Each year, The Graduate School honors graduate students in programs throughout our University for their powerful discoveries that contribute to a better future for people and communities in North Carolina. We're pleased to present 12 Graduate Education Advancement Board Impact Awards and seven Horizon Awards for 2017.

The longstanding GEAB Impact Award recognizes discoveries with a direct impact on our state in the present time. New for 2017, the Horizon Award recognizes discoveries with future potential to benefit North Carolina (and beyond).

Doctoral and master's students, working in close collaboration with their faculty mentors, pursue promising new ideas. They then apply their new knowledge to improving human health, strengthening communities and creating greater understanding of our world's biggest challenges. That innovation is something to celebrate. We hope you enjoy reading about the inspiring discoveries of our 2017 GEAB Impact Award and Horizon Award recipients.

View all of the 2017 Horizon and Impact Award winners and their projects

Exploring Bacteria's Defenses to Support Antibiotic Creation

Rachel Bleich, Pharmaceutical Sciences

Horizon Award

Rachel Bleich

"In every instance, when an experiment has been needed, she has found someone to teach her the technique and developed her skill to the point where she acquires fantastic data. She has no fear with respect to her scientific research."

Albert Bowers, Ph.D.

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Testing for Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria in Environmental Waters

Katy Brown, Environmental Sciences and Engineering

Horizon Award

Katy Brown

"Katy has contributed new insights into the presence of highly antimicrobial resistant enteric bacteria in a representative urban community and the extent to which these bacteria enter the aquatic environment and potentially impact downstream uses of this water. Her evaluation methods are simple yet powerful enough to gain wide use both locally and globally."

Mark Sobsey, Ph.D.

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Increasing Walking Among People with Schizophrenia

Julia Browne, Psychology

GEAB Impact Award

Julia Browne

"Julia is tackling a significant public health issue in our state: the premature death of individuals with schizophrenia. The beauty of her research is that it can be disseminated to mental health clinics statewide and does not require specialized clinician training or resources. The brightness of her academic career is matched by her passion for helping this clinical population."

David Penn, Ph.D.

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Detecting, Disrupting Mechanisms Leading to Blood Clots

James Byrnes, Pathology

Horizon Award

James Byrnes

"His work has tremendous potential for understanding how factor XIII works in healthy individuals, and how it might be targeted to reduce dangerous blood clots in patients."

Alisa Wolberg, Ph.D.

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Studying Pottery, Food Processing Habits to Uncover Catawba Nation History

Mary Beth Fitts, Anthropology

GEAB Impact Award

Mary Beth Fitts

"Mary Beth's work adds new perspectives to our understanding of American Indian history. It also has a direct impact on the members of the Catawba Nation's ability to maintain their heritage and to tell the narrative of their contribution to our state and nation."

Margaret Scarry, Ph.D.

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The Role of Messaging in Reducing STI Transmission

Diane Francis, Media and Journalism

GEAB Impact Award

Diane Francis

"Diane's deep commitment to this project made it so successful. I am proud that her study not only contributed to the science in this area, but also changed the safer sex climate on a college campus in ways that will prevent AIDS and other STDs."

Seth Noar, Ph.D.

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Examining Charlotte Housing Authority's Work Requirement

Kirstin Frescoln, City and Regional Planning

GEAB Impact Award

Kirstin Frescoln

"There is very little research on the effects of work requirements on public housing residents who would lose their housing assistance if they do not work. Kirstin's dissertation research has the potential to have wide-ranging implications for housing policy and practice in Charlotte and throughout the United States."

Mai Nguyen, Ph.D.

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Digitally Interpreting North Carolina's Past

Elijah Gaddis, American Studies

GEAB Impact Award

Elijah Gaddis

"He acts on the principle that history is something that serves people, bringing communities together around public memory and building better, richly informed futures."

Bernard Herman, Ph.D.

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Stormwater Ponds and Their Connections to Coastal Water Quality

Adam Gold, Environment and Ecology

GEAB Impact Award

Adam Gold

"Adam's project provides actionable information for coastal water quality managers and improves our understanding of the role of stormwater control measures in coastal nutrient cycling."

Michael Piehler, Ph.D.

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Preventing Brain Injury to Stroke Patients

Yuhang Jiang, Pharmaceutical Sciences

Horizon Award

Yuhang Jiang

"The advance of pharmaceutical science and translational medicine needs more talented and hard-working young scientists like Yuhang. He has a passionate dedication to providing an affordable medical solution for reperfusion injury in North Carolina stroke patients."

Alexander Kabanov, Ph.D., Dr.Sci.

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The Changing Nature of Urban Forests

Bianca Lopez, Environment and Ecology

GEAB Impact Award

Bianca Lopez

"Other studies focus on larger urban areas such as New York City, Baltimore and Phoenix, meaning that Bianca's focus on the Research Triangle area will document a new kind of situation. Her work will inform land-use and land management decisions in our area."

Peter White, Ph.D.

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Detecting Heart Risk Factors for Farmworkers

Maggie Reinsvold, Public Health Leadership

GEAB Impact Award

Maggie Reinsvold

"Maggie carefully considered in advance how her analysis could be used to increase awareness of issues in farmworker health and how the information could be shared."

Anthony Viera, M.D.

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Do More Food Shopping Options Lead to Healthier Decisions?

Dalia Stern, Nutrition

GEAB Impact Award

Dalia Stern

"Dr. Stern's research was particularly innovative and impactful. It was the first nationally representative set of studies that showed that low-income and minority shoppers did not just shop at local small bodegas or similar small stores that had no produce or healthy food but rather they all shopped at a mixture of stores—from supermarkets to large club stores to small local stores that represented what we call food deserts."

Barry Popkin, Ph.D.

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Water Quality, Health Disparities in Wake County

Frank Stillo III, Environmental Sciences and Engineering

GEAB Impact Award

Frank Stillo III

"Frank's research has not only had impacts on programs within the North Carolina Division of Public Health but also has directly benefited individual North Carolina households struggling to ensure the safety of their drinking water."

Jackie MacDonald Gibson, Ph.D.

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Environmental Justice Issues Related to Coal Ash

Libbie Weimer, City and Regional Planning

GEAB Impact Award

Libbie Weimer

"I believe Libbie's research findings will play an important role in guiding environmental decision-making by providing finer grained data that shifts policy conversations towards more equitable outcomes in North Carolina and nationwide."

Danielle Spurlock, Ph.D.

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Analyzing Cell 'Snapshots' to Improve Heart Disease Treatment

Joshua Welch, Computer Science

Horizon Award

Joshua Welch

"The implications of Josh's work for the treatment of heart attacks are enormous. It may take many years for this to reach clinical application, but the applications of his methods to the field are already profound."

Jan Prins, Ph.D.

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Helping N.C. Communities Plan for Climate Change

Sierra Woodruff, Environment and Ecology

GEAB Impact Award

Sierra Woodruff

"Sierra has created an entirely new way of evaluating the quality of climate adaptation plans, which can focus on the unique needs and situation of a community. Her ideas have been translated into a handbook for North Carolina communities that are hoping to plan for climate change."

Todd BenDor, Ph.D.

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Algorithms That Support Faster, More Accurate Diagnoses

Gongting Wu, Physics and Astronomy

Horizon Award

Gongting Wu

"Gongting has developed and implemented software that is uniquely tailored to the nanotechnology-based breast and lung imaging systems invented at UNC. These new imaging systems will have the potential to increase the sensitivity of detecting breast and lung disease such as cancer and cystic fibrosis, benefiting a large population of patients including pediatric and young children."

Jianping Lu, Ph.D.

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'Smart' Insulin Patch for Diabetes Management

Jicheng Yu, Biomedical Engineering

Horizon Award

Jicheng Yu

"This 'smart' insulin patch he developed was chosen as one of Science magazine's 'top 10 images of 2015.' The patch system is a step toward simplifying diabetes management and has widespread applications."

Zhen Gu, Ph.D.

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