Department and Faculty News, Spring 2017

The spring/summer news includes a letter from Leslie Lytle, mentions three faculty members who received awards, a selection of research publications and several additions to the faculty. Helena Knego was recognized with an Unsung Hero Award from the UNC Employee forum, and we welcomed four new staff members. On a sad note, we will miss two wonderful colleagues, Jim Sorenson and Ida Friday.

Letter from Leslie Lytle

Dear students, staff and faculty,
Graduation has come and gone. The hallways in Rosenau Hall are quieter, and the pace has slowed down just a bit. A Carolina summer is in full bloom. The end of the semester occurred with its usual flurry. Graduation was great fun! It was nice to see so many families and friends joining in the celebration here at the Gillings School. The health behavior faculty and I wish our new graduates the very best and hope they will always feel a warm connection to the Department of Health Behavior.

This will be my last letter to you as chair. As many of you know, I have opted not to continue for a second five-year term as chair so that I can resume my work in research and public health practice. I have enjoyed being your chair and … Read the full letter »

Faculty awards

Valle wins grant to help cancer survivors stay physically active

Dr. Carmina Valle

Dr. Carmina Valle

Carmina Valle, PhD, research assistant professor, was awarded a four-year, $2.2 million grant from the National Cancer Institute, titled “Promoting physical activity in young-adult cancer survivors using mHealth and adaptive tailored feedback strategies.” Few interventions have been designed specifically to promote physical activity in young adult cancer survivors, and none has been successful in promoting long-term adherence to the guideline to get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week.

Valle will build on preliminary work she completed as part of her doctoral dissertation. The current project will employ wearable activity trackers, frequent, individualized text-message support and personalized activity goals to increase physical activity.

Reyes wins Gillings School’s award for teaching


Luz Reyes

Luz Reyes, PhD, research assistant professor, reieved the Celebrate Teaching! Award – the Gillings School’s award for teaching excellence and innovation – for the Department of Health Behavior. Recipients of the Celebrate Teaching! Awards are elected by students in each Gillings department to recognize a faculty member who has “inspired students; enhanced student learning through creative, engaging and innovative teaching methods; and supported students’ academic success and professional development.”

Reyes teaches the advanced research methods course for health behavior doctoral students. Her research focuses on the etiology and prevention of violence, substance use and sexual risk behaviors with a particular focus on adolescents. She earned a doctorate in health behavior at UNC. In addition to her experience in teaching and research, Reyes has worked extensively throughout Central America on health-sector research and intervention projects related to reproductive health and rights.

Ribisl wins Joseph W. Cullen Award


Kurt Ribisl

Kurt Ribisl, PhD, professor of health behavior, received the American Society of Preventive Oncology’s 2017 Joseph W. Cullen Memorial Award. He accepted the award at the society’s annual meeting in Seattle on March 13, where he presented a talk on finding solutions for tobacco-related health disparities.

The Cullen Award, which honors Dr. Joseph W. Cullen’s contributions to national tobacco control, recognizes distinguished achievement in continued national tobacco-control efforts through research, development of prevention and cessation programs with wide-reaching public health impact, or public policy and advocacy initiatives. Ribisl is known nationally for his work as a researcher. He is co-program leader for cancer prevention and control at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and served as a member of the congressionally mandated Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee for the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products from 2012 to 2016.  He is an award-winning teacher, having received the Gillings School’s Teaching Innovation Award twice and been named the Department of Health Behavior’s teacher of the year in 2012.

Maman wins Greenberg Award


Suzanne Maman

Suzanne Maman, PhD, professor of health behavior, was selected for the Bernard G. Greenberg Alumni Endowment Award, an award presented each year to a full-time faculty member at the Gillings School who exhibits excellence in teaching, research and service.

Maman has been developing, implementing and evaluating HIV and violence prevention programs in sub-Saharan Africa for 20 years. Her work on how violence increases women’s risk of HIV infection and how an HIV diagnosis can affect women’s experiences with violence has informed programs in countries including Tanzania and South Africa. Maman is appreciated and respected by faculty members, staff, students, and the many graduates she mentored and taught during their studies at UNC.  She is an award-winning teacher, receiving the Edward G. McGavran Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2012. This award, named for the Gillings School’s second dean, recognizes career-long excellence in teaching by a faculty member at the the Gillings School.

Faculty changes


Nora Rosenberg

Nora E. Rosenberg, PhD joined the faculty as an assistant professor. Rosenberg is an epidemiologist who focuses upon developing, implementing and evaluating multi-level interventions to support HIV testing, prevention, care and treatment in sub-Saharan Africa. She is principal investigator for a multi-site trial evaluating approaches to prevention of pregnancy, HIV and intimate partner violence among adolescent girls and young women in Malawi and South Africa.

She is founding director of UNC Project Malawi’s Analysis and Manuscript Unit, which is dedicated to supporting Malawian investigators and on-site trainees in the areas of study design and analysis. Before joining the Department of Health Behavior, Rosenberg was a faculty member in the Department of Epidemiology at Gillings.


Ha Viet Tran

Ha Viet Tran, MD, MsC, joined the faculty as a research assistant professor. Tran’s published research includes studies about people who are infected with HIV and inject drugs, and disclosure of HIV status. She has experience conducting randomized control trials of multi-level risk and stigma reduction in Vietnam. Before joining the health behavior faculty, she was associated with the department serving as a field supervisor of students working with projects in Vietnam, and she collaborated with Vivian Go, PhD, associate professor, for several years. Tran is based in Vietnam. Many faculty members and students enjoyed meeting her and welcoming her to this new role in the department when she visited Chapel Hill in March.

Christine Rini, PhD, has left the faculty. Rini joined Hackensack University Medical Center as director of cancer prevention and control research and senior scientist. We wish her well.

Staff award

Helena Knego

Helena Knego, assistant to the chair, received the Unsung Hero Award, one of the UNC Employee Forum’s peer recognition awards. Knego’s nominators described her as essential to completing the work. Others  in the department described her as the “perfect person to  receive the award and said that “faculty, alumni, students and staff all depend on Helena’s persistence, knowledge, skills and the commitment that drives her to get things done and done well.” Hannah Prentice-Dunn summed it up, “Helena, you keep the world turning in HB! Thank you for all of your work and service to the department and alumni. You are always a joy to work with and so deserving of this award!” Mary Wangen commented, “Helena was the first to welcome me to Carolina before I decided if this was where I wanted to go to grad school. I was a little overwhelmed, and she helped get me more time to make my decision. This award is well-deserved!”

The awards were presented at the UNC Employee Forum’s final meeting for the fiscal year.

Staff changes

From left: Marcia Margotta, Lilly Topal, Debra Littlejohn and Zach Smathers.

Marcia Margotta, MA, joined the department as business manager/assistant chair for administration. Margotta blends academic training in public administration with hands-on experience with budgets and financial management. She has more than 15 years of experience as a financial manager and research administrator. In her role in health behavior, Margotta is responsible for all stages of grants, contracts and service agreements, oversees finance and budgets, and supervises business staff. Margotta earned a Master in Public Administration degree from Indiana University. She finds solace in being a potter and enjoying the great outdoors.

Lilly Topal, MS, works as an accounting technician in the department. Prior to coming to health behavior, Topal held positions in the UNC School of Medicine’s Department of Allied Health Services and Division of Physical Therapy. Topal worked in medical laboratory positions earlier in her career.

Debra Littlejohn, MBA, grant manager, is a seasoned grants-management professional with more than ten years of experience. Littlejohn holds a Master of Business Administration degree with specialization in finance and accounting and a certification in OMB, and she also is working toward certification in financial research administration. She has worked in North and South Carolina and is a graduate of North Carolina universities.

Zach Smathers is a new accounting technician for the department of Behavioral Health. He completed his education at UNC, graduating in 2015 and again in 2017 with a Master’s in Accounting. He has experience as an accounting tech with UNC, having worked for the School of Medicine from 2015-2016. He will be serving in a temporary roll assisting the business and administrative office with payment, reimbursements, and certain human resources functions. In the fall, he will be leaving to pursue a career in public audit with Ernst and Young in Raleigh. Zach resides in Durham with his black lab, Daphne. is a new accounting technician for the department of Behavioral Health.

We will miss them

The Department of Health Behavior has lost two important and long-standing friends,  James Sorenson, former chair, and Ida Friday, alumna and supporter.

Dr. Jim Sorenson, circled in red, joined other members of Dean Michel Ibrahim's cabinet for a 1990 photo.

Dr. Jim Sorenson, circled in red, joined other members of Dean Michel Ibrahim’s cabinet for a 1990 photo.

James Roger Sorenson, PhD, who served as chair of the Department of Health Behavior from 1985 to 1996, died in Pittsboro, N.C., on March 13, 2017. He was 74.

Sorenson, who earned a doctorate at Princeton University, was a sociologist who led the Boston University School of Public Health’s Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences before joining the faculty at UNC.

“Jim was a pioneer in health behavior genetics research several years before that research area became a priority for the National Institutes of Health,” said Jo Anne Earp, ScD, who succeeded Sorenson as chair in 1996. “He was instrumental in expanding the department’s research strength and areas of expertise, thanks to the excellent faculty members he hired, especially in adolescent health.”

Bill and Ida Friday attend a UNC event in 2008.

Bill and Ida Friday attend a campus event in 2008. Photo by Tom Fuldner.

Ida Howell Friday, health behaivor alumna, artist, activist, and wife of the late William Clyde Friday, former president of The University of North Carolina system, died on Feb. 6, 2017. She was 97.

Friday graduated from high school as valedictorian and pursued her education at Meredith College earning a degree in home economics in 1941.

Friday earned a master’s degree in health education from UNC in 1948 and taught health education for several years working with department chair Dr. Lucy Morgan who became a longstanding friend and colleague of both Ida and William Friday.

Ida Friday and her husband were long-standing supporters of the department, and their generous donation allowed the department to establish the Lucy Morgan Fellowships, a program that has supported over 80 students.

Ida Friday is also remembered in the alumni updates section of Health Behavior Matters.

Health Behavior Matters, e-newsletter of the Department of Health Behavior

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