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Five Questions with John Wallace

What makes John Wallace happy? Data and the outdoors.

John pauses to take in the view during a ski trip with his brother.

John pauses to take in the view during a ski trip with his brother.

Name:  John Wallace
Position: Analytic research associate, North Carolina Institute for Public Health (NCIPH)
Time with the Gillings School: About fourteen years – my first job out of undergrad was with the North Carolina Center for Public Health Preparedness, a research center within NCIPH. I’ve been here ever since! From 2007 to 2014, I earned a doctoral degree in epidemiology, and then I put those skills to work full-time in my current role.

 

What I do at UNC Gillings (and why I love it): I touch most of the data that come in and out of the Institute, including data related to training and evaluation and data linked to reporting and assessments. With my background in epidemiology, I love getting to investigate things. My favorite recent project has been using census data and GIS tools to create a map of social determinants of health in Wake County, N.C.

Something I like about my job is that there’s room to get creative with data. We’re starting work on a community health assessment with the Chatham County Health Department that will be really unique. Health departments have to conduct these assessments every three to four years, and they usually interview different residents every time. What Chatham County plans to do is select a representative group for a long-term cohort study, which is really innovative because they’ll assess the health of the community by following how these particular individuals fare over time.

I should add that I’ve always been a Tar Heel fan, so it’s invigorating to be working right in the heart of the UNC community!

 

John and his daughter cheer on the Tar Heels.

John and his daughter cheer on the Tar Heels.

Something most people don’t know about me: is that I’m kind of a bird nerd. I took a course on ornithology as an undergraduate because I needed to fill the last slot in my biology major, and the professor ended up being my absolute favorite and a huge source of inspiration. I like that birding is a multi-sensory experience; once you know what they sound like and look like, you hear and see birds everywhere! North Carolina does have a lot of little brown birds, but we also have raptors and woodpeckers, which are some of my favorites to see. During bike rides, I’ve been known to stop mid-trail or on the side of the road to point out birds — my kids love it, but most of my friends just roll their eyes!

 

A book I’ve enjoyed recently: is “The Forest Unseen,” which was written by David Haskell – the same professor I enjoyed so much in college. The book is basically a series of essays he conceived of during a walk in a beautiful area of Sewanee, Tennessee. He looked around and asked, “What’s really going on in these woods?” To answer the question, he observed a one-meter-square plot of forest every day for a year, noticing things like what animals passed through, what bacteria were in the soil samples and which leaves fell when. What he saw inspired him to write on topics ranging from tick-borne diseases to the effect of golf courses on natural areas to the joys of what you can experience if you pay attention to something most people would walk right by.

While we’re talking about media I like, I’m also pretty excited to be attending a concert this weekend – Jason Isbell is going to play at the Durham Performing Arts Center. He’s a sort of Americana-style singer/songwriter who has recently started to be more outspoken and political with his music. He talks about having grown up with privilege, and how he can see that now. I think his new messaging is brave, given that he’s an artist from the deep South.

 

John smiles with his family.

John smiles with his family.

Something I’m looking forward to in the next year: is traveling. We don’t have all the trips ironed out yet, but we’re definitely going on our annual family beach vacation. The exciting change is that this year, for the first time, we’re going to Bald Head Island. I’m also hoping I’ll get to visit my brother in Washington State. He lives just outside North Cascades National Park, and every time I go I get this sensation of, “What adventure are we going to have now?”

One of my favorite things to do with him is go backcountry skiing. You use a special ski setup that allows you to wear the skis while traveling uphill. You put in all this effort to get to the top of a mountain, and it’s a pretty incredible experience skiing back down through untracked, deep powder with nobody else around—it’s absolutely worth the effort but also makes you appreciate ski lifts!

I have two daughters – Anna Claire and Rory. They’re only three and (almost!) one years old, but I’m looking forward to a future where we share these outdoor adventures together.

 

Three words that describe me are: Analytical. Family-oriented. Tar Heel!


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