January 11, 2018 | Erin Bluvas, firstname.lastname@example.org
With nominations from graduate program directors across the university, each year the Office of the Vice President for Research selects 12 or 13 Breakthrough Graduate Scholars—outstanding students who demonstrate excellence in the classroom, actively contribute to research and scholarship in their fields and exhibit potential for future success. Firas Alhasson, a doctoral candidate in the department of environmental health sciences (ENHS), and Min Jee Lee, a health services policy and management (HSPM) doctoral student, were identified as Breakthrough Graduate Scholars due to their exceptional performance and achievements in their programs.
Motivated to solve environmental challenges in his native Iraq, Alhasson moved to the United States in 2013 and spent a year as a trainer in the Environmental Health & Disease Laboratory (Chatterjee Lab) while he developed his language skills through USC’s English Programs for Internationals. In 2014, he not only enrolled in the ENHS Ph.D. program and transitioned to a graduate research assistant position within the lab—he began conducting cutting-edge research related to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and other areas.
He is a true scholar and his passion for research will definitely give rise to more groundbreaking scientific studies once he graduates in May.
-Saurabh Chatterjee, ENHS associate professor
“Firas has found a significant breakthrough in understanding the veterans’ Gulf War Illness pathology where his research showed a link to the gut microbiota and neural inflammation, a concept unknown until the publication of his work," says mentor and associate professor Saurabh Chatterjee. “He is a true scholar and his passion for research will definitely give rise to more groundbreaking scientific studies once he graduates in May.”
“One of Firas’ important qualities is his ability to publish high quality articles within a short period of time,” says ENHS professor and graduate director Dwayne Porter. “This productivity speaks volumes of his dedication and passion for his research.”
With eight peer-reviewed publications and 11 oral and poster conference presentations to his name, including a PLOS One paper on Gulf War Illness that has received widespread attention, Alhasson is poised to pursue a career understanding how environmental toxins affect humans and the environment. He intends to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship before settling in Iraq to continue his research and its benefits.
Lee joined the Arnold School in 2014 after earning a master’s degree in public health from Yonsei University and working at the World Health Organization’s Collaborating Center for Health Systems Research in South Korea. Through her doctoral program, she is developing expertise in global cancer research and disparities in access to health services—working to better understand how racial and socioeconomic disparities in care access lead to suboptimal health outcomes. Her long-term goal is to help inform policy and practice in ways that improve health care for vulnerable populations and eliminate health disparities.
This award recognizes not only her strong research skills but also her dedication to public health policy and practice in order to improve health and wellbeing of underserved populations in the U.S. and globally.
-Mahmud Khan, HSPM chair
“Min Jee is very innovative and inquisitive, which helps her to come up with new research ideas,” says mentor and HSPM chair Mahmud Khan. “She not only comes up with innovative ideas, she often proposes a team that will be effective in translating the ideas into publishable academic papers.”
Altogether, Lee has authored or co-authored 16 peer-reviewed publications and has plans for supporting her own research agenda. The Norman J. Arnold Doctoral Fellow has 20 oral and poster presentations at various conferences, including the 2017 American Public Health Association Annual Meeting where she won the Health Education and Health Promotion Student Award.
“She has already demonstrated a high degree of achievement in the field of health services research within the short period,” adds Khan. “This award recognizes not only her strong research skills but also her dedication to public health policy and practice in order to improve health and wellbeing of underserved populations in the U.S. and globally.”
Alhasson joins previous Chatterjee Lab Breakthrough Graduate Scholar awardees Suvarthi Das (2015, now employed at UC Davis School of Medicine) and Diptadip Dattaroy (2016, now employed at National Institutes of Health respectively). Lee joins HSPM’s Breakthrough Graduate Scholar Mohammed (Rifat) Haider (2017, currently a postdoctoral fellow with the S.C. SmartState Center for Healthcare Quality).
The 2018 Breakthrough Graduate Scholar award recipients will be featured in a special supplement of Breakthrough magazine and honored at the Breakthrough Graduate Scholars Luncheon in the spring.