History of the Department of Health Behavior: Scholars and Activists

Lucy quote v2

In 1942, the first Department of Public Health Education in the U.S. is created at the University of North Carolina.


  • The Gillings School’s field-training program is established allowing students to work with communities across the nation to close racial gaps in health outcomes, eradicate tuberculosis, and reduce unplanned pregnancies.
  • Faculty teach the first public health courses at North Carolina College for Negroes, now  North Carolina Central University in Durham NC. This is the beginning a long-standing collaboration.


  • The program expands producing almost half of U.S. public health educators.
  •  A joint program in public health education is established with the Durham school during this time when segregation bars African American students from enrolling at the University of North Carolina.


    • William Darity is granted a PhD from the Department. Dr. Darity, the first African American to earn a PhD from UNC, later serves as professor and dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and  also serves as a member of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees.
SHAC, student run health clinic at UNC-CH

SHAC Clinic

  • The Student Health Action Coalition (SHAC), the oldest student-run, free health clinic in the U.S., is founded in 1967 by students in UNC’s Schools of Medicine, Nursing, Public Health, and Pharmacy. Health Education by students and faculty play a pivotal role in the success of the clinic.


  • The department cultivates a focus on behavioral theory and research and brings in a new generation of scholar-activists.
  • Godfrey Hochbaum, originator of the Health Belief Model, renowned researchers: Jo Anne Earp, Allan Steckler, and Brenda DeVellis, and Dr. John Hatch join the faculty.
  • The  School’s Minority Student Caucus is launched and Health Education students play a leading role in organizing the first Minority Health Conference, which continues to be an annual event.
  • International focus is added. (Much of Africa’s capacity today in health education is derivative of Africans trained in Chapel Hill or exports from this UNC program. – Lawrence Green, UCSF, US-DHHS, CDC, etc.)


  • The doctoral program and research portfolio expand.
  • The department’s name is changed to “Health Behavior and Health Education” reflecting emphasis on faculty research and preparation of researchers trained at the doctoral level.
  • Former faculty member and alumna Carol Runyan (PhD 1983) helps found and then leads the Injury Prevention Research Center (IPRC), one of five original injury prevention research centers supported by CDC.


  • Faculty size doubles and research funding nearly triples.
  • Research strengths in HIV/AIDS prevention, health disparities, cancer prevention and control, injury prevention, women’s health, adolescent health are developed.
  • Major gifts expand student funding through endowed scholarships.



  • Department’s name changes to “Health Behavior” to emphasize health behavior as the central focus that links our training programs, research, and practice.

Department Chairs

Lucy S. Morgan, PhD, Harvard University. A well known community organizer who was recruited to UNC from the U.S Public Health Service. She founded the Department of Public Health Education at UNC Chapel Hill–the first such department in the nation.
Ralph Boatman, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Long-time department faculty member.
Guy Steuart, PhD, an anti-apartheid émigré from South Africa, was a clinical psychologist who was recruited to UNC from UCLA’s School of Public Health. He joined several other South African faculty in the School.
James R. Sorenson, PhD, Princeton, was a sociologist who chaired Boston University’s Department of Behavioral Sciences before coming to UNC.
Jo Anne Earp, ScD, Johns Hopkins University, is a medical sociologist specializing in health disparities research. She has been a on the department’s faculty since 1974. Dr. Earp is known for leading the North Carolina Breast Cancer Screening Project and for mentoring generations of students and junior faculty.
Edwin Fisher, PhD, Stony Brook University, is a clinical psychologist specializing in health behavior and health psychology. He came to UNC from Washington University School of Medicine. Dr. Fisher continues to serve on the department’s faculty.
Jo Anne Earp
Leslie Lytle, PhD, University of Michigan, is the first chair trained in a school of public health. Recruited from the University of Minnesota, Dr. Lytle specializes in child and adolescent health, especially in regards to obesity prevention and health promotion.