Blog Global Health Center

Inaugural Alumni Symposium highlights impactful student contributions

Written by Jeanie Bryant, BSEd, BSAg, coordinator, Global Health Center

2016 Summer Research Program participant, Thy Gia Vuong, second from left, speaks with local residents during a research project on HIV treatment and care in Iganga District, Uganda

The Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program – Public & Global Health Track hosted its inaugural alumni symposium on July 8, 2022. The event included a keynote address by long-time summer program mentor and Institute for Public Health Faculty Scholar, Patricia Cavazos, PhD. Cavazos is vice chair for diversity, equity and inclusion in WashU’s Department of Psychiatry.

Cavazos was kindly introduced by her former trainee in the program, Biva Rajbhandari, MPH, MSW, who praised the summer program and Cavazos for significantly helping shape her goal to work in global health.

The Summer Research Program – and my year of working with Dr. Cavazos in 2016 – helped my research, writing, and critical thinking skills. These skills have been appreciated in every role and helped me, whether in writing a proposal or developing a client report. Furthermore, I learned how to conduct qualitative analysis while in Dr. Cavazos’ department, which has informed my work.

Biva Rajbhandari

Cavazos intertwined her research efforts and that of her lab with the mutually beneficial experiences that occurred with her former summer research program students. She encouraged the 2022 cohort to think about the big picture, get career advice from their mentor, and network with others.

The symposium also featured presentations by eight program alumni in cohorts from 2014 to 2021. They shared reflections about the summer program that echoed the sentiments expressed by Cavazos. Their career paths spoke of excellence, leadership and a willingness to help others.

One such alum is Jeffrey Lee (2015 cohort), a WashU graduate with an MPH (global health concentration) from the Brown School, and a MEng in Biotechnology from McKelvey School of Engineering. Lee shared with students four different lessons tied to his research on the human gut microbiome – failures are normal, expand your horizons, seek out collaborators, and give back.

Summer Research Program Alumni presenters included:

  • Nneka Molokwu (2014), MPH, BS | Medical student at Emory University School of Medicine
  • Maria Ruiz (2014), BA, BS | Medical student at University of Chicago, Pritzker School of Medicine
  • Jeffrey Lee (2015), BA, MPH, MEng | PhD candidate in Molecular Biology at Princeton University
  • Thy Gia Vuong (2016), RN, BSN | MBA candidate at Boston University
  • Vineet Raman (2017), BA, BS | Medical student at University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
  • Alayna Sibert Patrick (2017), BS, MS | PhD candidate in Public Health Studies, St. Louis University
  • Mahija Ginjupalli (2021), BA, BS | Current medical school applicant
  • Carolina Plaza (2021), BS | MPH candidate (global health concentration) at Washington University in St. Louis

Alumni success has a direct correlation to the advice they gave 2022 Summer Research Program students:

  • Ask has many questions as you can
  • It is okay to take a different career trajectory than what you expected
  • Give yourself time, grace and courage to explore
  • Be open minded about opportunities
  • Find research opportunities
  • Keep up with current events
  • Practice your writing and research skills
  • Find accountability partners
  • Volunteer

Overall, the first Summer Research Program Alumni Symposium was a dashing success! The application period for the 2023 summer program opens in September!