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Arnold School of Public Health

2023 Student Award Winners

The Arnold School is proud to announce the recipients of the 2023 Student Awards. With nominations from across all six departments, the school-level awards recognize the top master's student and top doctoral student. Each department honors students with awards based on the programs they offer. Congratulations to all of the award winners and nominees! Learn about the journeys of a few of these winners and other graduates with these stories.  

Arnold School Awards


Jeffrey Keith Mattison Outstanding Student Achievement Award - Sujal Patel

Sujal Patel

Sujal Patel enrolled in the Department of Exercise Science’s Master of Science in Advanced Athletic Training Program after completing a bachelor’s degree in the field at the University of Georgia. Since joining the Arnold School, Patel has made an impression not only in her academic success, but she has also made an impact through her servant leadership.

Her commitment to improving health equity and access to care is demonstrated by her research project on the social determinants of health and health literacy affecting telehealth use, which was published in the Journal of Athletic Training. As a student, Patel provided patient-centered, evidence-informed medical services to patients at local high schools, Columbia City Ballet, Lexington County Blowfish, community summer camps and clinics, and USC Football, Basketball, Track & Field, Soccer, Army ROTC, and Cheerleading. 

In addition to mentoring graduate, undergraduate and high school students, Patel served as a preceptor for eight students in the professional athletic training program and served as a teaching assistant for the department. The certified Emergency Medical Technician also volunteered at events hosted by ATEachMoment and the Athletic Trainers in the Physician Practice Society Meeting & Conference. In 2022, her efforts were recognized by the University of South Carolina Post Professional Athletic Training Program Gamecock 1st Year Above & Beyond Award.

This award is presented each year to the master's level graduating student who best exemplifies the special characteristics of Jeffrey Keith Mattison, an epidemiology and biostatistics student who passed away early on during his program. To remember his life, initiative and motivation for work in public health, the Student Public Health Association (now the Dean’s Student Advisory Council) created the Jeffrey Keith Mattison Outstanding Student Achievement Award.  

Doctoral Student Achievement Award - Gabriel Benavidez

Gabriel BenavidezGabriel Benavidez was already pursuing a career in health science when he took his first epidemiology course as an undergraduate student at Montana State University-Northern. The class made him realize he could make a broader impact by moving beyond individual-level factors, and he earned a Master of Public Health degree from Baylor University. 

As a Ph.D. in Epidemiology student at USC, Benavidez received a predoctoral fellowship with the  Behavioral Biomedical Interface Program (an NIH-funded program that offers interdisciplinary training to better prepare the next generation of behavioral scientists) and conducted research with the the Rural and Minority Health Research Center. He added another layer to his training and education by successfully competing for acceptance into the prestigious Health Policy Research Scholars Program (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation), where he was awarded funding to lead a Health Policy Research Scholars COVID and Anti-Racism Pilot Project. 

Benavidez graduates in May with 15 peer-reviewed publications to his name and another dozen in preparation. These papers include research in areas such as urban-rural disparities in the uptake of breast, cervical, colorectal and lung cancer screening. He uses this work to improve health and effect policy change to benefit rural and minoritized populations. Benavidez has already accepted an assistant professor position in the Department of Public Health at Baylor University. 

This award is presented to an outstanding doctoral candidate graduating from the Arnold School. Students are nominated by Arnold School faculty, and selection is based on academic performance and achievements as well as their potential for professional contribution.

Departmental Awards


Outstanding M.S. - Residential Student of the Year Award - Jamie Plummer Jones
Outstanding M.S. - Distance Education Student of the Year Award - Megan Morgan
Outstanding M.S. - Distance Education Student of the Year Award - Teresa Traffas

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ENHS Ph.D. Student of the Year Award - Katya Altman
Outstanding Environmental Microbiology Student - Ryan Leighton
Outstanding Nanomaterials Science Student - Nabi Mohammnanmed 
Outstanding Oceans and Human Health Student - Karlen Correa Valez
Outstanding Sustainable Farming Student - Lacy Barnette
Outstanding Public Health Service Award - Mirza Isanovic
Outstanding Public Health Service Award - Vinita Leedom 
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Outstanding Epidemiology Doctoral Student - Longgang Zhao
Outstanding Epidemiology Master's Student Award - Emily Farrell
Outstanding Biostatistics Doctoral Student Award - Shujie Chen 
Outstanding Biostatistics Master's Student Award - Reid DeMass 

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Outstanding B.S. in Exercise Science Student Award - Peyton Noel White
Outstanding M.S. in Exercise Science Student Award - Nestor Urrea
Outstanding MPH in Physical Activity and Public Health Student Award - Parker Kinard 
Outstanding M.S. in Advanced Athletic Training Student - Corinne Carbone
Outstanding M.S. in Athletic Training Professional Program Student - Toni Lee
Outstanding Ph.D. in Exercise Science Student - Erin Kishman
Outstanding Doctor of Physical Therapy Student - Will Jones 

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Christopher Peter Aluah Outstanding Doctoral Student Award - Nkechi Okpara
Master's Student of the Year Award - Nabila Inak
Undergraduate Student Researcher Award - Claudia Sentman

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Susie B. Yates Award - Abby Edwards
Foster G. McGaw Award - Anna Dunbar
Foster G. McGaw Award - Chase Jourdain
Foster G. McGaw Award - Nick Shiver
Foster G. McGaw Award - Nadia Ghumman

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Outstanding Public Health Bachelor of Arts Award - Abby Berquist
Outstanding Public Health Bachelor of Science Award - Hannah Leili

Read about this year's winners


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