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New PhD students bring diverse talents to Emory

By Laura Douglas-Brown | Emory Report | Aug. 22, 2017

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A native of Brazil, Guilherme Silva von Streber is among the first cohort of graduate students accepted into Emory's new doctoral program in Hispanic studies.

Undergraduates aren't the only new students arriving on campus for the start of the 2017-18 academic year. This fall, Emory welcomes hundreds of new students seeking the university's highest degree, the PhD, pursuing original research on subjects ranging from chemistry to climate change.

“This year, we are pleased to welcome more than 400 new students to the Laney Graduate School, with more than 80 percent pursing the PhD," says Lisa Tedesco, dean of Laney Graduate School. "They represent 36 countries and a range of diverse experiences, histories and interests that will shape the research and scholarship they pursue at Emory." 

Some are drawn by the strength of Emory's internationally known programs and institutes, while others are excited to help pave the way in new degree concentrations.

"Our new Laney Graduate School students are investing their time and trust in Emory," Tedesco says. "We are committed to helping them expand their thinking, discover the unexpected, and create new knowledge.”

A native of Brazil, Guilherme Silva von Streber is among the first cohort of graduate students accepted into Emory's new doctoral program in Hispanic studies. Fluent in Portuguese, Spanish, English and the indigenous language Guaraní, he plans to research language attitudes and the contact of Spanish and Portuguese in the border territories of South America.

"During the application process, the more I read about Emory's Hispanic studies program, the more I wanted to be part of it," he says. "Emory’s most appealing aspects to me were the recently redesigned interdisciplinary program and its strong emphasis on the quality of teaching. I am looking forward to working with the outstanding faculty and learning from their years of experience."

While earning a PhD in environmental health sciences, Frederica Lamar plans to develop a method for implementing better sanitation and improving drinking water quality in resource-limited areas.

"I chose Emory because of its international presence, comprehensive PhD program and research centers, such as the Center for Global Safe WASH [Water, Sanitation and Hygiene]," she says. "Also, during my interviews, I could tell that Emory would be a supportive environment."

Nursing PhD student Amy Greenblatt is beginning her third Emory degree and describes her experiences completing her BSN in the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing and her MPH in behavioral sciences from Rollins School of Public Health as "nothing short of excellent."

"The caliber of education and research mentoring I have received at Emory has been invaluable in preparing me for the PhD program," Greenblatt says. "Additionally, the leadership and support of renowned faculty has helped me thrive, not only academically and professionally, but also personally. I look forward to continuing to learn and flourish at Emory."

Take a moment to meet just a few of the new PhD students who have chosen Emory for the next chapter in their academic careers:


Ezana Assefa

Hometown: Orlando, Florida

Emory degree program: PhD in genetics and molecular biology, Graduate Division of Biological and Biomedical Sciences

Completed degrees: AA in psychology, Broward College; BS in behavioral neuroscience and biology, Nova Southeastern University

Focus of scholarship: The focus of my scholarly interest is understanding how a person’s genetic makeup and the way their genes are controlled result in various diseases and/or disorders, specifically of the nervous system.

Why it matters: I think the complexity of many diseases is mirrored in the complexity of how our genes interplay within our bodies. Unraveling this dichotomy can advance our understanding of human pathologies and provide the foundations for personalized treatments.

Proudest academic achievement to date: It would have to be winning first place for an oral presentation I gave at the Life Sciences STEM Symposium, which was for all of the South Florida universities. What made it so memorable was I presented two years prior (and did horribly) so to come back and win first place showed my academic growth.


Sara Gebre

Hometown: Palmyra, Pennsylvania

Emory degree program: PhD in chemistry

Completed degrees: BS in chemistry, Haverford College

Focus of scholarship: I want to focus on using laser spectroscopy techniques to characterize different materials and proteins. Basically what this mean is that I want to use lasers to be able to learn more about the properties of materials (used in things like solar or fuel cells, for example) and how proteins move or act in a certain environment. 

Why it matters: I worked with infrared spectroscopy (IR) in college to look at a certain functional group bound to a model peptide. I became really interested in the use of IR and wanted to expand my skillset and be able to use laser spectroscopy to look at proteins and materials of interest. I think this is important because understanding the material or protein you're using is the first step in developing more efficient energy materials or drugs for diseases. It's also useful for possibly understanding similar protein systems or compounds.

Proudest academic achievement to date: I published a paper from my time working in Dr. Vern Schramm's lab this past year. I had been accepted to the PREP program (post baccalaureate) at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and used that as a gap year to get more lab experience and figure out what other research topics I was interested in. It was an awesome experience. My PI and lab members helped me with everything and I had a lot of support, which I'm grateful for.


Amy Greenblatt

Hometown: Glastonbury, Connecticut

Emory degree program: PhD in nursing

Completed degrees: BA in psychology, Keene State College; BSN from Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing at Emory; MPH from Rollins School of Public Health at Emory

Focus of scholarship: Broadly, I am interested in sub-threshold depressive symptoms, which are symptoms that do not meet the full criteria for a diagnosis for major depression, and the self-management of these symptoms in adolescent and young adult populations. Further, I am interested in positive psychology and associated biomarkers related to the self-management of depressive symptoms.

Why it matters: Too often, when symptoms of depression do not meet the full criteria for a diagnosis, they are not taken as seriously as those that do. This is problematic because even a few cardinal symptoms, like diminished ability to think or concentrate or chronic feelings of emptiness or hopelessness, can influence a person’s ability to function well and can have deleterious effects on the trajectory of an adolescent’s or young adult’s life. It is critical that we identify novel ways to provide young people opportunities to manage these symptoms and promote their well-being.

Proudest academic achievement to date: In addition to my admission to the PhD program, I am most proud of being selected as a Robert Wood Johnson Future of Nursing Scholar. I have also had the great honor of being selected for the George W. Woodruff Fellowship. Both will undoubtedly provide incredible professional opportunities and will allow me to foster my leadership skills as I progress in my journey to becoming a nurse scientist.


Bridget Hansen

Hometown: McHenry, Illinois

Emory degree program: PhD in anthropology (cultural)

Completed degrees: BA in anthropology, summa cum laude, University of Illinois at Chicago; BA in classical studies, summa cum laude, University of Illinois at Chicago

Focus of scholarship: I am interested in studying folk systems of medicine, particularly mental illness and treatment, in the Arabian Gulf. I want to study how these beliefs interact with the rapid globalization of Euro-American systems of medicine, which are being imported into the Arabian Gulf countries at a rapid pace. 

Why it matters: I love how medical anthropology turns Euro-American biomedicine’s claim of “truth” and “objectivity” on its head. Even with evidence-based science to guide it, biomedicine can’t escape the grasp of culture. Studying how culture plays a role in mental health treatment is incredibly important, and very little research like this is being done in the Arabian Gulf (let alone the greater Middle East) on mental illness. Knowledge of the culture’s role in medical systems can help guide us to create better treatment and care.

Proudest academic achievement to date: There are two awards that stand out to me. This first is a small, internal scholarship from my alma mater UIC. I received it from the anthropology department after taking only one course as I also worked part time. This was the biggest encouragement of my life, since I had just returned to university after years of tedious office work. The second is the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, which I know I could have never received without the encouragement of the first years before. It also reminds me how far I’ve come.


Frederica Lamar

Hometown: Atlanta, GA

Emory degree program: PhD in environmental health sciences

Completed degrees: BS in environmental engineering, Johns Hopkins University; MSPH in global environmental health sciences, Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine

Focus of scholarship: I have a special interest in waterborne illnesses caused by consuming contaminated water or lacking proper sanitation. Through my research, I plan to develop a method for implementing better sanitation and improving drinking water quality in resource-limited areas. I would like to better understand why certain sanitation behaviors are adopted or not to take a behavioral approach to a successful intervention.

Why it matters: Clean water and sanitation are a human right. Hundreds of millions of people do not have access to quality drinking water, and millions of people die each year from water-related diseases. We have the luxury of turning on a water faucet and consuming potable water, but for many this is not an option.

Proudest academic achievement to date: I am most proud of being inducted into the Inaugural Carson Scholars Alumni Hall of Fame in 2016. Out of over 2,000 Carson Scholars, I was chosen to be inducted into the Top 20 Under 30. It was truly an honor to be recognized for my accomplishments thus far and was unexpected.


Jordan Lewis

Hometown: Orangeburg, South Carolina

Emory degree program: PhD in population biology, ecology and evolution, Graduate Division of Biological and Biomedical Sciences

Completed degrees: BS in biology and environmental science, Winthrop University

Focus of scholarship: I am interested in how disease-causing organisms interact with their environments, and how those interactions change as their environments change. Specifically, I am interested in diseases that could be affected by climate change and those that disproportionately affect those in poor and developing countries.

Why it matters: I was drawn to this topic because of my interests in public health and ecology. I think that this is an important field because those who live in poor and rural areas tend to have less access to health care. I think that taking steps to understand disease transmission can help us prevent people from getting sick.

Proudest academic achievement to date: What I am most proud of thus far, besides being accepted to Emory, is being selected to receive the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. It was one of the things I wanted the most and I almost cried when I opened the acceptance email this past spring.


Tosen Nwadei

Hometown: Albany, Georgia

Emory degree program: PhD in business (organization and management)

Completed degrees: BPhil in finance, University of Pittsburgh's Honors College

Focus of scholarship: I have three research streams I'm interested in. I'm interested in environmental sociology, which would include pollution, emissions, environmental policy, sustainability and the like. I'm also interested in the sociology of markets. Think of this as social consequences of business activity. A related area is economic sociology, which you can think of as the social implications of everything in the financial sector. 

Why it matters: I think it's extremely important to think of the social environment that business activity is conducted in. Looking at the social environment as separate from business operations will only produce a limited understanding of our world. Looking at the two together creates amazing research opportunities and informs our thinking in important ways.  

Proudest academic achievement to date: I was in the top 2 percent of my graduating class at the University of Pittsburgh's College of Business Administration. The award was given to seven students out of more than 350.


La’Mont Sutton

Hometown: Jackson, Mississippi

Emory degree program: PhD in health services research and health policy

Completed degrees: BS in interdisciplinary studies, Cornell University; MPH in health policy and management, Emory University

Focus of scholarship: Contemporary research can help us improve health services delivery and clinical outcomes in underserved communities and communities of color. My scholarly interest will focus on applying political and organizational behavior theories to health outcomes and hospital performance research.

Why it matters: Each year, over 600,000 people die from cardiovascular diseases in the United States. But health outcomes and hospital performance research can drive patient-centered improvements. I'm drawn to this topic because it is especially relevant to the southern U.S., and the communities that I consider myself to be part of. I look forward to leveraging my research to place particular focus on safety-net hospitals that care for vulnerable communities.

Proudest academic achievement to date: Prior to completing my master’s degree, I researched variation in primary care access by insurance type in Mississippi. I am most proud of it because it was published, and it inspired new health services delivery ideas. I look forward to producing more patient-centered research as an Emory PhD student.


Azadeh Vatanpour

Home country: Iran

Emory degree program: PhD in religion, Graduate Division of Religion (West and South Asian religions)

Completed degrees: MA in religious studies and MA in folk studies, Western Kentucky University; MA in Iranian ancient culture and languages, Shiraz University (Iran); BS in applied mathematics, Shiraz Payam-e Noor University (Iran)

Focus of scholarship: I’ve always had a passion for Sufism, its culture and the meaning of spiritual love. It was after several years of studying Sufi groups that I realized spiritual love has a much greater impact on human life than I had assumed. Currently, my main focus is on the correlation between love, sacred music, sacred food and healing rituals. And finally, how Sufis conjure the power of these elements to help believers maintain good-feeling and well-being.

Why it matters: While I was conducting ethnographic research among the Yārsān (religious group in Iranian Kurdistan), I noticed a sense of serenity and peacefulness that overcame these people during sacred rituals and continued with them for few days. It seemed quite plausible that such a good-feeling energy could be harvested and induced unto our modern stressful society and improve people’s all-around well-being and health.

Proudest academic achievement to date: My greatest academic achievements to date, which include three master’s degrees, have had a twofold effect on my life: one personal and the other public. On the personal side, I am proud to have overcome the unjust stereotype views of women, which discourage and prevent women from achieving equal recognition to their male counterparts. On the public side, I am proud to have received a fellowship from Western Kentucky University to start my research in the field of religious healing and its possible impact on general public health.


Guilherme Von Streber

Hometown: Poços de Caldas-Minas Gerais, Brazil

Emory degree program: PhD in Hispanic studies

Completed degrees: BA in Spanish with minors in Teaching English as a Second Language and religious studies, Lee University

Focus of scholarship: My research interests are in language attitudes and the contact of Spanish and Portuguese in the border territories of South America. I am interested in knowing how linguistic practices and their cultural implications shape the identities of their speakers. Additionally, I have a particular interest in foreign language teaching.

Why it matters: I grew up in a foreign country, thus the local culture and language constantly challenged my own tradition. This dilemma made me wonder where one draws the line between learning from a foreign culture and staying true to oneself. Likewise, I believe many immigrants — especially in the United States — ask themselves, "Who am I after being exposed to a different culture?" Thus, its importance to me, in addition to the beauty of studying foreign languages and culture: it allows us to see ourselves in a stranger or foreigner.

Proudest academic achievement to date: Being selected as Lee University's Paul Conn Award recipient — one of Lee's most important awards, given to the senior who shows the best promise of academic achievement in graduate school. I felt so honored by it, especially as an international student. Receiving this award was a way of honoring everyone who has supported me: professors, family and friends.