrimination), and maternal resilience interact to influence breastfeeding practices and subsequent health outcomes.

Samantha Scripture, Communication Disorders (Mentor: Dr. Jill Hoover). Currently, traditional language tests measure what children know about language, but they do not tell us how children learn language. Scripture’s dissertation project is addressing how children learn language, specifically verbs, and how differences in verb learning can identify young children at risk for Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) at age 3. She is using actions that they know, like “give,” but replacing them with made-up words so that they have to demonstrate verb learning in a picture pointing task. First, when they hear a sentence, she tests how they learn the verb’s meaning. Second, she tests how they learn the grammar of the sentence based on the meaning of the verb. She is making note of the patterns in verb learning to identify two groups: those who acquired the skills and those who struggled. She plans to follow-up with these children at age 5 to see how well group differences in verb learning predicted a diagnosis of DLD. By testing verb learning, she hopes to identify the overall language learning skills in young children so that we can begin to identify DLD at age 3.

Seok-Yeong “Sean” Yu, Nutrition (Mentor: Dr. Young-Cheul Kim). Obesity, the epidemic of 21st century worldwide, is the leading cause of serious chronic diseases such as insulin resistance, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain forms of cancer, posing a major public health issue. Recent findings have suggested that dysmetabolism and inflammation in adipose tissue are a central mechanism leading to chronic inflammatory state and metabolic dysfunctions in body. Thus, Yu's dissertation research focus is to identify dietary and environmental factors that influence adipose tissue metabolism and inflammation and understand underlying mechanism(s) involved at the molecular level. The outcome of this research will provide a mechanistic basis for understanding the role of dietary and environmental factors in obesity-induced metabolic disorders and to identify therapeutic strategies to prevent and/or manage obesity-related diseases.

For more information on the program, visit the Dean’s Incentives Program webpage.