Five Questions with Carmina Valle

Carmina Valle sets the pace for local races and cancer prevention.

Name: Carmina Valle
Position: Research assistant professor, Department of Health Behavior
Years at Gillings: Almost ten (I came to UNC in 2007 and completed a doctoral degree in nutrition. Next, I became a postdoc in the Department of Health Behavior’s Cancer Health Disparities Training Program and the UNC Weight Research Program. I then joined the Health Behavior faculty in 2015.)


Carmina and her husband celebrate after finishing a race.

Carmina and her husband celebrate after finishing a race.

What I do at Gillings (and why I love it): I’m a behavioral scientist. I develop and evaluate technology-based behavioral interventions related to cancer prevention and control. My research focuses on improving nutrition, physical activity and weight management in cancer survivors. I focus primarily on young adult cancer survivors and minority/underserved communities, promoting healthy behaviors and health equity and using technology tools that allow for scalability and broader dissemination.

I love my job because I get to directly engage with people. I feel like, through collaboration, I help empower individuals and communities to improve their health and quality of life. I also enjoy the variety, because no two days are alike. On one day, I might meet with students and fellows, then read the latest science on wearable technologies to support behavior change. The next day, I’ll spend time with colleagues discussing the details of website specifications for a mobile health intervention and then meet with a new colleague in psychology about potential collaborations. It’s exciting!


I got into the field of cancer prevention and control: because, after earning a master’s degree in public health, I served as a Presidential Management Fellow at the National Cancer Institute. In that role, I rotated through a variety of different offices and learned about multiple aspects of cancer research, including how that research is funded. One experience I’ll never forget was working with the Presidential Cancer Panel – the one that Dean Rimer currently chairs – to plan a series of meetings with cancer survivors who were invited to testify and share their personal experiences. Hearing their stories really honed my interest in this area of public health.

Later, when I worked in the Office of Cancer Survivorship, I served on the Board of Directors for a nonprofit organization that focused on young adults with cancer. Historically, that group of survivors has been understudied and underserved. Survival rates haven’t improved for them in the way they have for children and older populations, in part because they are often diagnosed late – providers may not expect cancer in that age group – and because they may have health insurance gaps.


S0mething not many people know about me: is that I’ve played team sports for much of my life. I played three sports through middle and high school – field hockey, basketball and lacrosse. In college, I walked onto the varsity women’s lacrosse team and was eventually elected captain. After college, I played on club lacrosse teams in Philadelphia and Washington. Those experiences probably explain my love of most things sports-related. I grew up in Baltimore, so I am a big fan of the Orioles and Ravens, but I have become a true Tar Heel fan at the college level. These days, I still run a few road races each year. My husband and I have served as pace runners for the Tar Heel 10 Miler and the Bull City Race Fest.


My first job ever: was working as a summer camp counselor. After eight grade, I started helping at a day camp in my school, which was an independent Quaker institution in Baltimore. Later, I worked for an outdoor learning center in Maryland, first as a farm hand and then as a camp counselor and ropes course instructor. On my first day in the farm role, my friend and I accidentally let all the goats out of their pen while we were cleaning it!


If I could have dinner with anyone, I’d pick: my maternal grandmother (or “Lola”). I never had a chance to meet my Lola. She passed away from colon cancer when my mother was a young adult in the Philippines. I have always wondered what she was like, what stories she would have told and what characteristics she might have passed on to me.