Ph.D. Student Spotlight

Ava Wong Portrait Ava Wong is CHS

Ava Wong completed both her undergraduate degrees (BSHS, Community Health Education; BS, Biology) and her MPH (Maternal and Child Health) at the University of Arizona.  

Why I want a PhD in Public Health:

I fell in love with public health when I took my first public health course as an undergrad. For my Bachelor's and MPH, I focused on applied public health practice. I enjoyed working one-on-one with people and communities promoting healthier lifestyles. However, I was always curious and loved learning about research design and methods. After my MPH I took a position as a project manager at a large research center From then on, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in research. I decided to get a PhD in Public Health because I believe it will help me gain the knowledge and skills that I will need in my future.  

I chose UNR to pursue my PhD because:

The program offered flexibility, accreditation, and research opportunities. Nevada is a unique setting for public health. There are so many public health challenges distinct to this state. There's also Lake Tahoe!

My research interests:

My research interests include how intimate partner violence and adverse childhood experiences affect health and mental health outcomes among immigrant populations, especially in Asian immigrant populations. I am currently working with Dr. Wei Yang on the PRAMS (Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System), a population-based surveillance system designed to monitor maternal behaviors that occur before, during, and after pregnancy in Nevada.

What I like best about the program: 

  • Everyone (both faculty and students) at CHS has been so welcoming and nice. The professors are all approachable.
  • All the courses have been really interesting!
  • There are months with temperatures over 80 degrees (anything below 80 is too cold for me)!

My post-PhD hopes, fears, desires, and plans?

I hope I can find a fulfilling job. I fear I'll never want to stop being a student. I would really like to have a career that will allow me to integrate public health practice and research to develop and implement effective violence prevention programs and policies. But what I'll most likely do is pursue a research career.


Olagoke portraitAyokunle Olagoke is CHS

Ayokunle Olagoke completed both her undergraduate degree (BS, Physiology) and her MPH (Health Promotion and Education) at The University of Ibadan, Nigeria.

Why I want a PhD in Public Health:

My Bachelor's and my Master's degrees exposed me to the importance of research. I thought it would not be a bad idea to learn the art and science of research-- its accurate conducted conduction and its dissemination.  

I chose UNR to pursue my PhD because:

The research interest of the faculty aligns with mine: Community based participatory research (CBPR) and health communication. Reno seems like a cool place to me. It has many similarities to where I come from. I also chose the United States because the education system focuses more on practicality and not just on theory.   

My research interests:

I am here for my PhD in Public Health- the Social and Behavioral Health track. My research interests are health dissemination, communication of findings through the CBPR approach, storytelling, and health.  

What I like best about the program:

  • The size of the classes really fosters a good learning experience.
  • The promptness at which things are done when requested.
  • The openness of the faculty to collaborate with students on interesting research topics and the motivation to conduct and publish research.

My post-PhD hopes, fears, desires, and plans?

  • I hope to work briefly as a faculty member and then in an international organization in health communication. I also hope to work in governance in my country--maybe politics. And I will most likely still go for an MBA.  
  • I fear that because my field of interest (storytelling through stage drama and health) is an emerging field there may not be very much funding in that area compared to other fields. I would really like to work on how stage drama improves health behavior.
  • But what I'll most likely do is publish some work to act as background for my final dissertation.

Katherine wright portraitKathrine Wright is CHS

Kathrine Wright received both her undergraduate degree (BS, Kinesiology) and her MPH from Michigan State University.

Why I want a PhD in Public Health:

Growing up, I experienced some of the poor health outcomes that public health researchers are currently trying to tackle and understand. I want to work with populations that share some of these experiences. I think it is incredibly important to have individuals from marginalized populations in research positions as they offer a unique perspective. I chose UNR to pursue my PhD because of: The research opportunities, the faculty, and the student services.

My research interests:  

My research interests include food and water insecurity, food equity, increasing food sustainability, and building equitable and inclusive food systems. I am studying public health with a focus in on social and behavioral health.

What I like best about the program: 

  • The expansiveness of the research opportunities.  

My post-PhD hopes, fears, desires, and plans?

  • I hope to continue to work with food insecure populations and build equitable and inclusive food systems.
  • I fear that that I may have trouble finding an institution that values qualitative research.
  • I would really like to use my research to inform food policies. But what I'll most likely do is work with food insecure populations and build equitable and inclusive food systems, and to use data from my research to inform food policies.

Larrissa White portraitLarrissa White is CHS

Larissa White completed both her undergraduate degree (BA, English) and her MPH at UNR.

Why I want a PhD in Public Health:

A PhD in Public Health is the logical next step in my career. After previous experiences in both international infectious disease care and state-level public health work, I felt research and teaching were the most appropriate mechanisms for reaching my long-term goals.

I chose UNR to pursue my PhD because:

UNR is my one and only alma mater! I wanted to be a part of a new program, helping to build it from the ground up. And I wanted to continue to work with an awesome array of accomplished academic professionals!  

My research interests:

My current research interests focus on health services utilization and complex diseases. My advisor, Dr. Julie Smith-Gagen, and I are studying ways to improve diagnosis of and how to extend survival rates for patients with occult cancer.   

What I like best about the program: 

  • The customization of curriculum within courses to meet the students' academic needs.
  • The variety of my colleagues' backgrounds.
  • We continue to hire amazing new faculty with diverse research interests.

My post-PhD hopes, fears, desires, and plans?

  • I hope to teach at the university level and continue practical public health research.
  • I fear what any student in this century fears: the availability of suitable jobs!
  • I would really like to work on some cutting edge clinical research, focusing on causal methodology. 
 But what I'll most likely do is become happily buried in teaching future public health professionals.

Menjiao Huang portraitMenjiao Huang is CHS

Mengjiao Huang completed both her undergraduate degree (BS, Public Health Laboratory Sciences) and her MPH at Sichuan University in China.

Why I want a PhD in Public Health:

I really enjoy doing research. The exciting thing about it is that you can always learn something new from your work, and you don't have to do the same work from 9 to 5. Applying for grants and writing a paper are painful processes, though I feel excited when my work gets published. Moreover, I hope that I can make some contribution to the public health field and improve the health of the population as a whole. Right now, in China there is a big gap between the wealthy and the poor with respect to health conditions.  Much must be done to fill in the gap and make people healthier.  

I chose UNR to pursue my PhD because of its:

Great faculty in our department, and because Reno is a great place with a cheap cost of living.

My research interests:

I am a PhD student in the epidemiology track. I am interested in environmental risk factors such as air pollution that is related to diseases; and in the improvement of methods to analyze complex air pollution data. Additionally, I'm interested in using advanced epidemiological methods to refine study designs and reduce measurement error, usually an issue in measuring environmental exposures. In this program, I will focus on enriching my knowledge of advanced epidemiological methods and statistical analyses.

What I like best about the program: 

The faculty try their best to work with each student to improve their performance and competitiveness as a doctoral student.

My post-PhD hopes, fears, desires, and plans?

  • I hope I can develop my career in academia and get involved in more exciting research.
  • I fear the competition to be employed as a faculty member in the universities.
  • I would really like to get a job in a university. But what I'll most likely do first is find a post-doc position to build up my research experience.

Nada Amroussia is CHS

Nada Amroussia completed her undergraduate degree (BS, Pharmacy) at the University of Monastir, Turkey, and her MPH at Umea University in Sweden.  

Why I want a PhD in Public Health:

A PhD in Public Health is an important step towards pursuing a career in public health research.

I chose UNR to pursue my PhD because:

The program is interesting, multidisciplinary, and aims to foster equitable and healthy communities.  

My research interests:

I am a PhD student in Public Health with an emphasis in Social and Behavioral Health. My research interests are sexual and reproductive health, mental health inequalities, and health inequities in general.

What I like best about the program: 

  • The friendly environment
  • The course content
  • The student services

My post-PhD hopes, fears, desires, and plans?

I hope I can finish my studies on time. I fear delaying my dissertation. 
 I would really like to focus on a topic that interests me.

 But what I'll most likely do is look for an opportunity to enhance my research skills.


Natalie Rosenquist portraitNatalie Rosenquist is CHS

Natalie Rosenquist completed both her undergraduate degree (BS, Community Health Science) and her MPH at UNR.

Why I want a PhD in Public Health:

During my MPH, it was recommended that I pursue a PhD in Epidemiology because of my interest in a research career. I really enjoy the subject of public health and epidemiology. Getting a deeper understanding of specific subject areas, particularly data analysis, was also interesting to me. Public health is a fascinating field and is continually thought-provoking.  

I chose UNR to pursue my PhD because:

The timing was right for me - I will be staying in Reno for a few more years due to my spouse's work. I felt like this was a great opportunity. I also have familiarity with the faculty. I've lived in Reno for 6 years and love it. It has a lot to offer: lots of local activities, skiing, hiking, beautiful views, interesting night life, shopping, tons of great restaurants and friendly people. It has the feel of a big city, but you can also get away.

My research interests:

My research interests are mainly focused in maternal and child health. Here at UNR I am currently working on two projects: one focusing on infant mortality and income inequality and one focusing on maternal and infant health.

What I like best about the program:

  • The diverse backgrounds of the faculty and students.
  • Everyone is very helpful. It really feels like a team.

My post-PhD hopes, fears, desires, and plans?

I hope that I am able to find projects to work on that I am truly interested in. I fear that I will not have opportunities to further my knowledge and challenge myself; I do not wish for a complacent career.
 I would really like to have an opportunity to work outside the state of Nevada, perhaps Montana or in the Midwest. But what I'll most likely do is eventually teach at the university level - that way I can pursue research I am interested in and educate and train the next generation of public health professionals.


Paschal ApangaPaschal Apanga is CHS

Paschal Apanga completed his undergraduate degrees (BS, Human Biology; MBChB, Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery) at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana, his MPH at the University of Sheffield in the UK, and his Public Health Specialist degree at the Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Why I want a PhD in Public Health:

I want to refine and enrich my research skills so I can contribute to evidence-based research to inform policy and decision-making. I would also like to mentor individuals/students interested in public health as well as provide consultancy services organizations that need it.  

I chose UNR to pursue my PhD because:

UNR has top class, varied public health experts with rich research experiences that match my interest. The course modules for public health are well structured.

My research interests:

I am taking the PhD Epidemiology program. My research interest is health outcomes in low and middle income countries, particularly in infectious diseases and maternal and child health.  

What I like best about the program:

Reno is a very hospitable community and the Professors at UNR make extra time to ensure that students understand what they teach.  

My post-PhD hopes, fears, desires, and plans?

I have no fears after completion. I hope to get this PhD done so I can go back to contribute to making society a better place through public health.


Taylor LenschTaylor Lensch is CHS

Taylor Lensch completed both his undergraduate degree (BS, Biology) and his MPH at UNR.  

Why I want a PhD in Public Health:

While working on my MPH, I learned the value of public health research and decided to dedicate my career to improving the health of our populations. I learned a lot throughout my MPH career, but chose to come back to school for a PhD because I wanted to continue to develop my research skills and learn more about some of the new and emerging topics in epidemiology.

I chose UNR to pursue my PhD because of its:

Excellent faculty, numerous research opportunities, and its positive and engaging environment.

My research interests:

I am primarily interested in adolescent health. For the past three years, I have coordinated the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) and School Health Profiles Survey for the state of Nevada. Adolescence is such a crucial time in the growth and development of young people as they transition into adulthood and I enjoy working to improve the health and well-being of this population.

What I like best about the program: 

  • The diversity of courses we get to take.
  • The practical skills we are learning.
  • Having a teaching assistantship!  

My post-PhD hopes, fears, desires, and plans?

  • I hope to obtain a tenure-track faculty position.
  • I fear that getting a job won't be as easy as I'm hoping. 

  • I would really like to take a year off and travel.


  • But what I'll most likely do is get straight to work!

Xiangjun ZhangXiangjun Zhang is CHS

Xiangjun Zhang completed her undergraduate degree in clinical medicine at the Shandong University School of Medicine and her MS in Psychology at De La Salle University.

Why I want a PhD in Public Health:

The beauty of public health attracted me during the years when I worked at a local public health institution. My motivation of pursuing further study in this field is the same as the one when I chose medicine as my major at college - to save lives. I hold the vision of my future career as a public health researcher. To make this vision to come true, I have decided to pursue my PhD studies in public health.

I chose UNR to pursue my PhD because:

The School of Community Health Sciences is committed to engagement efforts to support the teaching and learning mission of the University. And because our faculty members have strong expertise in public health.  

My research interests:

My major is social and behavioral health. My interest areas are HIV/AIDS risk behaviors, prevalence, linkage to care, and substance use.  

What I like best about the program:

  • The school works closely with faculties and students and provides a very supportive learning environment.
  • Professors and faculties work with passion, commitment, and expertise in teaching.  

My post-PhD hopes, fears, desires, and plans?

I hope that my work can help people improve their quality of life.