Five Questions with Peggy Bentley
Peggy Bentley’s passion for nutritional anthropology has taken her around the globe.
Name: Peggy Bentley
Position: Carla Smith Chamblee Distinguished Professor of global nutrition and associate dean for global health
Years at Gillings: 18
What I do at Gillings (and why I love it): I’m part of the Gillings Global GatewayTM, and one of my primary roles is to offer leadership for the academic elements of our global curriculum, like the certificates in global health and the integration of the ‘global and local’ mindset into the curriculum. I also counsel a lot of students about their course choices and future careers in global health. I represent the School in several leadership roles as well – I’m the secretary for the Board of Directors of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health and was a founding director of the Board for the Triangle Health Consortium. I helped invent their tagline, ‘Innovation through collaboration,’ which is a concept I’m particularly invested in.
I also work to enhance research collaborations across campus and with external organizations. A recent example was convening a group of faculty who were working on research related to the Zika virus. We now have an established committee and listserv for better communication, and a half-dozen proposals went out to the National Institutes of Health within a couple months of the group’s formation.
What I like best about my job is mentoring students and, to some extent, junior faculty. Together, we figure out where they want to go in their careers and how they can get there. My door is literally always open, which represents how much I enjoy that aspect of my job.
The first job I ever had: was working as a department store sales clerk in Toledo, Ohio, when I was 15 years old.
Something unique about my office is: that I call it my ‘global health Zen office!’ The office is full of photos I’ve taken during my travels for work and research. (I have a wall devoted to each part of the world that I’ve visited.) I also use soft lighting and there’s always music playing. It’s just a good space to think and work.
The journey that led me to public health: started when I was about 19 years old. In retrospect, I realize that I was an anthropologist long before I ever took my first anthropology class, because I caught the travel bug and developed a deep curiosity for other people and places. To this day, I feel that it doesn’t matter where in the world I am, there’s always something special and interesting to learn. But yes, I’ve raised cattle on a farm, spent almost a year conducting archeology research in the Valley of Mexico, worked as a cook on a sailboat in the Caribbean… those last two adventures in particular sparked my interest in food and nutrition.
In Mexico, I met an ethnobotanist and became fascinated by the connections between people, plants, and the production and consumption of food. As a professional cook, well, you can imagine the link there! Later, after conducting 2.5 years of fieldwork in India for my dissertation, I took a job in the Department of International Health at Johns Hopkins University. Twelve years later, I came to Carolina and have never regretted it. I love working at UNC and living in Chapel Hill.
One of my biggest inspirations is: Jimmy Carter, both for his contributions to global health (guinea worm eradication) and for his humanity, leadership, honesty, humility and moral compass. He is a living example of the very best of humankind.