Liz Chen

Liz Chen, PhD, MPH

Associate Professor
Department of Health Behavior
MPH Concentration Lead, Health Behavior
Department of Health Behavior
Design Thinking Lead
Innovate Carolina
358A Rosenau Hall
135 Dauer Drive
Chapel Hill, NC 27599


Liz Chen is an associate professor in the Department of Health Behavior and also serves as the Health Behavior MPH Concentration Lead. Dr. Chen has over a decade of experience as a teacher, public health practitioner, and researcher and earned both her MPH and PhD degrees in this department. Dr. Chen’s research interests are at the intersection of adolescent health, technology and design thinking (i.e. human-centered design). Her current research focuses on how to integrate design thinking mindsets and methodologies into public health training, practice, and research. Dr. Chen has a pan-campus role as Design Thinking Lead for Innovate Carolina, UNC’s office for innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic development. A native of Westwood, MA, Dr. Chen served as a high school science teacher through Teach For America in Eastern North Carolina before starting her public health training. She was also named to the 2018 Forbes 30 Under 30 class for Social Entrepreneurship for her work in developing and launching the Real Talk storytelling app for teens.

Liz Chen in the Gillings News

Representative Courses

HBEH 748: Design Thinking for the Public Good | Syllabus

HBEH 772: Designing, Implementing, and Evaluating Health Behavior Interventions | Syllabus

Research Activities

In 2016, Dr. Chen co-founded a technology nonprofit called MyHealthEd, Inc., whose mission is to use human-centered design to improve the health and well-being of youth of every identity. Their first product, Real Talk, is a mobile app for teens ages 13 to 17 to learn more about topics including relationships, bullying and puberty through crowdsourced stories. The app was developed using design thinking methodologies and was launched in September 2017. Since then, Real Talk has reached more than 29,000 users across all U.S. states and more than 100 countries.

Dr. Chen also serves as the Design Thinking Lead for Innovate Carolina. She leads campus-wide design thinking trainings and works with UNC faculty, staff and students to integrate design thinking mindsets and methodologies into their research, teaching, and practice. She has recently worked with leaders at the Food, Fitness and Opportunity Research Collaborative (FFORC) at The UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention to use design thinking methods to co-design intervention strategies to promote health eating among SNAP beneficiaries in grocery store settings. Currently, she is working with the UNC TEACCH Autism Program to co-create a digital resource for Black families with young children who exhibit signs and symptoms of autism spectrum disorder to more easily connect with early intervention resources.

Beyond the university, Dr. Chen has contributed greatly to projects through the Social Innovation in Health Initiative (SIHI), a network of international partners convened by TDR (the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases, co-sponsored by UNICEF, UNDP, the World Bank, and WHO). In particular, she co-developed the new Social Innovation For Health Research (SIFHR) Checklist with colleagues around the world. Right now, she is working with an international team to conduct a systematic review of “designathons” and their applications to public health and medicine.

Service Activities

Dr. Chen also serves on the statewide myFutureNC commission that is working to create a multi-year plan and broad-based agenda for a stronger, more competitive North Carolina alongside educators, industry leaders and policymakers. The commission's work will ensure that by 2030, 2 million North Carolinians have a high-quality postsecondary degree or credential.

She also co-leads the Gillings Support Pod for students, faculty, and staff who identify as Asian and Asian American Pacific Islander. This monthly pod convenes virtually via Zoom and is a supportive and reflective space for those with this shared identity to connect.

Key Publications

Complementary approaches to problem solving in healthcare and public health: implementation science and human-centered design. Chen, E., Neta, G., & Roberts, M. C. (2021). Translational Behavioral Medicine, 11(5), 1115-1121.

Social innovation for health research: development of the SIFHR checklist. Kpokiri, E. E., Chen, E., Li, J., Payne, S., Shrestha, P., Afsana, K., ... & Tucker, J. D. (2021). PLoS medicine, 18(9).

Enhancing community-based participatory research through human-centered design strategies. Chen, E., Leos, C., Kowitt, S. D., & Moracco, K. E. (2020). Health promotion practice, 21(1), 37-48.

Using the Design Thinking Process to Co-create a New, Interdisciplinary Design Thinking Course to Train 21st Century Graduate Students. Skywark, E. R., Chen, E., & Jagannathan, V. Frontiers in public health, 9.

“You Can Do it Anywhere”: Student and Teacher Perceptions of an Online Sexuality Education Intervention. Chen, E., & Barrington, C.  (2017). American Journal of Sexuality Education.

A Systematic Review of Apps using Mobile Criteria for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention (mCAPP). Chen, E. & Mangone, E. R. (2016). JMIR mHealth and uHealth, 4(4).

‘I learned to accept every part of myself’: the transformative impact of a theatre-based sexual health and HIV prevention programme. Grewe, M. E., Taboada, A., Dennis, A., Chen, E., Stein, K., Watson, S., ... & Lightfoot, A. F.  (2015). Sex education, 15(3), 303-317.


  • PhD, Health Behavior, Gillings School of Global Public Health, 2019
  • MPH, Health Behavior, Gillings School of Global Public Health, 2014
  • BA, Anthropology, Princeton University, 2010