Student Earns Fellowship to Research Meningitis Vaccine

By December 20, 2016
Maria Sundaram (1)

PhD student Maria Sundaram

Environmental Health PhD student Maria Sundaram has received the University of Minnesota Graduate School’s 2017-18 Frieda Martha Kunze Fellowship. The competitive $25,000 fellowship is awarded to only two graduate students in biochemistry, chemistry, or biomedical sciences.

Sundaram, who studies environmental infectious diseases, plans to spend her fellowship year completing her dissertation on the effectiveness of a meningococcal meningitis vaccine in an outbreak-prone region of Africa known as the “meningitis belt.”

“Preventing meningococcal meningitis has a huge potential impact for communities because the disease kills quickly, overwhelms health care infrastructure, and causes long-term health problems like deafness and seizures,” says Sundaram.

Sundaram says that in addition to writing her dissertation, the Kunze fellowship will help her to travel to conferences where she can share her research with other scientists and policymakers.

“It is a huge relief to know that I will be supported during that time and can focus on doing really great science with my peers,” says Sundaram.

She’s also planning to continue work with other SPH students in influenza vaccine cost-effectiveness and geospatial modeling research, and leading the school’s student-run infectious diseases journal club.

“I have a lot of interests, including neonatal breastfeeding practices in South Asia, influenza vaccine effectiveness, and emerging infectious diseases,” says Sundaram. “Epidemiology is an interdisciplinary job and so I want to be as well-rounded as possible because there are so many unique and interesting challenges in public health.”

After earning her doctorate, Sundaram wants to work with the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service investigating ongoing outbreaks, and later, conduct research at an academic institution like the University of Minnesota.

“I think most public health researchers hope that what they do will have a solid, positive impact on a community,” says Sundaram. ”Winning this fellowship feels like a vote of confidence that this work is important and worth doing — I’m very grateful for that.”