North Carolina GlaxoSmithKline Foundation Research and Scholarship Opportunity


The North Carolina GlaxoSmithKline Foundation is an independent self-funding 501(c)3 nonprofit organization supporting activities that help meet the educational and health needs of today’s society and future generations.

The Foundation’s primary focus is to provide seed funds for new and worthwhile educational programs.

Learn more about the North Carolina GlaxoSmithKline Foundation

Growing a Diverse Public Health Workforce for Rural North Carolina through Graduate School Pathways

The GSK-funded graduate pathways program aims to grow a diverse public health workforce for rural North Carolina through graduate school pathways. This project will create 1) a summer research immersion pathway program at ECU for undergraduates from minority-serving institutions, 2) provide graduate student scholarship support, and 3) match graduate students with community- and field-based engaged learning opportunities in underserved communities.


Stephanie Richards, MSEH, PhD
Professor and MSEH Director
Department of Health Education and Promotion
East Carolina University

Ariane Peralta, PhD
Associate Professor and Director, Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in Biology, Biomedicine, Chemistry
Department of Biology
East Carolina University

Danielle E. Graham
Interim Chair and Associate Professor
Department of Biological and Forensic Sciences
Fayetteville State University

Fayetteville State Broncos

Graduate Scholarship Program:

Scholarship funds (for up to 2 years) will defray costs (tuition, fees, and expenses during internships/practicums) associated with pursuing masters degrees in Public Health, Health Education, Environmental Health, Biology, and Biotechnology at ECU. [Master of Science in Environmental Health (MSEH), Master of Public Health (MPH), Master of Arts in Health Education (MAHE), MS Biology (MSB), or MS Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (MBBT)] Scholarship awards will be $5,000 per academic semester.

  • Students will be eligible to receive scholarship funds if they have:
    • Been admitted into an ECU graduate program;
    • Maintain a minimum overall and prerequisite GPA of 3.0 at home institution;
    • Preference will be given to in-state students who have participated in research activities through the NC GlaxoSmithKline Foundation Summer Immersion Program;
    • Expressed a commitment to public health careers;
    • Completed application materials, including a personal statement and need for financial assistance.
    • Application available from February 1 to April 30, 2024 for consideration for Fall 2024 awards.
    • Please visit the ECUAward scholarship application system page HERE.

Summer Immersion Program:

A 9-week research program running from May 30 to July 31, 2024 will enable undergraduate student participation in high-impact activities, match students with potential future graduate school mentors, build a peer-to-peer community of early career scholars, and foster social and professional networks – ultimately identifying a diverse and high-quality student population for recruitment into graduate programs at ECU.

  • Students will be recruited from minority serving institutions across the state, including Fayetteville State University, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Elizabeth City State University, North Carolina Central University, and North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, among others.
  • Summer immersion internships include $1500 in research supplies, $6500 stipend, $2000 room+board
  • Summer immersion internships will be awarded on a competitive basis to students who meet the following requirements:
    • Enrolled full-time at an historically black college/institution or minority serving institution
    • Rising sophomore, junior, senior, or recent graduate (graduated within last 2 years)
    • Be in good standing at their university (GPA 3.0 or higher)
    • Historically marginalized and first-generation students are encouraged to apply.
    • Previous research experience is not required. Preference will be given to students who have identified a research mentor at ECU, have a research interest, and desire to obtain a graduate degree. Students must be able to participate in the entire summer program.
  • Recording of virtual information session from Friday, January 19, 2024 at 12PM found HERE (use passcode: fG3fAPf?)
  • Application available from January 19 to February 16, 2024. Application for the 2024 Summer Immersion Program found HERE.
  • Questions? Please email Dr. Stephanie Richards.

2024 Summer Research Projects

Recording of virtual welcome session from Tuesday, April 23, 2024 at 4PM found HERE (use passcode: HgPdqm?3)

Dr. Sinan Sousan, Department of Public Health

Graduate Student Co-Mentor: Sarah Fresquez

Project: Electronic cigarettes (ECIGs) generate high concentrations of liquid aerosol by heating nicotine-rich chemicals, reducing the quality of air inhaled through secondhand exposure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ECIGs expose users to potentially harmful substances, such as nicotine, cancer-causing chemicals, heavy metals, VOCs, and ultrafine particles. In addition, ECIG generates particulate matter (PM2.5), which refers to particles that are 2.5 µm or less in diameter. Prolonged exposure to PM2.5 has been linked to cardiovascular disease and asthma. ECIG liquids are available on the commercial market, enabling users to customize nicotine content with salt and non-salt liquids. PM2.5 real-time optical measurements are crucial for understanding secondhand ECIG aerosol exposure. However, these measurements are affected by the availability of salt aerosol and are often biased and require filter correction factors to improve accuracy. Therefore, the filter correction factors for four aerosol instruments (SMPS, APS, MiniWRAS, pDR) will be determined for nicotine salt liquid and salt-free nicotine liquid. Liquid aerosols from e-cigarettes will be generated inside a controlled exposure chamber using the diaphragm pump, SMOK Novo device, and refillable pods for the different nicotine liquids. Data collected from this research study can improve measurement accuracy for different nicotine liquids. This project is immensely important in the field of public health because commercial e-cigarette liquids have yet to receive attention regarding PM2.5 concentrations produced by different nicotine liquids. This study will contribute to the existing body of knowledge regarding e-cigarette PM2.5 exposure, providing relevant information for policy and personal health


Dr. April Blakeslee & Dr. Rachel Gittman, Department of Biology

Project: The student will work with the Blakeslee and Gittman lab to examine parasite prevalence and diversity in multiple species of hosts in NC estuaries and coasts. Hosts will include penaeid and grass shrimp, mud crabs, porcelain crabs, stone crabs, and blue crabs. Parasites will include ciliate protists, digenean trematodes, cestodes, nematodes, acanthocephalans, rhizocephalans, and isopods. Students will learn microscopy and parasite identification techniques. The student will also take demographic measures on each host. Parasite diversity measures will include infection prevalence, abundance, species richness, and diversity indices. Demographic measures will include host species, size, sex, limb loss, and parasitism status. Students will record data into lab notebooks and transcribe them into Excel, and then put data into a shared Teams folder in the Blakeslee and Gittman labs. Data will be analyzed using common statistical methods and figures/tables produced.


Dr. James Clifford, Department of Public Health

Project: Cigarette smoking is a known risk factor for a variety of negative health outcomes including cardiovascular disease and various types of cancers. Nearly $200 billion in annual healthcare costs are directly attributable to cigarette use in the United States. New products, such as electronic cigarettes, have recently entered the market and are often touted as a safer alternative to conventional cigarette smoking due to the lack of combustion and reduction of exposure to harmful constituents found in cigarettes (such as tar). Electronic cigarettes are proportionally used more by younger individuals, but it is unclear if there are generational differences in electronic and conventional cigarette use patterns (i.e., are patterns of use different between Gen Z and Millennials). These secondary analyses will utilize the sixth wave of data from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) a large nationally representative sample of tobacco users in the United States (N = 30,516).  These analyses will have two aims: (1) using latent class analysis, tobacco use profiles will be built to describe tobacco use patterns stratified by generational category (i.e., Gen Z vs. Gen X vs. Millennial); and (2) employ a multinomial regression framework to examine several known risk factors to understand demographic characteristics of individual tobacco use patterns among stratified generational categories.


Dr. Rebecca Asch, Department of Biology

Graduate Student Co-Mentor: Naomi Jainarine

Project: Zooplankton are key indicators of environmental health in marine ecosystems since they connect primary producers to higher trophic level organisms and are sensitive to environmental disturbances.  This project works to monitor populations of zooplankton in coastal North Carolina using novel technology.  We use an instrument called Zooscan that can image thousands of plankton in minutes.  These images are then inputted into a machine learning or artificial intelligence software program, which is used to identify taxonomic groups.  We are using this information to better understand how zooplankton populations will be impacted by climate change and other human-impacts on marine ecosystems.  Through participation in this project, the selected student will learn key skills related to laboratory work, data analysis, and species identification.


Dr. Avian White & Dr. Stephanie Richards, Department of Health Education and Promotion (Environmental Health)

Graduate Student Co-Mentors: Will Murray & Raven Slade

Project: Mosquitoes can develop resistance to insecticides over time when exposed to sublethal doses. This is a public health risk as insecticides are used to reduce mosquito abundance to protect health. Mosquito exposure to insecticides during ultra-low volume application occurs via direct liquid contact with formulated products (FP). The bottle bioassay is a common method for assessing resistance to active ingredient (AI) residue. However, resistance to an AI does not necessarily indicate failure of a FP containing that AI since FP have additional ingredients to enhance effectiveness. Assessing FP in field trial or wind tunnel provides additional data for programs making operational decisions. However, field trials are expensive and logistically challenging and existing wind tunnels are several feet long and cumbersome. A compact laboratory wind tunnel has been developed by investigators and preliminary work has been completed. The visiting undergraduate student will work with Environmental Health graduate students and faculty mentors on lab and field work related to this project. There will also be opportunities to network and work alongside our industry partners and the Pitt County Vector Control Manager on field aspects of the project. Mosquito mortality rates will be evaluated post-exposure to insecticides in a wind tunnel, field trial, and bottle bioassay. Information gained here could lead to commercialization of the wind tunnel for mosquito control programs, state/federal laboratories, and others. Wind tunnel and/or field trial testing would ensure the most efficacious insecticides are being used for mosquito control, hence reducing unnecessary field applications of insecticides.


Dr. Morgan Milton, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Brody School of Medicine

Project: Biofilms are complex bacterial communities that adhere to surfaces. Bacteria use biofilms as a physical barrier to protect themselves from unfavorable conditions and persist in the environment. In this biofilm state, bacteria can be a major problem for humans. The biofilm allows bacteria to be up to 1,000-fold more resistant to antibiotics and the host immune response. My lab’s goal is to understand how biofilms are formed so we can develop therapeutic interventions. We study biofilms through a biochemical structure-function approach. By understanding the 3D structure and basic biochemical properties of a protein, we can address important questions about the protein’s function within the cell. We are studying proteins that control the production of the protective biofilm matrix to better understand how bacteria make biofilms.  The student will learn how to express and purify recombinant protein for use in biochemical and structural experiments. Experiments include SDS-PAGE and Native PAGE analysis, UPLC, differential scanning fluorimetry, enzymatic assays, and X-ray crystallography. The student will gain an understanding of how to perform each experiment, how to analyze the resulting data, and the limitations of each method. From this experience, the student will gain an understanding of and hands on experience with essential techniques typically employed by biochemistry labs.


Dr. Lok Pokhrel, Department of Public Health

Project: Despite multiple disinfectants and strategies available for food/packaging decontamination, foodborne illnesses continue to rise globally with an estimated 600 million cases and 420,000 deaths, annually. Current gold standard in food/ packaging decontamination is washing the produce with disinfectants such as chlorine/dioxide, ozone, peroxyacetic acid, or alcohol; however, these disinfectants have their inherent limitations and as such foodborne illnesses continue to rise globally, highlighting an imminent need for effective, safer, and sustainable disinfectants in the food industry. Further, extending the shelf life of fresh produce postharvest has remained challenging, further exacerbating global food insecurity, malnutrition, and hunger according to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal #2. In this project, we aim to evaluate the efficacy of our patented nano-antimicrobial to disinfect plastic packaging materials and produce surfaces (Lettuce and Deli Salads) with an ultimate goal of preventing foodborne illnesses vis-à-vis extending postharvest produce shelf life.


Dr. Rashmita Basu, Department of Public Health

Project: The proposed project uses a cross-sectional survey design to characterize the health and well-being of community-dwelling people with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias and their family caregivers. This mixed-methods study will use survey methods to gather data and employ a cross-sectional design to collect information from people with ADRD and their family caregivers. We will administer two separate surveys- one for the caregiver and one for the person with ADRD. To better understand the needs, preferences, and caregiving experiences, we will collect self-reported socio-demographics, caregiving experiences, physical, functional, mental, and psychosocial health indicators, and healthcare use from people with ADRD and their family caregivers. Using a modified phenomenological method, we will also conduct a focus group discussion with people with dementia to learn about their lived experience coping daily with ADRD. We plan a guided focus group, with specific questions to lead the discussion with further questions to refine or better understand the participant’s view. Study participants will be recruited from the ECU family medicine/geriatric clinics and community events.


Dr. Ariane Peralta, Department of Biology

Graduate Student Co-Mentors: Kelsey Coates & Michael Sioson

Project: We study how climate and human-induced environmental changes influence microbial community structure and functions associated with regulating water quality and plant diversity and productivity. Specifically, we examine wetland microbiomes that provide beneficial ecosystem functions such as improving water quality, facilitating carbon storage, and benefitting plant health. We now have the molecular tools to study the diversity of microorganisms that have been challenging to culture in lab settings. The goal of this project is to examine how environmental changes influence microbial traits using genomic sequencing approaches and microbial functions using lab-based assays of samples from urban, agricultural, and coastal wetland ecosystems. Undergraduate researchers will collaborate with graduate students, staff, and faculty researchers. Our lab conducts microbiology research that is interdisciplinary and involves collaborations with community and ecosystem ecologists, sociologists, economists, engineers, anthropologists, geologists, and microbiologists. This work focused on understanding how environmental changes influence microbial communities will inform wetland and water management efforts that result in predictably enhancing beneficial ecosystem functions.


Dr. Fadi Issa, Department of Biology

Project: My lab aims to understand the neural bases of social behavior with particular emphasis on social aggression. We use zebrafish as a model organism and employ an integrative from behavioral to molecular and genetic analysis to ask how social aggression and associated stress affect brain activity. Aggression is a universal behavior that is present in almost all social animals.  In nature, aggression serves as an important organizing agent for the formation and stabilization of social relationships. In a social hierarchy, highly ranked animals that display aggressive behavior are recognized as dominants and have priority to food, mate and shelter, while animals that display submissive behavior are recognized as subordinates. However, aggression has its costs. Persistent aggressive behavior imposes detrimental psychological and physiological effects on all group members. Despite its basic biological relevance, our understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying aggression and how they affect brain function are poorly understood. My lab is motivated to understand how brain activity is altered in social groups that consist of dominant and subordinate animals. Our motivation stems from the fact that although social-status-dependent differences in behavior must arise due to differences in neural function, status-dependent differences in the underlying neural circuitry are poorly described and are limited mostly to invertebrates.


Dr. Michael Brewer, Department of Biology

Project: Summer mentees will engage in the analysis of spider venom protein sequences. The venom sequences will be examined for evidence of natural selection relating to venom toxicity, behavior, life history, and mating systems. Mentees will learn basic computational skills and bioinformatic analyses. These skills are easily extendable to myriad other study systems, including human medical studies.


2023 Summer Research Project Highlights

ECU News – Building Research Connections

2023 Poster Session Instagram Reel

Check out research highlights for 2023 summer research scholars:

Collab Partners: NCCU, UNC Pem, ECSU, AT

Degree Programs, Directors, and Coordinators

  • Michele Wallen, PhD, MPH, Chair, ECU Department of Health Education and Promotion
  • Suzanne Lazorick, MPH, MD, Chair, ECU Department of Public Health
  • Michael Brewer, PhD (Director, MSB/MSBBT), ECU Department of Biology
  • Ariane Peralta, PhD, (Director, Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in Biology, Biomedicine, Chemistry), ECU Department of Biology
  • Marla Hall, PhD, MCHES (MPH Director), ECU Department of Public Health
  • Ruth Little, EdD, MPH (MPH Internship Coordinator), ECU Department of Public Health
  • Ryan Martin, PhD (MAHE Director), ECU Department of Health Education and Promotion
  • Kelli Russell, MPH (BSPH Director), ECU Department of Health Education and Promotion
  • Stephanie Richards, MSEH, PhD (MSEH Director), ECU Department of Health Education and Promotion

Advisory and Oversight Committee:

  • Jason Higginson, MD (Executive Dean, Brody School of Medicine)
  • Allison Danell, PhD (Dean, Thomas Harriot College of Arts & Sciences)
  • Michelle Brooks,  (Vice Dean, Brody School of Medicine)
  • Kathryn Verbanac, PhD (Professor, Brody School of Medicine)
  • LaKesha Forbes (Associate Provost, Office for Equity and Diversity)
  • Sharon Hamilton (Senior Director, Corporate and Foundation Relations)
  • Sharon Paynter, PhD (Acting Chief Research and Engagement Officer, REDE)