Our History

Overview
UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and RTI International are long-standing partners and leaders in improving human health and the human condition. Both institutions are complex, mission-driven organizations with North Carolina roots and global impact. Read more/less.

  • RTI is an independent, nonprofit institute that provides research, development, and technical services to government and commercial clients worldwide
    • RTI Mission: To improve the human condition by turning knowledge into practice.
    • RTI’s global presence currently spans more than 1200 clients and over 4,100 projects across 12 US offices and 13 international offices.
    • In FY19, RTI generated approximately $963 million in revenue (2019 Annual Report).
  • UNC Gillings School is the #1 Public School of Public Health
    • Comprised of 7 departments and 1 program with approximately 1800 students.
    • Mission: to improve public health, promote individual well-being and eliminate health inequities across North Carolina and around the world.
    • In FY20, total grants and contracts awarded to faculty was approximately $213 million (Gillings School Facts and Figures).
  • UNC Gillings and RTI formally embarked on a Preferred Partnership Planning Process in 2017, resulting in the Initiative to Maximize Partnerships and Catalyze Teams (IMPACT).

Leadership: Then and Now
The UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health was founded as the Division of Public Health within the UNC School of Medicine in 1936.  In 1940, the UNC Board of Trustees approved public health as a stand-alone school, and it began awarding degrees – the first school of public health to be established within a state university. In 1940, Gertrude Cox was appointed to develop statistics programs on campuses in the UNC System. Read more/less.

  • In 1949, the Department of Biostatistics in the School of Public Health was organized.  Bernard Greenberg was named chair at just 29 years old. 
  • In 1958, RTI International (then known as the Research Triangle Institute), the cornerstone tenant of Research Triangle Park, was formed to inspire graduates of North Carolina institutions of higher education to remain in the state and provide research services for government and business clients.  
  • After retirement from NC State University, Gertrude Cos became the first head of RTI’s Statistics Research Division. 

Present
Under the leadership of Barbara Rimer (appointed Dean in 2005), the Gillings School has expanded its global focus. In 2006, it became the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health in recognition of a $50 million gift from Dennis Gillings and Joan Gillings. E. Wayne Holden became RTI International’s fourth president and chief executive officer in 2012 and gradually invested in strengthening RTI’s North Carolina university ties. Read more/less.

  • “Adding the word ‘global’ to our name recognizes the increasingly global nature and worldwide interdependence of health and well-being. Health problems don’t stop at borders” -Barbara Rimer
  • The Gillings Office of Research, Innovation and Global Solutions office promotes and advances the School’s global and local health activities in:
    • Research
    • Innovation and Entrepreneurship
    • Service
    • Practice and Teaching through Strategic Initiatives
    • Partnerships, Internships, Outreach and Communications.
  • Wayne Holden drew on his background as an academic researcher and educator
    • Served 10 years in a variety of roles in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine.
    • Currently he is an adjunct professor in the Department of Health and Policy Management at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health.
  • Leah Devlin, who was previously the State Health Director for North Carolina, joined RTI as a part-time consultant in 2012 to strengthen ties between the institute and UNC Gillings.
    • As a Professor of the Practice in Health Policy and Management at UNC Gillings, Devlin recognized the importance of connecting people and building peer-to-peer relationships.
    • Devlin recognized that many RTI researchers were Gillings School alumni or had existing connections, and started organizing network events between RTI researchers and Gillings School faculty.
    • Since 2012, Devlin has helped double the number of RTI researchers with adjunct faculty appointments.
    • Devlin organized 24 round table discussions.
    • Devlin increased student engagement by encouraging their participation in the RTI/UNC PHield Trip (2013-2019).
  • The RTI University Collaboration Office (UCO)
    • RTI’s senior leaders created the UCO to continue strengthening North Carolina’s research community by enhancing and catalyzing collaborative teaming, research proposals, projects, and publications under the leadership of James Gibson, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer.
    • Jacqueline Olich, formerly of UNC-Chapel Hill, was hired as the UCO’s founding director in 2014.
    • Olich and Devlin have worked closely together on increasing opportunities for collaborative proposal development, fostering relationships with faculty and students, and special projects.
    • Amy Vargas-Tonsi (RTI) and Anne Cabell (UNC Gillings) partner to operationalize the Partnership’s initiatives and support research teams.

Selected Joint Initiatives, 2013-Present
UNC Gillings and RTI established several joint initiatives to maximize the collective impact of these two organizations that seek to improve health and wellbeing around the world. Read more/less.

  • The IMPACT Jointly Seeded Research Teams
    • In 2018, RTI and UNC Gillings announced the IMPACT Seed Fund in order to together develop a powerhouse reputation in one or two technical areas; in other words, becoming the “go-to institutions” in a few defined areas, the first of which is Environment and Health. The awards sought to jumpstart teaming to lead large, impactful, interdisciplinary, collaborative projects attractive to federal and other funders in this area.
  • The North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute (NC TraCS)
    • RTI joined the North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute in 2013.
    • The partnership occurred to advance translational research by increasing resource availability to researchers at both institutions and encouraging cross-institutional collaboration.
    • NC TraCS pilot grants stimulate research initiatives by enabling investigators to obtain preliminary with the goal of reducing the lengthy gap between research findings and benefits for patients.
    • NC TraCS Co-Principal Investigators are John Buse (UNC School of Medicine) and Nick Shaheen (UNC School of Medicine). The RTI point of contact is Lisa Gehtland (RTI).
  • The Consortium for Implementation Science (CIS)
    • RTI and UNC Gillings formed CIS in 2013 to address the translational lag by facilitating Implementation Science collaborations among researchers and practitioners at both organizations.
    • The Consortium has supported several completed projects, including Provision of, and Barriers to, Sexual Health Education & Reproductive Health Services Among Women of Reproductive Age in Opioid Use Treatment in North Carolina (Jones, Lorvick, Klaman) and continues to support ongoing projects, for example, Using Natural Language Processing to Identify Hospitalized Cancer Patients in Need of Palliative Care Services (Hanson, Demartino).
    • The CIS co-directors are Rohit Ramaswamy (UNC) and Lisa Dimartino (RTI).

The UNC Gillings – RTI IMPACT partnership has yielded significant awards and successful teams.

The preferred partnership has resulted in several signature events and publications.

UNC Gillings and RTI have created a network of faculty, staff and students to expand public health research.

Are you interested in exploring ways to become involved with the IMPACT Partnership?
Contact Anne Glauber (aglauber@unc.edu) or Amy Vargas-Tonsi (avargastonsi@rti.org).