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Arnold School of Public Health


HPEB doctoral student Caroline Dunn receives two abstract awards from the Society of Behavioral Medicine

April 20, 2016 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu 

The Arnold School has researchers working in all different areas of public health, and learning more about your major, your school, and your community can help you find your passion.

-Caroline Dunn

Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior (HPEB) doctoral student Caroline Glagola Dunn chose the Arnold School because she wanted a program that would push her to be both the best possible practitioner and academic she could be. The University of Alabama graduate (Master’s in Human Nutrition) and registered dietitian actually began her doctoral studies at the University of Florida in her hometown of Gainesville but transferred to the University of South Carolina in 2015.

“I wanted to complete a degree that would prepare me to utilize my nutrition and hard sciences background in a practical setting and HPEB has a curriculum that allows students to learn inside and outside the classroom,” Dunn says. “The Arnold School offers the opportunity to work with knowledgeable and talented professionals in my field, mentors that I respect, and undergraduate students so that I can help build the next generation of public health professionals and researchers. I also appreciate that the faculty in my department maintain strong working relationships with colleagues from universities and organizations around the country and encourage me to do the same, helping to facilitating relationships that may be beneficial to me as a student, and in my future career.”

One specific draw for Dunn was the opportunity to work with HPEB Assistant Professor Brie Turner-McGrievy, whose research focuses on helping people eat healthier, lose weight and prevent chronic disease—often aided by the use of emerging technologies. Their research interests and credentials overlap, providing a foundation for collaboration. “Dr. Turner-McGrievy is a fantastic mentor who has encouraged me to explore different areas of research and provided me with opportunities to collaborate with her and others on amazing research projects to enhance my experience while I am here at USC,” Dunn says. “She encourages her graduate students to work independently, mentor others, and work with professionalism at all times.”

(My mentors) have shaped how I view health, justice, and the importance of collaborative work. They continue to work with me and inspire me to push myself to succeed.

-Caroline Dunn

The two work together, along with several other doctoral students and project coordinators, on research they conduct through Turner-McGrievy’s Behavioral Research in Eating (BRIE) Lab. The hardworking BRIE team was recently recognized for their efforts at the Society of Behavioral Medicine’s 2016 Annual Meeting and Scientific Sessions where Turner-McGrievy picked up Early Career Research and Mentorship Awards and Dunn won both a Citation Abstract Award and a Meritorious Student Abstract Award for her research abstract, Dietary Guidance System Utilization and Dietary Choice among American Adults.

Dunn’s abstract was unique in that it presented null results from a study. Working with collaborators Alisha Gaines (Cornell University) and Kim Stran (University of Alabama), she used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to determine if individuals who used the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) MyPyramidPlan guidance system (now the MyPlatePlan) had intake that differed from individuals who did not use the dietary guidance system available to them. They also compared whether individuals from these two groups met USDA dietary intake recommendations. The only significant difference they found between the groups was that the group who reported using the MyPyramid guidance system had a significantly lower intake of saturated fat than those who did not use the guidance.

“I think it’s important to be able to explain how a null finding can be as important and impactful as significant results, and I was fortunate to work with Drs. Gaines and Stran who helped me shape this abstract in a way that communicated the meaningfulness of the null data,” she says. “We also found that many individuals were not using the USDA plans available for them, and that many had never heard of the tools. This tells us that more attention should be paid to utilization of national dietary guidance systems, and health professionals should strive to further understand and describe characteristics of individuals who utilize dietary guidance systems as this will play an important role in the design and tailoring of future guidance.”

Her focus on applied research will serve Dunn well as she continues taking steps toward her future career in academia. “I’d like to conduct meaningful research, teach and work closely with undergraduate and graduate students, and participate in service activities through cooperative extension or public health outreach,” says Dunn, who has a concentration in nutrition programming and promotion within her HPEB program. “I hope to use my degree to work in interdisciplinary teams to help improve the health of individuals and communities.”

She has already experienced early success through her recent Society of Behavioral Medicine awards as well her other achievements and activities. Most recently, Dunn was named a Research Oral Presentation Room Winner at USC Graduate Student Day and awarded the Malcolm U. Dantzler Scholarship from the S.C. Public Health Association. She is an Arnold School Fellow (and was a Graduate School Fellow at University of Florida) and a scholarship recipient from the American Council on Consumer Interests. Dunn is also the Chair of the Nutrition Education for Children Division within the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior and a member of the Columbia Midlands Dietetic Association, the South Carolina Dietetic Association and the South Carolina Public Health Association. She has published numerous peer-reviewed papers and abstracts and has even been awarded her own research funding.

HPEB has a curriculum that allows students to learn inside and outside the classroom.

-Caroline Dunn

“Caroline has really hit the ground running since she came to USC just last fall,” says Turner-McGrievy. “It’s clear that she’s already being recognized for her hard work and dedication to the field of public health.”

Not one to take her accomplishments for granted, Dunn, who is also a research assistant for the Cancer Prevention and Control Program, is grateful for the role her mentors have played in her success thus far. “I have been blessed to have strong mentors, particularly strong female mentors, at each of my academic institutions. They have shaped how I view health, justice, and the importance of collaborative work,” she says. “They continue to work with me and inspire me to push myself to succeed.”

And she is eager to pay it forward. “I try to encourage my undergraduate students to get involved in research and in community programs of interest to them so that they can learn about public health applications in the real world, about research, and about different topic areas within public health,” says Dunn, who has taught several academic courses and mentored five undergraduate students so far. “I also encourage students interested in public health to think about topic areas that interest them, like nutrition. The Arnold School has researchers working in all different areas of public health, and learning more about your major, your school, and your community can help you find your passion.”