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Arnold School of Public Health


HPEB doctoral student Jennifer Mandelbaum wins S.C. IMPH Outstanding Student Abstract Award

August 13, 2018 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu

With both parents working in the health field and two family members with chronic health conditions, healthcare was a regular topic of conversation in Jennifer Mandelbaum’s household. “I think I grew up assuming that everyone else’s families talked about hemoglobin A1c’s at the dinner table, too!” she says. “I didn’t really understand what public health was, though, until I got to college and took a course called American Healthcare.”

It was 2010, and Mandelbaum was a studying sociology and health at Brandeis University, about an hour south of her hometown in New Hampshire. The course focused on health policy, a particularly engaging topic given that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act had been signed into law earlier that year.

“The course introduced me to a different way of thinking about health, and I was intrigued by public health’s focus on populations,” says Mandelbaum. She connected with dedicated mentors, who encouraged her to pursue research opportunities, including a competitive undergraduate research fellowship collecting qualitative data on garden education programs. Living less than half an hour from Boston, Mandelbaum also gained experience through health-related internships.

I decided on USC mostly because there are a number of faculty members in the Arnold School involved in research related to health disparities, nutrition, and global health.

-Jennifer Mandelbaum, HPEB Ph.D. student

Immediately following her 2014 graduation, she continued expanding her public health knowledge by beginning a master of public health (social and behavioral sciences) with a concentration in global health at Yale University. Here, Mandelbaum built on her community-based work and research while holding two fellowships: one in Early Childhood Health and Development at the Yale Global Health Leadership Institute (2015) and another through the Global Health Justice Partnership at the Yale University Schools of Public Health and Law (2014-2016).

These experiences led her to join the Arnold School in 2016 to begin pursuing a Ph.D. in health promotion, education, and behavior (HPEB). “I decided on USC mostly because there are a number of faculty members in the Arnold School involved in research related to health disparities, nutrition and global health,” says Mandelbaum, who also wanted to venture outside New England and experience another part of the country. “I appreciated how interdisciplinary their work was and thought it fit well with my interests.”

Those interests include examining social determinants of health, health disparities, and chronic disease prevention. The USC Presidential Fellow uses both quantitative and qualitative methods to examine the core social factors driving population health inequalities in the U.S. and abroad, particularly among low-resource populations.

“My work is inherently interdisciplinary, drawing on concepts and research from both the social and biological sciences,” Mandelbaum explains. “I aim to incorporate novel approaches to collect and interpret data, whether that involves population-level survey research to examine racial disparities in diabetes, analysis of a statewide electronic medical record system to identify disparities in the provision of nutrition counseling, or social network analysis to characterize central actors in an Indian agricultural intervention.”

Once again, Mandelbaum has immersed herself in her graduate program, from the department to the university level. She is a Presidential Fellow with the USC Graduate School, a Junior Scholar with the South Carolina SmartState Center for Healthcare Quality, and a graduate research assistant on two different Arnold School-based studies.

She is also co-president of USC’s chapter of the Institute of Healthcare Improvement, president of the Graduate Student Association, and co-chair of the Advisory Committee on Professional Development for Graduate Students. In addition to developing manuscripts and engaging in frequent professional presentations, she mentors several undergraduate students.

It’s an honor to recognize students engaged in important research and connect with our state’s public health association, particularly when research may directly inform public health engagement and practice in our local and global community.

-Megan Weis, co-director for SC IMPH

In recognition of her efforts, Mandelbaum has won multiple poster and abstract awards for research and teaching and several travel grants. In April, she was the recipient of the Outstanding Student Abstract Award from the South Carolina Institute of Medicine and Public Health, marking the sixth consecutive year that an Arnold School student has won this prestigious award. Mandelbaum was selected based on the research she presented on Barriers to Exclusive Breastfeeding and Motivations for Early Introduction of Formula Among Latina Mothers in Columbia, S.C. at the South Carolina Public Health Association’s annual meeting (see photo at right).  

“It’s an honor to recognize students engaged in important research and connect with our state’s public health association, particularly when research may directly inform public health engagement and practice in our local and global community,” says co-director Megan Weis, who is an alumna and adjunct faculty member of the Arnold School. “Our mission at the Institute is to inform policy to improve health and health care, and Ms. Mandelbaum’s research contributes to that purpose.”

Through her program, Mandelbaum has found mentors in numerous HPEB faculty members, including her advisor, associate professor Spencer More, assistant professor Rachel Davis, and research assistant professor Sayward Harrison. “All of my mentors have been great supporters and have really encouraged me to pursue opportunities both within and outside of the Arnold School,” she says. “My interests are pretty varied, but I’ve been fortunate to work with faculty members who seem to find a common thread and encourage me to pursue these interests.”

After she graduates, Mandelbaum would like to conduct population health research for a nonprofit research institute or nonpartisan think tank. “I think a great thing about public health in general is how there are so many options when it comes to a career path,” she says. “The skills we develop as part of a Ph.D. program in the Arnold School are transferable to a variety of jobs.”


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