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Arnold School of Public Health

Epidemiology graduate researches ways to use nutrition to prevent cancer

December 20, 2022 | Erin Bluvas,

Bezawit Kase learned about the field of public health when she was a freshman at Haramaya University in her native Ethiopia. Senior public health majors shared their classroom and field experiences with first-year students.

“I found that most health concerns of communities can be addressed through public health, and I wanted to be a part of it,” says Kase, who found a special interest in epidemiology. “Epidemiology was the course that showed me the power of research in terms of improving human lives.”

With the goal of learning more about research methodologies, she decided to pursue a graduate degree in the field. First, she gained several years of practical and professional experience – monitoring child nutrition care for a hospital and assisting with public health classes at a local university. Working for the international nongovernmental organization, Population Services Ethiopia, Kase led public health trainings to prevent sexually transmitted infections and improve family planning services in rural areas.

I found that most health concerns of communities can be addressed through public health, and I wanted to be a part of it.

-Bezawit Kase, Ph.D. in Epidemiology, '22

In 2016, she moved to the Netherlands to complete a master’s degree in clinical and psychosocial epidemiology at the University of Groningen. When Kase saw the opportunity to attend USC, she enrolled in the Arnold School’s Ph.D. in Epidemiology program.

“I noticed that USC is an R1 institution, which I found to be attractive to acquire rigorous research experience,” she says. “In addition, the faculty is composed of professors with diverse research areas, which is an invaluable opportunity for an aspiring researcher.”

During her program, Kase continued to explore her interest in child nutrition and built expertise in how diet can be used to reduce the risk of cancer. Her research focuses on understanding the mechanisms through which nutrition is connected to cancer risk.

Kase found mentors in two of the Arnold School’s leading nutrition researchers. Epidemiology professor Susan Steck’s work examines the role that nutrition plays in cancer prevention and control with an aim to address health disparities in these areas. Health promotion, education, and behavior professor Edward Frongillo’s research looks at food insecurity and child development in global contexts with the goal of informing policies and programs.

“Dr. Steck has guided and encouraged me to be a proficient researcher, and she has provided opportunities for me to experience collaborations, engage in conferences and career development,” Kase says. “I worked for Dr. Frongillo as a research assistant, which was invaluable for my growth as a researcher. He has influenced me by challenging me as well as encouraging me to be inquisitive.”

Beyond the classroom and research settings, Kase served as secretary for the Student Nutrition Group and student ambassador for the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. In addition to co-authoring six peer-reviewed publications (with several more under review or in progress), her efforts have been recognized with three best poster awards. 

After graduating this month, Kase plans to continue building her research skills – conducting cutting-edge research, writing grants and working with diverse teams at a research institute. Long term, she plans to lead her own research projects in collaboration with other nutrition experts. 

“Be aware of the resources, including the expertise of faculty and fellow students, data, and funding, within the school,” Kase advises other students interested in public health and/or epidemiology. “It is important to seek collaborations with fellow students even if research interests are not similar and to take advantage of research seminars in the school.”

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