Commencement 2019 Awards

Undergraduate Awards

Molly McCarthy

Molly McCarthy: Excellence in Public Health Honors Thesis

Seattle native Molly McCarthy arrived at Brown interested in biology and health. She combined her love for research, epidemiology, statistics, and math by pursuing a concentration in public health. Much of her work at Brown focused on perinatal epidemiology. She used data from the California Department of Health to investigate associations between socioeconomic status and low birth weight and infant metabolic profile. She found that socioeconomic status and low birth weight do interact and influence infant metabolite levels. She also found a dose response relationship between the level of socioeconomic status and the metabolic profile, with infants born to mothers with the lowest socioeconomic status showing significant differences in 41 of 42 metabolites compared to infants born to mothers with the highest socioeconomic status.

Molly will be teaching English in Japan for a year before returning to Brown to complete a Master’s degree in Biostatistics. She believes acquiring those quantitative skills will move her closer to her goal of becoming an epidemiologist.

Drew Hawkinson

Drew Hawkinson: Excellence in Public Health Honors Thesis

Drew transferred to Brown from the University of Pennsylvania during his sophomore year. He found Brown to be “a better fit” and that studying public health was a way to combine his interest in biology and health with his interest in the social sciences. His thesis project—for which he collected original data—“An Exploration of Knowledge, Perceptions, and Barriers of HIV Risk and Prevention between Younger and Older Men Who have Sex with Men,” was advised by Professor Jacob van den Berg. He found that younger men and older men have similar knowledge of HIV prevention, but that there are differences in perceptions and barriers for PrEP, and that public health interventions are needed to increase positive perceptions of PrEP among older men, and to decrease barriers to PrEP uptake among younger men who have sex with men. Drew also found that social interventions are needed to foster greater intergenerational communication about HIV risk and prevention strategies. Drew plans to pursue his first love, theater, after graduation. His experience so far is limited to Brown productions and high school theater but he hopes to become a professional theater producer. And he’ll bring his public health training with him. “I think there’s an awesome opportunity to combine health and theater,” Drew said, clearly a true Brunonian!

Elizabeth Carlson

Elizabeth Carlson: Excellence in Public Health Honors Thesis

Elizabeth double concentrated in Public Health and Religious Studies and her thesis project perfectly combined those two interests. “A Literature Review of Church-based Health Promotion Programs Related to Cardiovascular Disease, Mental Health, and Prostate Cancer in African American Church Communities,” was originally inspired by a guest lecture given in “Introduction to Public Health” when Elizabeth was a first-year student. That lecture "planted a seed in my head,” Elizabeth said. Three years later, Elizabeth reviewed over 700 published academic articles, and found 41 church-based health promotion programs to focus on with the support of Professors Jennifer Nazareno and Andre Willis. She was interested, not just in the public health interventions themselves, but in how these studies engaged with church communities. Her project revealed a widespread commitment to community engagement but also a lack of analytical nuance in study discussions on the intersections between religion and health in the Black Church. Consideration of church size and denomination, for example, tended to be absent from the studies. “If we’re really trying to pursue community-based participatory research,” Elizabeth said, “public health researchers and religious studies scholars should be talking to each other.” The fields are not as dissimilar as you might think, she explained. “They both deal with people, and they are both concerned with why people believe what they believe, and why they do what they do.” When not pursuing her academic interests, Elizabeth was a Meiklejohn, worked with Brown-RISD Hillel, and helped to run Brown’s Health Hackathon. She’s now heading home to Chicago to work at PwC in healthcare tech consulting.

Reagan Menz

Reagan Menz: Excellence in Public Health Honors Thesis

Reagan has always been a dancer, but she knew she didn’t want to pursue dance professionally. When she heard about an Artists and Scientists as Partners course at Brown, a year-long weekly dance class for those with Parkinson’s and for individuals with movement challenges, she jumped at the chance to experience first-hand how dance could impact health.

Moved and excited by the experience, Reagan continued to pursue this interest with her thesis project, “Examining the Effects of Dance on Cognitive Function in Older Adults: A Systematic Review." She found 18 studies that met the eligibility criteria and were included in the review. Although studies varied greatly in their populations, interventions, and outcome measures, most of the studies (66%) reported improvements in cognitive function among participants who received the dance intervention compared to controls.

Reagan plans to attend medical school but will take a year first to work in some capacity for Dance for Parkinson’s Disease, which offers dance classes for people with Parkinson’s disease in Brooklyn, New York.

Georgiana McTigue

Georgiana McTigue: Outstanding Community Service

It was “Introduction to Public Health” taught by Professor Abigail Harrison in her first year at Brown that made Georgie a public health concentrator. She worked with another global health researcher, Jennifer Pellowski, on her thesis project, “Family Planning Practices and Intentions among Pregnant and Postpartum Women Living with HIV in Cape Town, South Africa.” The project earned her a first runner-up finish for Best Undergraduate Poster at Public Health Research Day.

Georgie’s service activities at Brown include being a teaching assistant, a University tour leader, and a Rhode Island Free Clinic intern and volunteer. She is also a Medical Scribe and a member of Fusion Dance Company and Mezcla Latin Dance Troupe. Georgie completed a summer internship in 2017 with the Clinton Health Access Initiative focusing on the organization’s global family planning strategic plan and funding priorities.

This summer, she will intern with the US State Department as a Pamela Harriman Foreign Service Fellow, engaging with important global public health issues and diplomacy, with a particular focus on global women’s reproductive rights, before returning to Brown to complete the 5th-year MPH program. She plans to continue her global family planning project for her MPH thesis and will begin applying to medical school within a year of completing the program.

Public Health Impact Awards: Master’s

Meghan Peterson

Meghan Peterson: MPH

The primary focus of Meghan’s work at Brown was the health of incarcerated populations. She worked as a Research Assistant at the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights under the supervision of Dr. Jody Rich, and contributed to the evaluation of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections’ MAT program. Meghan also worked as a Teaching Assistant in a college-level course at the Department of Corrections where she helped students with writing and research. Her theses projects also addressed this underserved population. “‘One Guy Goes to Jail, Two People Are Ready to Take His Spot’: Perspectives on Drug-Induced Homicide Laws among Incarcerated Individuals,” was a qualitative study of incarcerated individuals’ views on drug-induced homicide laws, such as Kristen's Law, a RI law that allows for life sentences for people convicted of selling illegal drugs that lead to fatal overdoses. Her second thesis project, “Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis Awareness and Interest among Participants in a Medications for Addiction Treatment Program in a Unified Jail and Prison Setting in Rhode Island,” was another qualitative study of inmates’ attitudes and awareness of PrEP, a daily medication that prevents HIV infection. Meghan also worked with another vulnerable population group during her time at Brown, sex workers. She was an Outreach Coordinator for Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics (COYOTE), a RI sex worker-led rights organization. She also supported the promotion of two bills aimed at reducing violence against sex workers, both of which are being heard in the Rhode Island legislature this session.

Isabel Blalock

Isabel Blalock: MPH

Isabel, an AB/MPH student, completed an undergraduate honors degree in public health in 2018, and continued at Brown to complete the MPH degree. A long-time advocate for contraception and abortion access, this year Isabel published an op-ed on abortion care in the Brown Daily Herald and testified at the Rhode Island State House in support of the Reproductive Health Care Act. Her MPH thesis project, “Understanding Rhode Island’s Declining Abortion Rate: A Mixed-methods, Longitudinal Analysis,” found that improved health care access and resources for low-income people, in the form of the ACA and Title X, reduced abortions performed in Rhode Island from 3500 in 2012 to 2500 in 2016. “There’s a lot of conversation in this country and the state about abortion access right now,” Isabel said, “the purpose of this project was to frame this as a public health issue and to add data to contextualize the conversation.”

Isabel was a 2018 policy intern with NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland and worked as a health care advocate for Planned Parenthood of New England and as a mentor in the Brown University Peer Mentoring Program. 

Victoria Long

Victoria Long: Behavioral and Social Health Sciences

Victoria began her career at Brown while she was still an undergraduate student at Providence College. She worked in the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies (CAAS) as an intern and was hired as a full-time Research Assistant after graduation. A year later she began her studies in the Behavioral and Social Health Sciences ScM program. Her Master's thesis focused on the comparison of individuals with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) who are seeking treatment, to individuals with the disorder who are not interested in seeking treatment. She examined differences in individual characteristics as well as drinking behaviors and then explained why tailoring and targeting research and interventions to fit these populations is important for successful treatment outcomes. Meanwhile, Victoria continued to work at CAAS as an RA on multiple projects ranging from tobacco regulatory science, to e-cigarette use, to clinical trials for AUD. Victoria has had 7 original research articles published, she has been on 17 poster abstracts, and has presented seven posters as first author. She also served as a School of Public Health Student Ambassador, representing the BSHS program by connecting with prospective and admitted students, and assisting with other recruitment initiatives.

Public Health Impact Awards: Doctoral

Sarah Gordon

Sarah Gordon: Health Services Research

Sarah’s work at Brown was funded in part by a 2017 Dissertation Fellowship from the Agency for Healthcare Research and a 2018 Academy Health Alice S. Hersh Student Scholarship. She was also the recipient of a 2016 Nora Kahn Piore Award. Sarah’s dissertation evaluated how the Affordable Care Act insurance expansion provisions impacted the stability of health insurance coverage, a critical metric beyond simply measuring who has health insurance and who doesn't. She compared two states: Colorado, a state that expanded Medicaid, and neighboring Utah, a state that did not. She found that Medicaid enrollees in Colorado experienced fewer disruptions in health insurance coverage compared to their counterparts in Utah. She also found that among low-income pregnant women, a population at high risk of coverage loss after delivery, Medicaid expansion helped new mothers retain Medicaid coverage and improved access to care during the postpartum period.

Outside of her impressive academic achievements, Sarah played in two bands, was a member of HSPP’s DIAP committee, worked with Professor Theresa Shireman to develop a new course on Medicaid and the Safety Net, started a coding club for students to teach each other important programming skills and ask coding questions in a supportive environment, acted as a peer mentor for four public health students, and had an op-ed published in the Salt Lake Tribune prior to the 2018 election, “Medicaid Is a Bright Spot of American Health Care,” as Utah was considering whether to expand Medicaid to low-income adults. Following the initiative’s passing, Sarah was invited to testify at the Utah State Capital as the state legislature attempted to pass a replacement bill overturning and replacing the state’s Medicaid expansion ballot initiative.

Sarah has accepted a position as an assistant professor in the department of Health Law, Policy, and Management at the Boston University School of Public Health. "The training I received at Brown will be critical to my success in this role," Sarah said. "My experience as a teaching assistant has helped me as I take on teaching my own classes this coming fall, and my experience in the grant-writing class and applying for dissertation funding has prepared me to apply for larger grants as an early investigator. My study design, research methods, and analytic skills I’ve gained through coursework and hands-on research will help me as I embark on a career as an independent researcher."