Department of

Public Health Seminars:


Moderate to Severe Traumatic Brain Injury Mortality Trends in the U.S. (Graves); Pre-eclampsia prevalence in Virginia from 2008-2015: An analysis of individual- and neighborhood-level factors (Taylor)

Whitney Graves, MPH, and DaShaunda Taylor, MPH | PhD Students, VCU Division of Epidemiology


PhD Alumni

NatalieBareis‌Natalie Bareis, PhD, MSSW:
I received my BA in Psychology at San Francisco State University in 2007. In 2011, I moved to New York to attend Columbia University School of Social Work, and graduatedin 2013 with a Master’s of Science in Social Work. My MSSW focus was in Applied Generalist Practice and Programming, a clinical as well as program development degree.

While at CUSSW, I realized how inextricably linked Social Work was to Public Health and Epidemiology, and Epigenetics was a perfect bridge to bring together these fields. The inequities social work strives to uncover and change, are now physically detectible in one’s epigenome, bringing the experience and knowledge of social work into the realm of science in a completely new way.

Epigenetic research looking at the relationship between environment and severe mental illnesses such as Schizophrenia and Bipolar Affective Disorder is not only finding biomarkers of these illnesses, but is also determining the mechanisms in psychotropic medications that are affecting the epigenome. This leads to exciting questions regarding what and how medications are truly helping individuals with severe mental illness.

I joined the Epidemiology PhD program at VCU because it offered so many opportunities to work on many different avenues of research that I am particularly interested in. I have found this program to be open to the ideas of its students, encouraging and directing us in ways that I have not experienced before. We are constantly given opportunities to further our knowledge outside the classroom, and everyone is eager to work together and help each other.



Micheal SawdeyMichael Sawdey, PhD, MPH, CPH:
I received my MPH in Epidemiology in 2012 and my BS in Public Health in 2010 from San Diego State University’s Graduate School of Public Health. While completing both of my degrees at SDSU, I held a Graduate Assistant position with the California Department of Public Health, Vaccines for Children program and a Research Assistant position for the Toxic Butts campaign at SDSU. After my MPH, I worked for the Department of Assessment and Research at San Diego State for a year and then came to VCU in the fall of 2013 to pursue a PhD in epidemiology.

My main area of interest is social and behavioral epidemiology relating to risky health behaviors such as drug, alcohol, and tobacco use by adolescents, specifically of college age. Throughout my MPH, my research focused on tobacco control, which included smoking rates of adolescents and associated behaviors, but also looking at cigarettes as a major source of litter throughout the state of California. I was a part of a state funded grant that went throughout the state educating and informing governmental, non-profit, and various other organizations on the potential harm cigarette butts may be playing on the environment.

I chose VCU’s program because of the emphasis that the faculty place on student development and interaction. The learning environment and the opportunities available to students in our division and at VCU are second to none. I have had the flexibility to create a learning environment that fits my needs and interests and a faculty that supports such an atmosphere.



qin-shenQin Shen:
I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Preventive Medicine in 2007 from Capital Medical University (CMU) in China, and received my Master’s degree in General Practice Medicine from the same university in 2010. I am interested in social epidemiology, which is relatively new and in great need in China. I came to VCU to learn the state-of the-art theories and methods of epidemiology.  Upon completion of my PhD program, I plan to return to China, implement my expertise in both national and international contexts, and contribute my efforts to public health.

I love VCU’s Epidemiology PhD program. Here I can work with professors who have diverse research expertise in epidemiology and are willing to share their knowledge and study experience with students. The interest of each student is fully respected, and courses and training are tailored according to students’ interests. In addition, I like the cozy study and working environment in our department. As an international student, I feel at home in the PhD program.



Susan Cha Profile PhotoSusan Cha:
I received my MPH in 2010 from VCU and a BA in Psychology from the University of Virginia. After earning my MPH, I worked as a Congressional Fellow on Women and Public Policy in the Office of Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D California).  

I hope to become a more effective epidemiologist and become well-equipped to influence public health policies through applied/translational research and education. My research interests are: (1) reproductive and infant health (2) adolescent behavior (3) environmental/social determinants of women’s health (e.g. breast cancer, osteoporosis, depression) (4) health disparities among minority populations.  

I appreciate the smaller teacher to student ratio in the Department of Epidemiology compared to other PhD programs. It fosters a greater environment for collaboration and inter-disciplinary learning. VCU's program also offers great flexibility for students to design a curriculum that incorporates their subject of interest.