Awards, Faculty and Staff, Pediatric Dentistry

Lee Receives Presidential Early Career Award

Dr. Jessica Y. Lee, an associate professor in the UNC School of Dentistry’s Department of Pediatric Dentistry, has been selected to receive a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).

The award is the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers. Ten federal departments and agencies collectively nominate “the most meritorious scientists and engineers whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for assuring America’s preeminence in science and engineering and contributing to the awarding agencies’ missions,” according to the Office of Science and Technology Policy announcement.

“Science and technology have long been at the core of America’s economic strength and global leadership,” President Barack Obama said in the award announcement. “I am confident that these individuals, who have shown such tremendous promise so early in their careers, will go on to make breakthroughs and discoveries that will continue to move our nation forward in the years ahead.”

Lee, also an associate professor of health policy and management within the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, is the principal investigator for a $1.8-million grant addressing how the oral health literacy of caregivers and parents affects the oral health outcomes of their preschool-aged children. More than 1,000 underserved families in seven N.C. counties – Buncombe, Burke, New Hanover, Wake, Orange, Brunswick and Robeson – are being interviewed about oral health literacy and possible challenges that may prevent them from accessing oral health care.

This study, funded by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), is in collaboration with the College of Arts and Sciences and the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. The study is believed to be the first RO1 grant on health literacy funded by the NIDCR.

Previously, Lee had received the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry’s 2008 Jerome B. Miller “For the Kids” Award for her outstanding efforts directed to advancing childhood oral health and well-being.

Lee is a board-certified pediatric dentist and practices within the UNC School of Dentistry’s Dental Faculty Practice. She is involved in teaching, clinical practice and research (both her own and mentorship of student research) and maintains several research grants. Her major research interests include health literacy, outcome assessment, cost-effectiveness investigations, access to oral health care and health disparities in young children.

Lee received her master of public health and DDS degrees from Columbia University and her certificate in pediatric dentistry and doctorate in health policy analysis and administration from UNC.

“Dr. Lee’s students and colleagues always knew that she was an extraordinary teacher and researcher,” said Dr. John W. Stamm, interim dental school dean. “But even those closest to her did not expect the recognition for this to come from the White House itself. What an honor for Dr. Lee, the Department of Pediatric Dentistry, the Department of Health Policy and Management, as well as UNC-Chapel Hill.”

Added Dr. Tim Wright, chairman of the school’s Department of Pediatric Dentistry, “Dr. Jessica Lee’s research in the area of oral health literacy is helping unlock the complex issues surrounding barriers to oral health care in the United States. Her work is providing fundamental information that is helping develop novel approaches directed at oral health education and accessing the oral health care system.  The significance of her work is underscored by the oral health crisis in the United States, with dental caries being the most common disease of children.”

The Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, established by President Bill Clinton in 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President.

More information on the award and this year’s 85 recipients is available at: