University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center has awarded Jessica Islam, MPH, with the 2019 Marci K. Campbell Dissertation Award, which is a competitive award given to recognize excellence in dissertation research focused on cancer and the population sciences.
Islam, a doctoral candidate in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, was honored for her dissertation work studying new and effective cervical cancer screening methods in Kenya. Her application received the top score from a team of population science faculty members. The award comes with a $3,000 prize.
“We considered a lot of great projects for this award, and the competition was particularly tough this year,” said Kurt Ribisl, PhD, leader of the UNC Lineberger Cancer Prevention and Control Program and professor and chair in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health Department of Health Behavior. “The review panel was particularly impressed by Jessica’s project because expanded cervical cancer screening in Kenya can play a key part of a comprehensive approach that could eliminate cervical cancer in the future.”
Islam hopes to model her career after Campbell’s, as Campbell “passionately believed in the power of the community to resolve health disparities and collaborated with community groups” to conduct her research, Islam wrote in her application. Campbell was a national leader in cancer prevention and control, disparities and survivorship research, a faculty leader at UNC-Chapel Hill and a program leader at UNC Lineberger. She died in December 2011, after living with cancer for nearly two years.
Islam’s interest in epidemiology and health policy was sparked by her experiences growing up in Bangladesh, where she saw health disparities firsthand. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Vanderbilt University. While studying global health as a master’s student, she also worked as an intern at the World Health Organization and as a field experience student at a public health research institute at Bangladesh. During her doctoral training at UNC, she has focused on cancer epidemiology with a goal of addressing disparities in cancer outcomes and issues of access to cancer care.
For her dissertation, Islam investigated new methods of delivering cervical cancer screening to detect precancerous lesions in Kenya, a country where rates of invasive cervical cancer are some of the highest in the world.
Her long-term career goal is to become an independent investigator researching disparities in cancer outcomes and burden.
“Ms. Islam’s novel dissertation findings may inform future policy recommendations in Kenya, and we look forward to successful completion of her work,” said UNC Lineberger’s Jennifer S. Smith, PhD, professor in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health Department of Epidemiology in her nomination letter. “Based on my collaborative work with Jessica, I believe that she has the potential to be a future leader in cancer epidemiology and public health due to her strong work ethic and her passion for research.”