School & Program Updates

School & Program Updates

UNC Undergraduate Students Show Increased Interest in Public Health

The UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health offers Bachelor of Science in Public Health (BSPH) degrees through four departments – biostatistics, environmental sciences and engineering, health policy and management, and nutrition. Descriptions are offered here of the biostatistics and nutrition programs.

“Students in our BSPH program in biostatistics are among The University of North Carolina’s brightest and best,” says Dr. Jane Monaco, director of undergraduate studies in the department.

Recent program graduates include a Gates-Cambridge Scholar, several Goldwater Scholars and many Morehead-Cain Scholars. The average GPA of the incoming class is 3.8/4.0.

“These students are incredibly talented,” says Dr. Monaco. “I have seen an increase in interest in biostatistics in the last few years, and the quality of the students applying has never been higher. They excel academically and are making contributions in a range of research projects.”

More than 70 percent of the program’s May graduates will enroll in graduate programs in biostatistics or closely related fields (e.g., epidemiology) or attend medical school. Those pursuing employment have received excellent job offers from a range of employers, including contract research organizations, nonprofits, and academic research organizations.

Recent program graduates are matriculating into some of the most well-respected quantitative programs, including Harvard, University of Washington, Duke, University of Michigan, and UNC-Chapel Hill. Employers of our BSPH graduates include Duke Clinical Neuropsychology, Harvard Center for Biostatistics in Aids Research (CBAR), Quintiles, Research Triangle Institute, and Rho.

The BSPH in biostatistics program has more than doubled in the last decade and currently enrolls 48 students. Undergraduates in the program enroll in a challenging curriculum with a rigorous math component, which prepares them for graduate training in biostatistics, medical school, and the work force. Many courses overlap with master’s-level courses, and students also obtain a firm foundation in public health. Coursework includes statistical inference, SAS programming, regression analysis, applied statistical methods including nonparametric methods, study design, linear algebra, survey sampling, epidemiology, environmental health, and health policy.

“Becoming a biostatistics major at UNC is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life,” said Ms. Lindsay Jung, a 2017 alumnus of the program at the UNC Gillings School. “This major combines my genuine curiosity about human health to uncover solutions to the puzzling nature of public health problems.”

Ms. Jung will pursue a master’s degree at Boston University.

[Photos: (1) Ms. Mengbing Li (right), a May 2017 graduate with majors in biostatistics and mathematics, presents her senior honors thesis, under the direction of Dr. Michael Kosorok (left). Ms. Li, who will attend the University of Michigan this fall, presented on “Extending Dynamic Treatment Regimes to Incorporate Longitudinal Data Observed Between Decision Times. (2) Ms. Anam Ahmad, rising senior and recipient of the 2017 Pasteur Foundation Fellowship (standing, far left), shares her experiences with prospective BSPH biostatistics majors at an open house. Dr. Jane Monaco is standing, third from left. (3) Current BSPH biostatistics majors pose for a group photo at a social event at the home of Dr. Monaco.]

The Gillings School’s BSPH in nutrition introduces undergraduate students to the science of nutrition in health and disease, and to social and behavioral aspects of eating in the context of public and individual health. The curriculum offers a wide range of courses covering the biochemical, epidemiological, and behavioral aspects of human nutrition and the related diseases.

Our nutrition BSPH prepares students for graduate study in public health and biomedical sciences, including nutrition, medicine, pharmacy, or dentistry, or for entry-level positions in public health or dietetics. All of our students participate in nutrition research and are encouraged to develop and defend an honors thesis.

Why is the Nutrition BSPH important? Nutrition plays a major role in human health. Proper nutrition is essential for prevention and treatment of most common human diseases, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. With growing numbers of people suffering from these diseases, nutrition has become a core discipline in medical and public health education and practice. Nutrition education also is an effective deterrent to malnutrition, which remains one of the leading causes of death in developing countries, especially among children.

There are 55 students currently in our program (30 males, 25 females, 11 percent minorities), all of whom are engaged in research and scholarly development from the start of their program.

Mr. Steven Doerstling, 2017 alumnus and one of the top students in the program, was a member of the Hursting Lab, where he was involved in a variety of research projects, including development of an innovative mouse model of bariatric surgery. As a junior, Mr. Doerstling traveled to Syracuse, NY, to present his research at a professional conference. During his senior year, he presented at the American Institute for Cancer Research annual meeting in Washington, DC, and published his first co-authored scientific paper in the journal Cancer Research.

“Being part of the Gillings School’s BSPH Nutrition program was the cornerstone of my time as an undergraduate,” Mr. Doerstling said. “The small classes facilitated a lively and collaborative classroom environment. Furthermore, taking classes alongside graduate students across the spectrum of public health sciences exposed me to a wide variety of perspectives and expertise that I could not have had in a more traditional degree program. The intersecting opportunities for innovative research, stimulating coursework, and access to first-rate faculty and peers make the program an ideal choice to prepare for a career of scholarship and service in support of human health.”

In the coming year, Mr. Doerstling will live in Västerås, Sweden, just outside of Stockholm, as a Fulbright Scholar. There, he will conduct research at the intersection of nutrition and cancer epidemiology at Mälardalen University and the Karolinska Institute while leading an English language discussion group and delivering guest lectures for a course on scientific writing.

[Photo: Fulbright Scholar Mr. Steven Doerstling (left and far right) was among students in the Gillings School’s nutrition BSPH program who posed with their creative design for the annual pumpkin-carving competition in October 2016. (Theirs is a pumpkin pi.) The event is organized by the faculty, staff, and students of the nutritional biochemistry labs.]