UNMC_Acronym_Vert_sm_4c
University of Nebraska Medical Center

Graduate Students of Distinction

Our graduate students are talented, and we want to make sure to honor their accomplishments. Recognition as a Graduate Student of Distinction is reserved for students who have received:

  • a fellowship based on review of applications from a national/international pool of candidates (NIH, NSF, AHA, etc.);
  • an award based on presentation of research results at a national meeting (abstract-based awards do not qualify);
  • an appointment to a standing committee of a national scientific society or professional association (ASPET, AAI, APS, AHA, AAUW, etc.);
  • or similar accomplishments.
Nozima Aripova

Nozima Aripova

PhD Student in MSIA - Clinically Relevant Basic Research

Rheumatology Research Foundation Future Physician Scientist Award (2022-2024)

The Rheumatology Research Foundation offers the  Future Physician Scientist Award to support students who are enrolled in combined MD/PhD or DO/PhD dual-degree training program and who intend careers as physician scientists while they conduct dissertation research in health related fields relevant to the mission of the Foundation. Nozima has been awarded a 2-year Future Physician Scientist Award from the Rheumatology Research Foundation for her project, “Citrullinated and malondialdehyde-acetaldehyde modified proteins promote cellular and immune responses associated with rheumatoid arthritis.”  The objective of this project is to elucidate the combined contributions of citrullinated and malondialdehyde-acetaldehyde (MAA) modified proteins in regulating cellular and immune responses in the context of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) pathogenesis. The central hypothesis guiding this work is that citrulline and MAA- modifications act synergistically to promote robust inflammatory responses and drive tolerance loss resulting in autoimmunity characteristic of RA. Nozima’s research project will provide an understanding of how citrullination and MAA modifications promote inflammation and fibrosis, as well as an understanding of the role that these modifications play in regulating the autoimmune responses that are highly characteristic of RA. She is pursuing this work as a PhD candidate in the MSIA Clinically Relevant Basic Research doctoral program under the supervision of Geoffrey Thiele, PhD, Professor and Ted Mikuls, MD, MSPH, both of the Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Rheumatology.

 

Blake Bertrand

Blake P. Bertrand

PhD Candidate in IGPBS - Immunology, Pathology & Infectious Disease

American Heart Association Predoctoral Fellowship (2021-2023)

The American Heart Association Predoctoral Fellowship program provides research assistance and training to help students initiate careers in areas broadly elated to cardiovascular function, disease and stroke, or to related basic science, bioengineering or biotechnology, and public health problems. Blake Bertrand has been awarded a two-year AHA fellowship for his project, “Elucidating myeloid-derived suppressor cell fate during S. aureus biofilm infection.” During Staphylococcus aureus biofilm infection, immature, immunosuppressive myeloid cells (myeloid-derived suppressor cells; MDSCs) are preferentially recruited to the site of infection. In a healthy individual, these cells mature into terminal effector cells; however, pathological states such as cancer and chronic infection may disrupt this process. Blake’s project tests the hypothesis that S. aureus chronic biofilm infection creates a local environment that prevents the differentiation of MDSCs into terminal effector cells, thereby promoting biofilm persistence. A PhD Candidate in IGPBS – Immunology, Pathology & Infectious Diseases, Blake is pursuing his dissertation research under the tutelage of Tammy Kielian, PhD, Professor of Pathology & Microbiology in the College of Medicine.

Caitlin Golden

Caitlin A. Golden

PhD Candidate in Health Promotion & Disease Prevention Research

American Heart Association Predoctoral Fellowship (2021-2023)

The American Heart Association (AHA) Predoctoral Fellowship program provides research assistance and training to help students initiate careers in areas broadly elated to cardiovascular function, disease and stroke, or to related basic science, bioengineering or biotechnology, and public health problems. Caitlin Golden has been awarded a two-year AHA fellowship for her project, “Identifying the necessary and sufficient factors to improve translation of rural childhood obesity treatment programs.” She relinquished a UNMC Graduate Studies Assistantship in order to accept the AHA Fellowship. Caitlin’s research focuses on elucidating the factors that increase the likelihood of implementation fidelity and positive changes in weight status across communities engaged in the Nebraska Childhood Obesity Research Demonstration (N-CORD) 3.0 Project. By employing a mixed-method technique for data interpretation and analysis that can be used with small sample sizes, her project should advance our understanding of the necessary and sufficient factors of program content, implementation, and outcomes that are critical to the broader uptake and utility of evidence-based obesity treatment programs. A PhD Candidate in Health Promotion & Disease Prevention Research, Caitlin is pursuing her dissertation research under the co-mentorship of Jennie Hill, PhD (Department of Epidemiology) and Paul Estabrooks, PhD (Department of Health Promotion) in the College of Public Health.

 

Nathan Hatch

Nathan D. Hatch

PhD Candidate in IGPBS - Immunology, Pathology & Infectious Disease

NIAID Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (2021-2023)

The NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) offers Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowships (F31 NSRAs) to enable promising students to obtain individualized, mentored research training from outstanding faculty sponsors while conducting dissertation research in scientific health-related fields relevant to the mission of the Institute. Nathan Hatch has been awarded a 2-year F31 NSRA from the NIAID for his project, “Defining the persistence-associated transcriptome in Chlamydia trachomatis.” Without an effective prophylactic, Chlamydia will remain a significant threat to public health indefinitely. As vaccine development has been thus far unsuccessful, targeting persistence (the method Chlamydia uses to resist clearance) may be the best alternative. Nathan’s research will lay the groundwork for mechanistic studies into the persistent response, with a view to determining potential targets for drug development. Nathan is a PhD Candidate in IGPBS – Immunology, Pathology & Infectious Disease, pursuing his dissertation research under the mentorship of Scot P. Ouellette, PhD, in the Department of Pathology & Microbiology.

 

Kajal Kamra

Kajal Kamra

PhD Candidate in IGPBS – Integrative Physiology & Molecular Medicine

American Heart Association Predoctoral Fellowship (2022-2023)

The American Heart Association (AHA) Predoctoral Fellowship program promotes the integrated research and clinical training of promising students in predoctoral or clinical health professional degree training programs and who intend careers as scientists, physician-scientists or other clinician-scientists, or related careers aimed at improving global cardiovascular, cerebrovascular and brain health. Kajal Kamra was awarded a two-year AHA fellowship for her project, entitled “Novel mechanism of neural control of breathing in acute lung injury.” This project will utilize integrative physiological strategies to explore a novel mechanism through lung spinal afferent nerves that may mediate breathing after acute lung injury (ALI). Moreover, because the occurrence and progression of ALI are heightened in patients with underlying pre-existing cardiovascular disease, she will also determine the role of pulmonary spinal afferent nerves in mediating respiratory abnormalities in the ALI animal model with and without pre-existing myocardial infarction. Identification and further understanding of this novel mechanism will provide important information for the long-term goal of developing novel targeted therapeutic approaches to improve clinical outcomes in cardio-pulmonary diseases. Kajal is pursuing her dissertation research in IGPBS Integrative Physiology & Molecular Medicine under the supervision of Hanjun Wang, MD, Associate Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology.

 

Nicholas Mullen

Nicholas J. Mullen

PhD Candidate in IGPBS - Cancer Research

NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctotal MD/PhD Fellowship (2021-2025)

The NIH National Cancer Institute (NCI) offers Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral MD/PhD Fellowships (F30 NSRAs) to support promising doctoral candidates to perform dissertation research and training for an MD/PhD degree in a scientific health-related field relevant to the mission of the NCI. Nicholas J. Mullen, an MD/PhD Scholar at UNMC, has been awarded a 4-year F30 NSRA from the NCI for his project, “Targeting pyrimidine biosynthesis in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma.” Recognizing that cancer cells display highly deranged cellular metabolism, including massive nucleotide production, that is critical to their malignant behaviors, Nick's research is examining the role of hyperactive pyrimidine nucleotide metabolism in promoting cancer progression. He is also investigating pharmacologic inhibitors of nucleotide synthesis as potential therapeutics for pancreatic cancer. Nick is a PhD Candidate in IGPBS – Cancer Research, pursuing his dissertation research under the mentorship of Pankaj Singh, PhD, in the Eppley Institute for Research in Cancer and Allied Diseases. After completing the PhD requirements, he will complete the final two years of medical school at UNMC.

 

Moses New-Aaron

Moses O. New-Aaron

PhD Candidate in Environmental Health, Occupational Health & Toxicology

NIAAA Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (2021-2024)

The NIH National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) for Individual Predoctoral Fellows (F31) enables promising predoctoral students to obtain individualized, mentored research training from outstanding faculty sponsors while conducting dissertation research. Moses New-Aaron has been awarded a 3-year F31 award for his project, Hepatocyte-hepatic stellate cell axis in potentiation of alcohol and HIV-induced liver injury. Recognizing that liver disease is a leading cause of non-AIDS related mortality in individuals living with HIV, Moses will explore mechanisms involved in crosstalk between alcohol and HIV-exposed hepatocytes and hepatic stellate cells. A more complete understanding of this process that is known to potentiate liver injury progression may lead to new strategies to effectively treat liver disease in alcohol-abusing HIV-infected individuals. A native of Nigeria, Moses earned the Master of Public Health degree (Biostatistics concentration) from UNMC in 2017, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Environmental Health, Occupational Health & Toxicology under the mentorship of Natalia Osna, PhD, in the UNMC Department of Internal Medicine (Gastroenterology & Hepatology).

 

Suhita Ray

Suhita Ray

PhD Candidate in IGPBS – Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology

American Heart Association Predoctoral Fellowship (2022-2023)

The American Heart Association (AHA) Predoctoral Fellowship program aims to enhance the integrated research and clinical training of promising students who are matriculated in predoctoral or clinical health professional degree training programs and who intend careers as scientists, physician-scientists or other clinician-scientists, or related careers aimed at improving global cardiovascular, cerebrovascular and brain health. Suhita Ray was awarded a two-year AHA fellowship for her project, entitled “Determining the Role of a Sterile Alpha Motif Domain Protein in Stress-Induced Signaling and Survival.” Recognizing that different mechanisms control red blood cell formation in pathological vs. physiological states, Suhita aims to understand these processes with the ultimate goal of developing new classes of therapeutics. To this end, her research aims to elucidate the mechanisms controlling red blood cell recovery during anemia – a condition in which blood stem cells respond differently to stress than they do normally, including upregulation of a “sterile alpha motif” protein that promotes stem cell survival and red blood cell production. She is pursuing this work as a PhD candidate in the IGPBS Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology doctoral program under the tutelage of Kyle J. Hewitt, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Genetics, Cell Biology & Anatomy.

 

Molly Schieber

Molly N. Schieber

PhD Candidate in IGPBS – Integrative Physiology & Molecular Medicine

American Heart Association Predoctoral Fellowship (2020-2021)

The American Heart Association (AHA) Predoctoral Fellowship program provides research assistance and training to help students initiate careers in areas broadly elated to cardiovascular function, disease and stroke, or to related basic science, bioengineering or biotechnology, and public health problems. Molly Schieber, a student in the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Biomedical Sciences specializing in Integrative Physiology & Molecular Medicine, has been awarded a two-year AHA fellowship for her project, “Hypoxic/Oxidative Stress in micro-vessels of PAD patients: Predictors of myopathy and response to intervention.” Molly’s research uses biopsy specimens from the gastrocnemius muscle of claudicating patients with Peripheral Artery Disease to evaluate micro-vessel health and association with measures of myofiber pathology and fibrosis, walking performance, and quality of life. These analyses will be performed both at baseline and six months after a standard-of-care therapy – revascularization or standardized treadmill exercise. An M.D./Ph.D. scholar, Molly is pursuing her dissertation research under the tutelage of Iraklis Pipinos, M.D., in the Department of Surgery (Vascular Surgery Division). After completing the Ph.D. requirements, Molly will pursue the final two years of her medical school training at UNMC.

 

Rebecca A. Slotkowski

Rebecca A. Slotkowski

PhD Student in MSIA - Patient-Oriented Research

NIMHD Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (2022-2027)

The NIH National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities(NIMHD) offers Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral MD/PhD Fellowships (F30 NSRAs) to support promising doctoral candidates to perform dissertation research and training for an MD/PhD degree in a scientific health-related field relevant to the mission of the NIMHD. Rebecca Slotkowski, an MD/PhD Scholar at UNMC, has been awarded a 5-year F30 NSRA from the NIMHD for her project, “SPARKLED: Social Programming Affects Risk in Kids of Latent Endothelial Disease.”  Heart problems are the number one cause of pregnancy-related death in the United States and most profoundly affect poor and non-White women. Social health programming can help people lead healthier lives by teaching them about stress management and healthy diets, which can help prevent heart disease later in life. Rebecca’s research project is focused on determining how social health programming for teenagers can empower communities across the United States to overcome barriers to health and reduce the long-term burden of adult heart disease during pregnancy.  She is pursuing this work as a PhD candidate in the MSIA Patient Oriented Research doctoral program under the supervision of Ann Anderson Berry, MD, PhD, Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Neonatology.

 

Susan Solmos

Susan Solmos

PhD Student in Nursing

American Association of Critical Care Nurses Impact Research Grant (2022-2024) 
Sigma Foundation for Nursing Small Grant (2022-2023)

The American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN) Impact Research Grant program supports research that will provide evidence-based resources that influence high acuity critical care nursing practice. Susan has been awarded the 2022 AACN Impact Research Grant for her project, “Predictors of Medical Device-Related Pressure Injuries (MDRPI) in Critically Ill Adults”. Painful and disfiguring MDRPI occur in critically ill adults despite best efforts to prevent occurrences. Preventing complications from these live-saving devices, such as endotracheal tubes, are a nursing priority. This case control study will examine unique biomechanical and physiologic risk factors hypothesized to be specific to MDRPI. Findings may inform future preventive interventions to reduce the harmful occurrence of MDRPI. Susan has also been awarded a Sigma Small Grant from the Sigma Foundation for Nursing for her project, a "Mixed Methods Approach to Investigating Healthcare Providers’ PPE-Related Facial Injuries As Posted on Social Media during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Global Perspective." PPE-related injuries are a form of device-related pressure injuries and show marked similarities to MDRPI seen in hospitalized patients.  PPE-related injuries garnered international media attention during the early months of the pandemic. By examining social media posts (selfies and text), Susan seeks to understand the recent COVID-19 related surge in PPE-related injuries including personal, environmental, and contextual factors surrounding PPE use to inform future preventive interventions. Susan is a PhD student in the College of Nursing, pursuing these dissertation research studies under the advisement of Janet Cuddigan, PhD, RN, FAAN.

 

Nicholas Wood

Nicholas A. Wood

PhD Candidate in IGPBS - Immunology, Pathology & Infectious Disease

NIAID Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (2021-2023)

The NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) offers Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowships (F31 NSRAs) to enable promising students to obtain individualized, mentored research training from outstanding faculty sponsors while conducting dissertation research in scientific health-related fields relevant to the mission of the Institute. Nick Wood has been awarded a 2-year F31 NSRA from the NIAID for his project, “Elucidation of the Role of Chlamydial ClpX During Development and Differentiation.” Chlamydia trachomatis undergoes a complex developmental cycle in which the bacteria differentiate between two functionally and morphologically distinct forms. Because these differentiation events are not preceded by division events that re-distribute proteins, Nick has hypothesized that proteomic turnover between developmental forms is critical to this process and that the Clp protease system serves as the primary mechanism for turnover of cytosolic proteins. By characterizing the molecular underpinnings of these transitions, this work will potentially open the door to targeted therapeutic strategies. Nick is a PhD Candidate in IGPBS – Immunology, Pathology & Infectious Disease, pursuing his dissertation research under the mentorship of Scot P. Ouellette, PhD, in the Department of Pathology & Microbiology.