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Channell Doig, Essien and Ke Receive Outstanding Graduate Assistant Awards

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From left, headshots of two female doctoral students and one male doctoral student in the School of Public Health.
The Graduate School recently named three School of Public Health doctoral students as recipients of the Outstanding Graduate Assistant Award. From left, Amara Channell Doig, MPH, Ph.D. ’23; Elsie Essien, MPH, Ph.D. ’24; and Hongjie Ke, Ph.D. ’24.

The Graduate School recently named three School of Public Health doctoral students as recipients of the Outstanding Graduate Assistant Award: Amara Channell Doig, MPH, Ph.D. ’23; Elsie Essien, MPH, Ph.D. ’24; and Hongjie Ke, Ph.D. ’24.

The award recognizes the outstanding contributions graduate assistants provide to students, faculty and the university as a whole. Of the approximately 4,000 University of Maryland graduate students who serve as teaching, research or administrative assistants, about 80 receive the Outstanding Graduate Assistant Award annually.


Female student wearing blue blazer and green shirt smiles at camera,

Channell Doig is a research assistant and doctoral student in the Department of Behavioral and Community Health’s Community THRIVES Laboratory. Her research interests include access to vaccinations for immigrant agricultural workers, pediatric nutrition and how social networks influence infant feeding behaviors among Latina women. She is also part of the National Institutes of Health-funded clinical trial of a health information chatbot for pregnant and new mothers of color.

In recent years, Channell Doig has served as a teaching assistant, leading an undergraduate class on social media and public health and a graduate class on informatics, and as a mentor for several public health students.

Edlyn Rochon ’22 praised her ability to motivate and support students.

“I originally went to school for business and then I switched careers and went back to school for public health,” Rochon said. “She gave me a lot of insight and helped me realize I’m not alone in switching careers. Later, when I worked with her for my internship, she challenged me and allowed me to lead the preparation of a manuscript we were working on … Most undergraduate students don’t get that opportunity. I was very thankful for that.”

Because of her success as a teacher and mentor, the Department of Behavioral and Community Health invited Channell Doig to design and teach department courses independently, including a redesign for asynchronous online instruction, syllabus creation, textbook review, and teaching as both co-teacher and lead instructor while overseeing a Teaching Assistant. 

“Beyond the classroom, (Amara) is an exceptional mentor, having supported multiple undergraduate student co-authors and research team members,” said Assistant Professor Elizabeth Aparicio, director of the Community THRIVES Lab. “She is highly dedicated to any academic community of which she is a part.”


Male doctoral student wearing glasses stands in front of a city skyline.

Ke is a bioinformatics/biostatistics doctoral student with the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and a research assistant with the BRIGHT lab.

At the lab, Ke’s research focuses development of new statistical and machine learning methods to analyze big data (genomic, neuroimaging, clinical data, etc.) and how these methods can be used in scientific disciplines like neuroscience, cancer and epidemiology. For example, he has recently developed a fast and robust screening method for big data integration problems such as identifying biomarkers that control how behaviors and environment affect gene activity. This method could be widely used in cancer biomarker research.

Along with his work at the BRIGHT lab, Ke has collaborated with the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center and the UMD Department of Psychology on a range of research projects.

He has co-authored several papers in the field’s leading journals, and international conferences, such as the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) and Eastern North American Region (ENAR) of the International Biometrics Society, have featured his work.

Ke also helps his doctoral advisor, Assistant Professor Tianzhou (Charles) Ma, mentor MPH students. Dr. Ma recalled one student who lacked sufficient statistical training to test a new meta-analysis method - a process that combines the data of multiple studies to find common results and identify overall trends.

“Hongjie was willing to lend a hand and has spent a large amount of time discussing with her individually after group meetings with me, helping her design the simulation schemes, debug the codes and run the simulation on a high-performance computing cluster using his expertise,” Dr. Ma said. “He is also aiding in my other student’s dissertation work with his expertise in bioinformatics … I can see Hongjie as a role model for our future students in the department.

Female doctoral student wearing a white blouse smiles at the camera.

Essien is a health services research doctoral student with the Department of Health Policy and Management. Her research interests are in maternal, infant and child health; global health; health policy; primary and preventive health care; social determinants of health; and improving health care quality, costs and access for underserved populations.

Early on in her doctoral program, Essien served as a teaching assistant for Professor Stephen B. Thomas and his “Redesigning Health Care – Developing a Clinic to Meet Community Needs” class. There, she realized just how much she enjoyed mentoring students, including Stefany Zelaya ’22, MPH ’24, and Emma Soffler ’23. Both students said Essien went out of her way to ensure their success in public health.

“As a teaching assistant, it was clear from the beginning of the semester that Elsie made an effort to have a connection with everyone in the class, despite it being mostly virtual,” Soffler said. “She checked in with all of us, and made sure we were able to be successful in the class. I really enjoyed her style and methods of teaching, and I chose to take HLSA601 specifically because she was the professor.” 

“Seeing Elsie be such a wonderful graduate assistant excited me and motivated me to apply to a graduate assistant position in the School of Public Health,” added Zelaya. “I am grateful to Elsie for setting such a great example of what it means to be a compassionate and empathetic leader.”

Essien also works as a research assistant with Assistant Professor Dahai Yue. Her contributions have led to grant applications at both the National Institutes of Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and manuscripts on health care utilization among children, young adults and adults experiencing homelessness.

“Elsie is a rising scholar of health services and policy research,” Dr. Yue said. “She is a motivated and dedicated young woman who demonstrates intellectual ability and a mature understanding of the complexities faced by leaders in the field to develop and inform policies at the state and federal levels in order to improve health and health care.”

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