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2023 Cheri Pies Award recipients

Recipients center mental health of students, public health in the criminal justice system, and postpartum health care

Congratulations to UC Berkeley School of Public Health graduate students Christina Agostino, Julia Hankin, and Marisol De Ornelas on receiving 2023 Cheri Pies Awards for best application of life course theory.

The awards are given by the school in honor of Dr. Cheri Pies, who has long been a national leader in women’s health and served as a clinical professor at Berkeley Public Health from 2009 to 2017.

The prizes have been awarded annually since 2017. This year’s winners will share $10,400.

“We were thrilled with our applicants,” said Pies. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for me when I read the applications to learn what the students are doing. The articles they publish have been wonderful.”

Agostino will study the mental health needs—and available support—of elementary school students. Her work will examine demographic and other factors associated with obtaining mental health care for students who said they wanted to talk to a counselor or therapist. Agostino will use data from the California Healthy Kids Survey, an anonymous in-school questionnaire administered biannually by the California Department of Education.

“Self-reported mental health status of elementary schoolers is relatively rare in literature,” Agostino wrote in her application. “It is much more common that caregivers or teachers will report young children’s mental health status rather than the students themselves. It is crucial to study this data as previous evidence suggests that mental health in first grade is one of the strongest predictors of fourth grade academic success.”

Hankin, who has a strong interest in the intersection of public health and the criminal justice system, plans to study intergenerational associations between parental incarceration and parenting stress. Her project aims to fill the research gap on the impact parental incarceration has on future generations of parents. Her work will be done in partnership with the Berkeley Public Health Division of Maternal, Child, and Adolescent Health.

In her application, Hankin noted that an estimated 47 to 58 percent of state and federal prison inmates are parents to minor children; and almost 2.6 million children have an incarcerated parent.

De Ornelas, whose award is an acknowledgement of ongoing work, is seeking to identify and assess structural, sustainable, and cost-effective solutions for postpartum care to reduce maternal illness and death.

As a health equity researcher, De Ornelas is especially interested in the double burden of racism and sexism that African American/Black women face, which causes continuous doses of stress that affects their health and DNA.

“These sources of toxic stress are evident in the increasing rates of maternal deaths among African American/black communities,” she wrote. “We know that we can do better in the health care setting. I’m committed to disrupting the status quo and questioning upstream, system-level mechanisms that lead to and/or exacerbate maternal health disparities.”