Johnson Awarded Merit Assistantship

April 15, 2011

Cassandra (Cassie) Johnson, M.S.P.H.

Cassandra (Cassie) Johnson, M.S.P.H., has been awarded a graduate school merit assistantship to enter the Ph.D. program in Nutrition (Intervention and Policy division) at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Ms. Johnson is currently research associate and program coordinator for the Program for Research in Nutrition and Health Disparities at the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) School of Rural Public Health.

Ms. Johnson earned her M.S.P.H. with honors from the TAMHSC-School of Rural Public Health in 2010 and was recently elected to membership in Delta Omega Honor Society. In collaboration with Dr. Sharkey and Wesley Dean, Ph.D., Cassie has published four articles (two as first author) and has another seven under review.

“Her extraordinary work using participant-driven photo-elicitation to understand family food choice through the eyes of mothers in the Brazos Valley and in the colonias of South Texas has been recognized through invited and conference presentations,” states Joseph Sharkey, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., professor and director of the Program for Research in Nutrition and Health Disparities.

“I’m grateful to have Dr. Sharkey as a mentor, supervisor, and chair of my thesis committee. From the very beginning, we talked through my goals for completing the M.S.P.H. program and what it would take for me to gain the experience and credibility needed to work in nutrition and public health. I really believe that we were in this pursuit together and that my success is shared with Dr. Sharkey and others,” say Ms. Johnson. “That said, this process was challenging. I think that wanting something or believing that something is possible only goes so far. I knew if I wanted to transition successfully into this field, I had to make it happen. Thankfully, I also had the leadership, support and encouragement to sustain me during this process.”

“Cassie’s story should inspire students concerning what they can do if they work hard,” states Diane Dowdy, Ph.D., M.S., assistant professor at TAMHSC-School of Rural Public Health. “She is well deserving of this honor.”

Though Ms. Johnson feels her M.S.P.H. program at the TAMHSC-School of Rural Public Health was tough academically and her thesis work was very challenging, she still encountered several unforeseen obstacles that had to be overcome. For example, she initially applied to Ph.D. programs in 2009 and then voluntarily withdrew her applications because she realized she was not ready to compete at top schools of public health.

“I completed additional pre-requisite courses, a highly recommended GRE-prep class and agreed to retake the GRE to boost my score. During the same time, I worked very hard to publish my research in peer-reviewed journals,” states Ms. Johnson. “I had no guarantees that if I completed these extra steps that I would be accepted, much less awarded a generous fellowship, but I wanted to set myself up for the best opportunities in the future.”

Ms. Johnson will begin her doctoral studies this fall under the mentorship of Alice Ammerman, Dr.P.H., professor of Nutrition and director of the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at UNC-Chapel Hill.

— Rae Lynn Mitchell