May 08, 2009

You find them within our school and in communities throughout North Carolina and around the world. UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health students not only conduct research but actively engage in public service, generously offering their time and expertise to projects that actively improve people’s quality of life and well-being.We couldn’t profile them all in this magazine. We couldn’t even list them all here! What appears below is only a sample of the many service and engaged scholarship projects our students lead and/or contribute to. We invite you to share the names and activities of other students who quietly and capably give back to their communities and the world. Contact Linda Kastleman.

Student Global Health Committee
(Global Health Fashion Show, photo exhibits, and other informational and charity events)

Chris Deery and Rushina Cholera, SGHC co-chairs. Photo by Kat McDougal.

Chris Deery and Rushina Cholera, SGHC co-chairs. Photo by Kat McDougal.
Rushina Cholera, master’s student, epidemiology and medical student
Chris Deery, master’s student, maternal and child health

The UNC Student Global Health Committee (SGHC) is committed to creating awareness of international health issues within the UNC community through education, advocacy and service. SGHC fosters an environment within which UNC students can apply their knowledge and skills to engage in the promotion of health at a global level.

“Fashion Show Your Love,” an evening of global fashion modeled by faculty, students and community members, was inaugurated in 2008 by SGHC leaders Elena Lebetkin and Heather Bermann. The event, one of many activities of the SGHC, is a fundraiser for a nonprofit global health organization chosen each year by the committee.

In 2008, the event benefitted the Honduran Health Alliance, a UNC-affiliated nonprofit organization. This year, all proceeds from the fashion show — nearly $2,500 — went to Netzer-Brady, a nonprofit community-based and UNC-affiliated organization that provides public health and medical services to underserved populations in Bolivia. Netzer-Brady will use the donation to buy filters that will provide potable drinking water ($22 each) and for health consultations and medicines ($7 per patient).

As students at UNC, we are lucky to be given the opportunity to excel in an exciting, academic environment. We can achieve whatever we want as long as we work hard and stay motivated. Unfortunately, not everyone gets to experience these opportunities. Due to inequalities, injustices and circumstances outside of their control, there are countless people throughout the world who suffer daily from the effects of disease, hunger and poverty. These populations cannot even imagine the realities that we take for granted every day. Giving back by serving those in need is a driving force behind so many students in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, the UNC School of Medicine, and all of the UNC health sciences schools. We recognize that we are blessed to have so many opportunities. Serving others is so important to us not only because we are grateful for what we have and want to reciprocate but because it is the right thing to do.

Student Government
Lauren Thie and Amanda Greenberg, master’s students, Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering

The School’s student leadership is active in a number of community service activities. Among the most longstanding and popular are the Red Cross blood drives and “Hunger Lunches.” The Hunger Lunch is an inexpensive but nutritious meal of rice, beans and cornbread, served by students to the School community as a reminder that many in the world are lucky to have such a meal every day. Proceeds are given to Nourish International (, a student movement begun by a UNC student in 2003 whose goal is to help eradicate global poverty.

Lauren Thie

Lauren Thie

Service gives me the opportunity to share my humanity by being useful. When I do service work, I forget about my own troubles as I focus on other needs in the world. In my work as student government co-president, I’ve had the opportunity to serve Hunger Lunch on a weekly basis. The value of [that investment of time] was raising money to help feed malnourished populations around the world.

Lauren Thie

Service allows one to give back to a world that has provided so much–laying the foundation for positive change. To me, service does not come in one, institutionalized form; rather, service includes all good actions meant to improve the life of at least one other person. In my work as the School’s Student Government co-president, I’ve had the opportunity to represent the student population, ensuring that viewpoints are presented in a fair, honest and respectful way.

Amanda Greenberg

Daniel McMillan

Daniel McMillan

The Hunger Lunch

Service is about extending to others, in some form or another, the opportunities which we have been fortunate enough to have received ourselves. Service may present itself in the form of monetary support, physical labor, training, etc. — but in the end, it all comes back to sharing with others the opportunities for growth and development that we have had … Working with Nourish International allowed me to support global development projects by bringing something to the School that people really enjoyed… Investing my time and energy into something so practical and effective just made sense.

Daniel McMillan
Health policy and management
Phi Beta Kappa inductee
2008-2009 coordinator for Hunger Lunches at the School

Jerrie Kumalah

Jerrie Kumalah

Minority Student Caucus
Alrick Edwards and Jerrie Kumalah, master’s students, Department of Health Behavior and Health Education

The Minority Student Caucus, led in 2008-2009 by master’s students Alrick Edwards and Jerrie Kumalah, is open to all students of color in the School. The organization was founded in the early 1970s as a vehicle for bringing concerns of minority students to the attention of the School’s administration and encouraging a more diverse faculty and student body. In 1977, the Caucus founded the Minority Health Conference (below) and has conducted it annually since then. The Caucus also works with the School administration on Project Reach to link to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, especially in North Carolina, and to institutions serving other minority groups.

Kevin Wu and Stephanie Baker

Kevin Wu and Stephanie Baker

Minority Health Conference
Stephanie Baker, doctoral program, health behavior and health education
Kevin Wu, master’s program, health behavior and health education

This annual conference was established in 1977 to highlight health issues of concern to people of color. Topics in recent years include the impact of poverty, culture and environment on minority health, AIDS, and community-based research and practice.

The 2009 lecture, titled “Our World, Our Community: Building Bridges for Health Equality” was presented by , professor of health education and Columbia University.

As the oldest student-run minority health conference, the event draws overflow audiences of academic and health professionals, as well as members of the general community.

Our conference is unique in that while a lot of students, practitioners and professors attend, we also attract a lot of community members, some of whom have been attending for many years. 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.

As a current student, I realize that it is only because of the work done by students who have come before me that I am here today. Those students started a tradition of the conference and it serves as an annual reminder that we must continue to stress the importance of addressing health disparities and minority health in schools of public health.

Stephanie Baker

It is important to give back to the community by way of the conference because the people living and working in communities all over North Carolina and beyond are the ones creating change for minority populations. As academics, it is our responsibility to provide the knowledge and tools that we learn and develop to the people working on the ground. This conference is an excellent way to bring together community members, professionals, researchers and students so that knowledge and insight can be exchanged

Kevin Wu

Juliana Thornton

Juliana Thornton

Nurturing Orphans of AIDS for Humanity

Master of Public Health student Juliana Thornton was the head of the research department for a South African nongovernmental organization called NOAH — Nurturing Orphans of AIDS for Humanity. Thornton worked with vulnerable young children for three years prior to entering the School’s maternal and child health master’s program.

Her research skills were honed conducting extensive field work in South Africa and Tanzania as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago. Her career goals include developing policy and directing and leading public health research and intervention programs in developing countries, including South Africa.

Whenever I tell people about my work with orphans and children made vulnerable by HIV and AIDS, they often react by saying something along the lines of, “Oh, wow! That’s so good of you. I could never do that.” I am always confused by this response because to me my work is an obvious response to apparent need. For me, it is an intellectual endeavor to resolve a pressing problem facing society.

Juliana Thornton

National Disability Assessment in Afghanistan

My desire to improve health outcomes in international settings has grown out of a strong sense of responsibility and passion for the work that I love.

Layla Lavasani

Layla Lavasani

Layla Lavasani

Layla Lavasani entered the maternal and child health doctoral program after having worked in a number of countries, including Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iran.

While pursuing a master’s degree in international health at Johns Hopkins University, she conducted research on the needs of vulnerable populations in conflict areas. While in Afghanistan, Lavasani worked on a national disability assessment for the government and later evaluated a pilot community health worker training program.

She was awarded a prestigious Foreign Language and Area Studies award for the first year of her doctoral work at UNC.

Lavasani plans to design and conduct program evaluations of interventions that seek to reduce maternal and child mortality in resource-poor settings.

Doctoral students Margaret Adgent and Kim Angelon-Gaetz respond to calls in the state's Public Health Command Center.

Doctoral students Margaret Adgent and Kim Angelon-Gaetz respond to calls in the state’s Public Health Command Center.

Team Epi-Aid

Team Epi-Aid, an award-winning volunteer group at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, serves two important groups — students and their communities. Students from the UNC schools of public health and medicine are provided with unique opportunities to gain applied public health experience, while North Carolina’s local and state health departments are provided with extra staff to conduct outbreak investigations and assist with other public health emergencies.

The most recent project began in April 2009 as North Carolina prepared for local outbreaks of the worldwide pandemic of H1N1 (swine) flu. Team Epi-Aid — a student group at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health — is volunteering in the NC Division of Public Health’s Command Center, where the H1N1 flu outbreak across the state is monitored and managed. While returning phone calls from local health departments and clinicians across the state, these students are getting invaluable experience helping manage a public health crisis.

More than 180 students are currently members of Team Epi-Aid. Since 2003, students have contributed more than 3,500 volunteer hours to the Team’s efforts.

Among the group’s other 2008-2009 projects are:

  • Six volunteers joined staff from the Johnston County Department of Public Health to conduct an assessment of reproductive health needs in the area around Kenly, N.C.
  • Thirteen volunteers interviewed residents in the coastal Albemarle Sound region of North Carolina about their past experiences during hurricane evacuations. Interviewers were trying to determine any association between demographic and social factors and willingness/ability to evacuate. The volunteers entered data directly into hand-held, GIS-enabled computers at the time of the interview so that dwelling locations could be verified by evacuation personnel.
  • A similar door-to-door assessment was conducted in Onslow County, N.C., in which four volunteers interviewed residents about perceived health problems facing the community. Again, data was entered into hand-held computers to increase accuracy and timeliness.
  • One student developed an epidemiology information database for Duplin County, N.C., so that the county could store and analyze data from its Community Health Assessment instrument.
  • Ten volunteers conducted interviews at the 2008 PrideFest, in Durham, N.C., for the purpose of identifying HIV risk behaviors among men who have sex with men. The annual festival celebrates the accomplishments and progress of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered.
  • In south central North Carolina, eight volunteers conducted phone interviews with health care providers to determine the availability of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. The information was gathered for a collaborative of 13 local health departments, who hope to promote vaccine uptake among adolescent girls.
  • In Johnston County, six volunteers joined local health department staff to conduct an assessment of reproductive health needs in the area around Kenly, N.C., which was struck by devastating tornadoes in November 2008. The assessment was part of a pilot project designed to identify unmet reproductive health needs after a disaster.

Gaining experience in applied epidemiology through service is important to me because as a student benefiting from a great education at a state school, I feel that we have a responsibility to help out in local communities where resources are extremely limited. In my work as an interviewer for the hurricane evacuation survey in Eastern N.C. and for the HPV vaccine survey of health care providers, I found it useful to invest my time and energy because we were gathering valuable information that would be used to target future health interventions.

Kim Angelon-Gaetz,
doctoral student in epidemiology

Managing the Team Epi-Aid program is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job because it gives me the opportunity to interact with students, local and state public health professionals, and community members in projects that benefit everyone involved. Serving local communities in North Carolina is one way to make sure that our work in “public” health is truly benefitting the public.

Meredith Davis, MPH
Research Associate Epidemiologist
N.C. Center for Public Health Preparedness
N.C. Institute for Public Health

Team Epi-Aid has been a great way to provide opportunities for students to experience applied public health while contributing important assistance to public health efforts here in North Carolina. I am very proud of all the service the volunteers have contributed since the program’s inception in 2003.

Pia MacDonald
Faculty Founder for Team Epi-Aid
Research Assistant Professor, Department of Epidemiology
Director, N.C. Center for Public Health Preparedness, N.C. Institute for Public Health

Working with SNAP and other local social service programs

Graduate students at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health have offered advice to the Durham County (N.C.) Board of Social Services about ways to increase food aid to eligible residents in the county.

The students include Kat McDougal and Josh Evans, master’s candidates in the School’s Public Health Leadership Program, and Courtney Lyndrup and Glenn Baldwin, in the master’s program in the Department of Health Policy and Management. [complete article]

Courtney Lyndrup

Courtney Lyndrup

I was excited to take on this particular project because the Food Stamp Program is a very helpful and effective assistance program, and there are a lot of individuals, struggling to get by, who are unaware that they qualify for supplemental food assistance. I feel extremely lucky and never want to take for granted how fortunate I am. No matter how busy I am, there is always some time or effort that I can share — and it’s my duty to share it with my neighbors who may not be as fortunate.

Courtney Lyndrup

I believe that community service as we sometimes think of it – is a misnomer. Community service is not noble, high-minded or special. It is not about one person generously giving away their time and skills to help those less fortunate. Instead, community service is less a service than a responsibility that stems from the recognition that we are all connected to one another, all implicated in the same social structures. As students, I believe that it is just as important for us to learn to recognize that responsibility and discover how to put it into practice as it is to learn other fundamentals of public health.

Joshua Evans

— compilation by Linda Kastleman

Carolina Public Health is a publication of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health. To view previous issues, please visit