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Arnold School of Public Health

Three Arnold School doctoral students win 2021 Breakthrough Graduate Scholar Awards

January 27, 2021 | Erin Bluvas,

Graduate students from the Departments of Exercise Science (EXSC), Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior (HPEB), and Communication Sciences and Disorders (COMD) have snagged three of just 13 2021 Breakthrough Graduate Scholar Awards bestowed by Office of the Vice President for Research. Jacob Barber (EXSC), Jennifer Mandelbaum (HPEB) and Gabriella Reynolds (COMD) were chosen from a pool of nominations submitted by graduate directors across the university for their classroom excellence, research/scholarship contributions and potential for future success.

“The University of South Carolina is very fortunate to have so many excellent scholars populating our research community at every level,” says Prakash Nagarkatti, Vice President for Research. “This year’s Breakthrough Award recipients are among the best of the best. It is an honor to call this year’s faculty award recipients colleagues, and to have a small role in launching the 2021 Graduate Scholars into their promising careers. Congratulations to you all on this well-earned accolade.”

Jacob Barber

Barber’s interest in the molecular mechanisms underlying the benefits of regular exercise (e.g., changes in lipid/lipoprotein traits) began when he was a student in the Arnold School’s B.S. in Exercise Science program. He joined exercise science associate professor Mark Sarzynski’s FLEX (Foundations of Lipids and Exercise) Lab to complete his senior practicum and has been an integral part of the research team for the past six years.

Barber completed a M.S. in Exercise Science where he received his department’s Outstanding Master’s Student Award, and then enrolled in the Ph.D. in Exercise Science program (recently ranked No. 1 in the nation for the second five-year term in a row). He is also a member of UofSC’s Behavioral-Biomedical Interface Program, which is supported by National Institutes of Health T-32 training grant designed to prepare the next generation of behavioral scientists.

His commitment to the field led Barber to visit laboratories at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Duke University, and Broad Institute/Harvard Medical School to learn novel molecular biology techniques. By his own initiative, Barber sought mentorship from environmental health sciences assistant professor and bioinformatics researcher Guoshuai Cai and is now developing his own expertise in the field.

“Jake has excelled as a doctoral student in our program in terms of academics, research and mentoring, and he has accumulated a rare mix of basic, clinical, epidemiological and computational research experiences,” says Sarzynski, who notes that Barber has already published six peer-reviewed papers. “His curiosity, breadth, and productivity make him a rising star in the field of translational exercise physiology.”

Jennifer Mandelbaum

Now in the final stages of her Ph.D. in HPEB program, Mandelbaum’s research examines the core social factors driving population health inequality, particularly chronic disease prevention (e.g., childhood obesity, diabetes and heart disease management) in low-resource communities. She is a Presidential Fellow (2016-2020), Graduate Civic Scholar, Delta Omega Fellow (2019-2020), Rhude M. Patterson Graduate Trustee Fellow, and a Junior Scholar (2017-2018; 2019-2020) with the South Carolina SmartState Center for Healthcare Quality.

Mandelbaum has served as a graduate research assistant on two Arnold School-based studies and currently works has a program evaluator with South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control on two Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grants addressing racial and socioeconomic disparities in diabetes and heart disease. Over the past four years, her work has resulted in more than 30 national and regional presentations, two book chapters and 11 peer-reviewed publications.

In addition to multiple poster and abstract awards, Mandelbaum has been recognized with the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Leadership, Emily Thompson Award in Women’s and Gender Studies, Outstanding Graduate Teaching Award, and the Dr. Rick Foster Leadership Award (Alliance for a Healthier South Carolina). Her numerous professional and service positions include leading UofSC’s chapter of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement as co-president and the UofSC Graduate Student Association as president and vice president.

“Throughout her time at UofSC, Jennifer has demonstrated both tremendous enthusiasm for public health research and high standards in everything she does,” says Rachel Davis, an associate professor in the HPEB department and Mandelbaum’s dissertation chair. “This award is a well-deserved recognition of her potential as a leader in public health.”

Gabriella Reynolds

Working closely with mentor Krystal Werfel in the COMD associate professor’s Written Language Lab, Reynolds researches child language and literacy with a focus on literacy acquisition in children with hearing loss and children with dyslexia. According to Werfel, the field is in dire need of researchers who study clinically-relevant issues in these areas.

Despite challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, Reynolds is in the final stages of her dissertation project evaluating the use of frequency modulation systems in a phonological awareness intervention for children with dyslexia and hearing loss. To support this work, she received an international award in the form of a Lee Silverman Voice Treatment Global Small Student Grant.

Her work has resulted in five peer-reviewed publications and numerous presentations thus far. Reynolds is a Norman J. Arnold Doctoral Fellow and Sharon Webber Doctoral Student Scholar as well as a Presidential Fellow – currently leading the Presidential Fellows Advisory Council while maintaining a 4.0 GPA in her coursework.

“Gabby has demonstrated impressive leadership skills during her time in the Ph.D. program that I am confident she will maintain as she continues her work in academia, running her own research program, and representing our field in speech-language pathology,” Werfel says. “I have been impressed with her ingenuity and problem-solving in response to COVID-related setbacks impacting her dissertation. Gabby has gone above and beyond the requirements of our doctoral program, and I know that as she moves throughout her career, she will continue to excel as she works to advance clinical knowledge and share those findings in meaningful ways with those who work directly with patients.”


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