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Arnold School of Public Health

Doctoral candidate racks up awards on her path to improving chronic disease outcomes, reducing health disparities

July 15, 2019 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu

Growing up in Nigeria, Omonefe “Nefe” Omofuma studied pharmacy as an undergraduate at Olabisi Onabanjo University. It was during her internship at a federal teaching hospital that she observed the complexities and peculiarities that influenced survival outcomes for patients battling cancer.

“The huge gap in the diagnosis and survival of certain types of cancer between different groups of people became more apparent to me,” Omofuma says. “Among many other reasons, this spurred my interest and decision to pursue a degree in epidemiology focusing on cancer and other chronic diseases.”

In 2012, after four years working in pharmaceutical research and program management, she moved to the United States to pursue a master’s degree in pharmacy administration. Then she began researching doctoral programs and chose the Ph.D. in Epidemiology program at UofSC due to the university’s top-ranking public health programs. The Arnold School also offered opportunities to be involved in cancer disparities research through the Cancer Prevention and Control Program and to work alongside professor of epidemiology Susan Steck, whose research interests overlapped with Omofuma’s. 

“Dr. Steck supported me tremendously, exposing me to and involving me in various research opportunities which has helped developed my skill set,” Omofuma says. “And she has guided me professionally from the moment I got into the program and provided me with the requisite mentorship.”

With all of her accomplishments and the training she has received in cancer disparities research through the IGniTE-CD program, she is poised to become a leader in the field of cancer epidemiology.

-Susan Steck, professor of epidemiology

Omofuma also found mentors in Anwar Merchant, Jihong Liu and Jiajia Zhang – all faculty members of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

“I have had a great learning experience with all my professors that I took classes with, and they have all been very instrumental in my education and career path,” she says. “Drs. Steck, Merchant, Liu and Zhang have been extremely supportive of my research work and progress in the program, and I am constantly impressed by their vast knowledge and truly grateful to have direct access to them.”

During her doctoral program, Omofuma gained research experience as a data management specialist in the School of Medicine’s Center for Disability Resources as well as in her department. For the past three years, Omofuma has been a trainee in Susan G. Komen-funded Interdisciplinary Graduate Training to Eliminate Cancer Disparities (IGniTE-CD) program.

She’s also developed her leadership skills by serving on award and faculty search committees, representing her program on the Dean’s Student Advisory Council, holding the position of secretary for the Graduate Student Association’s Professional Development efforts, and participating in the South Carolina Collaborative for Race and Reconciliation. Off campus, the Norman J. Arnold Doctoral Fellow volunteers at The Free Medical Clinic.

With three publications and several more in preparation, Omofuma is well on her way to pursuing the research career she has envisioned. She has even received a SPARC graduate research grant from the Office of the Vice President for Research to support her dissertation research in diet and breast cancer risk and survival.

Her efforts have been recognized with multiple travel awards to present at various conferences and numerous honors. In the past year alone, Omofuma has won UofSC’s Outstanding Achievement and Student Triumph Award, the John Milner Nutrition and Cancer Prevention Research Practicum Project Third Place Award, and the UofSC Nutrition Consortium Research Symposium Second Place Poster Award. This spring, she received the Malcolm U. Dantzler Scholarship and the Public Health Scholarship from the South Carolina Public Health Association. At the 2019 Arnold School of Public Health Hooding Ceremony, Omofuma won the Epidemiology Outstanding Doctoral Student award.

It’s important to be actively involved in on-campus leadership, professional development activities and community service while staying focused and having a positive outlook.

-Nefe Omofuma, Ph.D. in epidemiology candidate

“Nefe has been an exemplary student, excelling in the classroom, in her research endeavors, as well as in service and outreach activities,” Steck says. “With all of her accomplishments and the training she has received in cancer disparities research through the IGniTE-CD program, she is poised to become a leader in the field of cancer epidemiology.”

Following her graduation later this year, Omofuma plans to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship to continue developing her research skills before pursuing a position in which she can concentrate on improving outcomes for individuals with chronic conditions such as cancer and reducing health disparities.

“Coming into the program, I was focused on getting the best experience and taking advantage of every opportunity that came my way,” Omofuma says of her experiences and achievements. “It’s important to be actively involved in on-campus leadership, professional development activities and community service while staying focused and having a positive outlook.”


Related:

Researchers receive Susan G. Komen grant to establish interdisciplinary graduate training program in breast cancer disparities


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