Start Early. Start well.

February 16, 2024

UNO Student Researcher on a Mission to Enhance Maternal and Infant Health in Nebraska and Beyond

Priyanka Chaudhary with her father and motherPriyanka Chaudhary says she decided to pursue her doctorate degree at the urging of her father. Here, she is shown with her parents.

By Ashia Aubrey 

Priyanka Chaudhary has a vivid memory of speaking with her father before he unexpectedly passed away in 2020 due to a brain hemorrhage. She was in Nebraska, dedicated to working on her master’s degree in public health from the University of Nebraska Medical Center, while her dad was in their home country of Nepal. During their last phone conversation, he recommended that she continue her education and pursue a doctoral degree.  

Chaudhary recalls having mixed emotions about what her father proposed, as she was hesitant about going back to school. However, after serious thought and considering the sudden death of her dad, his struggles with his health, and her passion for helping people, she decided to take her father's advice. Chaudhary enrolled in the School of Health and Kinesiology as a doctoral student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) studying health and early childhood education.  

“There's a lot of disparity that still exists, so I feel like I could learn about these things and can just be helpful to the community and for the people,” she said.  

Priyanka ChaudharyPriyanka Chaudhary

Chaudhary has a keen interest in understanding the intersection between pregnant women and how they can adopt a healthy lifestyle—and the impact this has on birth outcomes in Nebraska. After discovering this when joining her advisor Danae Dinkle’s lab at UNO and immersing herself in research where she got to interact with moms and babies in person, she fell in love with understanding how she can educate them about adopting a healthy lifestyle. Her dissertation project was revealed to her through this experience.  

During her exploration of this topic, she discovered that some women didn’t know how to establish a well-balanced lifestyle while pregnant. Research reveals that less than 25% of pregnant people met the Physical Activity Guidelines to maintain or enhance their health. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends physical activity for healthy pregnant women, as it can improve their overall health and mood during pregnancy and postpartum.  

Chaudhary’s dissertation is a mixed-method quantitative study that aims to understand Nebraska pregnant moms' perspectives on their physical activity pre- and post-pregnancy. Currently, she is interviewing participants and using the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring Surveillance System (PRAMS) to understand the women’s behaviors while pregnant.  

So far, Chaudhary has found that a number of the women involved in her research lack knowledge about the specific guidelines for incorporating physical activity into their daily routines. 

“They knew about the general idea about the benefit of physical activity,” she said. “They were not aware about the guidelines. Like, hey, I have to do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week.” 

The Graduate Scholars Program at the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska supports Chaudhary’s dissertation. It’s a unique program for doctoral students who attend any University of Nebraska campus to receive funding for their research focusing on young children and their development.  

She looks forward to utilizing her findings to advance the academic field and empower women with the knowledge that a healthy lifestyle before pregnancy can be beneficial.  

“I'm hoping [through] this study people will come to know that adopting that healthy lifestyle, even before pregnancy, plays an important role, just for a holistic approach,” she said.  

Chaudhary aspires to return to her home country after completing her doctoral program and use the skills she has learned to positively impact the lives of women and children.  

“It's an underdeveloped country, and within that country, I have seen the woman and the child has suffered a lot,” she said. “There is still the strong stigma of women not getting [an] opportunity for education or getting other rights to work or lead a healthy lifestyle.” 

The Graduate Scholars program is accepting applications for 2024–25 candidates, and the deadline to apply is March 31. Learn more about the program here.  


Ashia Aubrey is a digital communications specialist at the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska. Previously, she was the associate director of communications at an Omaha nonprofit and served as a reporter and television news anchor in Nebraska, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.   

Have a question, comment, or a story idea? Reach Ashia at

Scroll to top