People and projects


Bill Jenkins, PhD

Bill Jenkins, co-director of the Minority Health Project speaks about minority health disparities, racism and health, epidemiology, his long career at the CDC and elsewhere, and the Tuskegee Study in an interview on WCOM-FM’s program “Radio In Vivo.”


Lloyd Edwards, PhD

Lloyd Edwards works with the university’s Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity. The primary goal of the program is to increase the number of underrepresented students who attain PhDs in biomedical research and biostatistics. Edwards mentors underrepresented PhD students who are interested in pursuing a PhD in biostatistics. Another unique feature of the program is the opportunity for a biomedical graduate student and a biostatistics graduate student to collaborate. Edwards facilitates the collaborations.

Genie Eng, DrPH

Preliminary findings of the Cancer Care and Racial Equity Study show that a disproportionate number of the people who stop or delay treatment are African-American women.”What we are trying to understand is why there’s a racial disparity in breast cancer treatment — and we are focused on the system,” Eng says. “We’re not blaming doctors or nurses or care providers.” Breakdowns in communication can be caused by cultural differences, Eng explains, and can lead to racial disparities in treatment and care.

Peggye Dilworth-Anderson, PhD

While 4.5 million Americans have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, age-specific dementia among African-Americans is anywhere from 14 to 100 percent higher than among whites. “This is a sobering disease,” Dilworth-Anderson says, “and most families are ill-prepared to deal with it. This is especially true in poor and rural populations that have limited health care access.” An ongoing intervention designed and conducted by Dilworth-Anderson provides crucial education and information to caregivers of poor, rural and medically underserved elders in North Carolina. Approximately 300 African-American, American Indian and white caregivers have participated in this ongoing program.

Joseph Lee, MPH ’08, and Cathy Melvin, PhD

Men and women who are gay or lesbian are more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to smoke, according to findings from a review study carried out by Joesph Lee and Cathy Melvin. “Tobacco is likely the number one cause of death among gays and lesbians,” Lee says, “but there is hope. … The community is organizing itself to address this health inequality through the National LGBT Tobacco Control Network.”


Carmen Samuel-Hodge, PhD

With approximately 2.7 million African-Americans ages 20 years or older in the United States living with diabetes and with rates reaching 25 percent among African-Americans ages 65 to 74, Samuel-Hodge has found that breaking through this health disparity requires reaching out to people in a different way. “People learn where they are most comfortable,” Samuel-Hodge notes. “Since people are comfortable in their church, we thought — why not educate them there?”


Meg Ellenson, MPH ’08

As part of a student team, Ellenson evaluated the strengths and needs of people in Chapel Hill who had fled from the political turmoil in Burma. “I had no idea about this group of people or how little support they had,” Ellenson says. Ellenson brought art therapy to the refugee children, saying it is effective because “it can help refugee children construct meaning and identity, work through loss and come to terms with trauma. Also, the process of art-making in a group setting can provide social and emotional development and improve self-esteem. These children may not have the vocabulary to talk about their thoughts and feelings in their native language, let alone the language of their host country.”

Paul Godley, MD, PhD

Paul Godley directs the Carolina-Shaw Partnership for the Elimination of Health Disparities. This partnership between UNC and Shaw University, a historically Black university, is establishing research resources and improving research infrastructure at Shaw so that more African-American college students can become health researchers. The center is also training new investigators at both institutions in health disparities research methodology, and collaborating on a church-based community outreach project. Additionally, the partnership created the health disparities curriculla at UNC and at Shaw.

John Preisser, PhD

The study of migrant farm workers and other highly mobile populations poses particular challenges, Preisser says. “Studying [them] underscores the vital role that biostatistical planning and analysis have in epidemiological studies of underserved populations,” he says. Preisser helped conceptualize, design and analyze a three-year study of green tobacco sickness, an illness well-known to the predominantly Latino migrant population that helps harvest tobacco in North Carolina. “Some workers left the study area due to their sickness or otherwise could not be followed to the end of the study”

Chris Heaney, PhD ’08

The Rogers-Eubanks neighborhood in Orange County, N.C., has housed the county landfill since 1972, and many residents are concerned that it may be contaminating their drinking water. Heaney says about 38 percent of homes in the neighborhood don’t have access to public water, and only 3 percent have access to public sewer. In its project with the neighborhood, Engineers Without Borders will take a survey of the water and sanitation infrastructure in the community. If the group can help provide water services throughout the world, it can and should work to provide them at home as well, he says. “We often take it for granted in the United States that these services are going to be provided.”

Laura Linnan, ScD

African-Americans are more likely to get colon cancer than whites or any other group. And when they get it, they’re more likely to die from it. Scientists are working to learn why. In the meantime, Linnan wants to reduce those disparities now. “I don’t think we can sit back and wait for people to come to the doctor’s office or the health care clinic,” says Linnan. “Even if you know what people can do to reduce their risk, you still have to get the word out in ways that will be meaningful and places that are convenient,” Linnan says.

Stephanie Baker and Kevin Wu, students

Baker and Wu planned the 2009 Minority Health Conference, the oldest student-run minority health conference in the nation. “The people living and working in communities all over North Carolina and beyond are the ones creating change for minority populations,” Wu says. “This conference is an excellent way to bring together community members, professionals, researchers and students so that knowledge and insight can be exchanged.” Baker agrees. “These alliances create an opportunity for all stakeholders to join together and engage in critical discussion and strategic planning for how best to improve the health of minority communities.”