Lucy quote v2

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

1940s

  • The Department of Health Behavior was founded in 1942 with Lucy Shields Morgan, PhD, as founder and first chair. Watch a video about the Morgan years.
  • Under the leadership of Milton, J. Rosenau, first dean, the school established a  field-training program, which  allowed students to work with communities across the nation to close racial gaps in health outcomes, eradicate tuberculosis and reduce unplanned pregnancies.

Expanding Public Health Education for African-Americans in North Carolina

  • In 1945, Milton Rosenau and James Shepard, founder of North Carolina Central University (NCCU) in Durham, N.C., established a collaboration in which faculty from UNC taught the same courses at the both schools. Rosenau asked Morgan to take the lead. Read more about the collaboration. Both Rosenau and Shepard died within two years and Morgan continued to lead the program. She was first chair of the program.

At this time, separate-but-equal laws allowed African-Americans and white-Americans to to be educated separately and Jim Crow laws enforced racial segregation. However, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1938 decision in Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada had put southern states on notice to improve their graduate and professional schools for African-Americans or face court-ordered desegregation. Read more about the transition from segregation to desegregation at UNC.  Students in both schools did meet together in a journal club that rotated between campuses. When racial tensions were high in Chapel Hill, the journal club continued to meet, with shades drawn.

The collaboration between UNC and NCCU, did not establish equal opportunity for African-Americans,  but it was was a step in the right direction and a unique partnership that continued for 15 years.

African-Americans attempted to enroll in UNC during the 1930s and 1940s, but only after sustained pressure from the NAACP and federal courts, did UNC desegrate its graduate schools in 1951 (Read more about desegregation and segregation at UNC, page 168-169.)

First African-Americans to Earn Graduate Degrees

William A. Darity, PhD, and Edward V. Ellis, PhD, each of whom completed a master’s degree in public health at NCCU, were the first African-Americans to earn doctoral degrees at UNC. Both earned doctorates in public health education during the years when Morgan led the program.

Darity became founding dean of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst School of Health Sciences. Ellis worked as a health educator in North Carolina, served on the faculties of the University of Minnesota and Pennsylvania State University and became vice president of academic affairs at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore  (Read more about Darity here and here)

1950s

  • The program expanded producing almost half of U.S. public health educators.

1960s

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., was 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.
  • In 1966, Ralph Boatman, PhD, became chair.
  • In 1968, Guy Steuart, PhD, a South African anti-apartheid émigré became chair. He served until 1985.

1970s

  • The department cultivated a focus on behavioral theory and research and brought in a new generation of scholar-activists.
  • Godfrey Hochbaum, originator of the Health Belief Model, and renowned researchers: Jo Anne Earp, Allan Steckler, Brenda DeVellis, and John Hatch joined the faculty.
  • The  School’s Minority Student Caucus launched. Health Education students played a leading role in organizing the first Minority Health Conference, which continues to be an annual event.

1980s

  • The doctoral program and research portfolio expanded.
  • The department’s name changed its name 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) helped found and lead the Injury Prevention Research Center (IPRC), one of five original injury prevention research centers supported by CDC.
  • In 1985,  James R. Sorenson, PhD, became chair. He served until 1996.

1990s

  • Faculty size doubled and research funding nearly tripled.
  • Research strengths in HIV/AIDS prevention, health disparities, cancer prevention and control, injury prevention, women’s health, adolescent health were developed.
  • In 1996, Jo Anne Earp ScD, became chair. She served until 2005.
  • Major gifts expanded student funding through endowed scholarships.

2000s

  • The dual degree program in City and Regional Planning/Health Behavior was established (MPH/MCRP).
  • In 2005, Edwin Fisher, PhD , became chair in 2005 and served until 2008.
  • Master’s student Kim Chapman (MPH 2006) was named one of Time Magazine’s “Heroes of Global Health” (one of 10 throughout the world) for her role in leading a youth development program in Kenya.
  • Jo Anne Earp became chair in 2008 and served until 2012.

2010s

  • Department’s name changed to “Health Behavior” to emphasize health behavior as the central focus that links our training programs, research, and practice.
  • In 2012, Leslie Lytle, PhD, became chair and served until 2017. Dr. Lytle specializes in child and adolescent health, especially in regards to obesity prevention and health promotion.
  • Kurt Ribisl, PhD, becamse chair in 2017.

Department Chairs

1942-1966
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.
1966-1968
Ralph Boatman, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Long-time department faculty member.
1968-1985
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.
1985-1996
James R. Sorenson, PhD, Princeton, was a sociologist who chaired Boston University’s Department of Behavioral Sciences before coming to UNC.
1996-2005
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.
2005-2008
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.
2008-2012
2012-2017
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.
2017-
Kurt M. Ribisl, PhD, is the program leader for Cancer Prevention and Control at UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and a reknowned tobacco and cancer researcher.

Recent News