School of Medicine

Division of Public Health

Meet Our Students


Yizhe Xu, MSTAT Biostatistics

Yizhe Xu is a graduate from the Master of Statistics, Biostatistics program within the Division of Public Health at the University of Utah. She graduated with concentrations in casual inference methods, meta-analyses study and Bayesian analyses. Yizhe was involved in team leadership positions throughout her coursework that helped her develop team management skills, and work well with others in a professional setting. She was awarded the Mstat, Biostatistics student of the year for her outstanding work and persistence in the classroom.

Yizhe learned from graduate school that self-education is a big component. She had to be disciplined to keep up on the required readings and willing to take the initiative to learn outside of the classroom. Yizhe strongly encourages prospective students to make sure that the Mstat – Biostatistics degree is the best fit for their personal and professional goals. Moreover due to the demands of graduate school and particularly this program she encourages students to be prepared.

Sydney Willis, MSPH

Sydney Willis is a graduate from the Master of Science in Public Health program at the University of Utah. She centered her graduate work around her research concentrations of Maternal and Women’s Health while implementing this interest in her final research project titled “Maternal Oral Health Prior to Conception and Adverse Birth Outcomes: Utah Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System.” Sydney is now completing a PhD in Epidemiology at Boston University. Due to the opportunities offered through the MSPH program, she developed useful skills through research assistantships and one on one mentoring from Public Health faculty. These experiences helped her better prepare for the demands of doctoral work.

Sydney encourages current and prospective students to seek after opportunities outside of the classroom to better develop their experience and find their true passion. She encourages students to be confident in their abilities, get involved and make professional connections that will hopefully one day lead to future job opportunities.

Rachael Hemmert, MSPH

Rachael Hemmert is a graduate from the Master of Science in Public Health program at the University of Utah. During her graduate study she focused on research in the field of epidemiology, specifically reproductive, spatial, and environmental epidemiology. Rachael presented at several conferences during her time as an MSPH student. She had the opportunity to present at the Society for Pediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology Research and had posters at UPHA and the Society of Epidemiologic Research.

After graduation Rachael started working as a Research Analyst with the College of Nursing and the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at the University of Utah. From the coursework taken during her MSPH program, Rachael believes she was better prepared to take on the demands of her position as a Research Analyst and feels confident in her role. For prospective students Rachael says “If you are interested in research, an MSPH is a great degree. Our department has so many different kinds of opportunities to explore different areas of public health. The staff and professors are so great about making the time to meet and help students.” She also says, “don’t be afraid to ask for advice or help.”

Brenna Blackburn, PhD

Brenna Blackburn is a graduate from the Public Health PhD program at the University of Utah. During her graduate study she focused on the long term health and healthcare costs of thyroid cancer survivors, which was the focus of her dissertation work. Brenna was very involved throughout her course of study and presented at UPHA and APHA on a “Pilot Study of the Prevalence of Tongue-tie and its Impact on Breastfeeding among Infants at a Single Baby Friendly Hospital.” Currently, Brenna is a postdoctoral research fellow at Oregon Health & Science University in the Department of Family Medicine.

She attributes the skills she developed during her time in the program to better prepare her for her current work with Oregon Health & Science University, specifically, the analytical and presentation skills she gained. She is quoted saying “most of my interviews involved giving a presentation as well as interviewing with multiple people. With experience throughout my coursework and help from my mentors, I felt prepared to give the presentations. The analytic skills I gained helped me to complete the research that I presented and be confident in my explanations of it.

Brenna encourages current and interested students to “utilize their mentors’ knowledge and experience.” The faculty are experts in the field and can provide guidance in many areas of public health.

David Contreras, MPH/MHA

David is a second-year graduate student here at the University of Utah, where he is pursuing a dual master’s degree in public health and healthcare administration (MPH/MHA). His undergraduate studies were in healthcare administration, professional presentations, and dance.

He chose the University of Utah because of the global campus, small class sizes, and personalization of coursework to make his education unique. The location of the university and the outstanding faculty provide many unique opportunities for those in pursuit of a health career.

On campus, he volunteers in several student engagement groups. He is the Vice Chair for Graduate Students in Public Health and a committee member for MHASA, ACHE, AHEC Scholars, and HFMA. While a student, David received the Pete Suazo Scholarship and participated in the Richard J. Stull ACHE Essay Competition.

life-changing experience that fueled his passion for healthcare was volunteering in hospitals and orphanages in Romania for six months. Along with 11 other volunteers, the team worked closely assessing the nutrition and developmental needs of children. Many children were there because of lack of health education or access to sufficient healthcare. “Nothing makes me happier than serving people in a personal manner and watching them progress and become healthy”.

For his practicum, David was a Country Coordinator for HELP International in both Mbale, Uganda and Kathmandu, Nepal. He supervised a team of professional volunteers in the completion of needs assessments, public health education, disease screening, business development, and education reform.

Currently, David works as a research assistant on the NEPQR grant in the University of Utah College of Nursing. The purpose of the grant is to provide access to better training for nursing treating mental health patients in underserved and rural populations.

Upon graduation, he hopes to complete an administrative fellowship in pursuit of becoming a health system administrator. He also plans to continue working with international healthcare development.