Bridgette Blebu, Ph.D. ’19 completed a doctorate in public health with the help of private donor support. Photo: Yubo Dong

Fellowship Helps UCI Student Focus
on Research

As Bridgette Blebu can attest, the last year of a Ph.D. program can be pretty crazy. The 31-year-old completed a doctorate in public health this spring. Her dissertation focused on neighborhood social context and prematurity among infants born to black immigrants in California.

Blebu says her fifth year was a little easier thanks to a Chancellor’s Club Fellowship, which provided her with a $12,000 stipend over the final two quarters of her doctoral program. During the award period, her academic department covered tuition and fees.

“It helped in a lot of ways,” Blebu says of the fellowship, named for the group founded in 1972 by UCI Chancellor Daniel G. Aldrich Jr. Chancellor’s Club members – alumni, community residents, current and past parents, as well as faculty and staff – support first-generation undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships.

“The final year of your Ph.D. program can be really intense, because you’re trying to finish your dissertation but also preparing to go into the workforce,” Blebu says. “So your time is very split. It was nice not to have to be a teaching assistant on top of everything else. This fellowship allowed me to focus on my research.”

“The final year of your Ph.D. program can be really intense… This fellowship allowed me to focus on my research.”

- Bridgette Blebu

She initially went to the University of Southern California to become a pharmacist. “But I took a class that looked at population health and fell in love with it,” she says. “Just the idea of being able to understand trends at a population level intrigued me.”

After spending a couple of years at a nonprofit in Los Angeles – where she studied the social determinants of health and tried to understand inequity in neighborhoods and health outcomes – Blebu came to UCI in fall 2014 to work with Annie Ro, an assistant professor of public health and a health demographer.

When Blebu came to UCI in fall 2014, she was one of just a handful of students who joined the then-fledgling doctoral program in public health.

“Her research was really in line with what I was interested in exploring, and so I wanted to train under her,” Blebu says. “She ended up being my content mentor, and she really pushed me to think long-term and to develop questions that could serve as foundations for a career in academic research.”

Blebu and five others were the first students to join the then-fledgling doctoral program in public health, which made it a particularly unique experience, Blebu says. While at UCI, she fostered inclusive campus experiences for graduate students through her role with the DECADE Student Council.

Since July, Blebu has been in a postdoctoral program in UC San Francisco’s Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences. She hopes to land a full-time professorship in two or three years.

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