Koch and Barrett receive mentoring and teaching awards at Commencement

May 21, 2007
Photograph of Dr. Gary Koch

Photograph of Dr. Gary Koch
Photograph of Dr. Carolyn Barrett

Photograph of Dr. Carolyn Barrett

Two School of Public Health faculty were honored during the School’s commencement ceremony on May 12 for their teaching and mentorship of public health students. Gary Koch, PhD, professor of Biostatistics, received the John E. Larsh Jr. Award for Mentorship, and Carolyn Barrett, MPH, RD, clinical assistant professor of Nutrition, received the McGavran Award for Excellence in Teaching.

A highly competitive honor conferred only every other year, the Larsh Award recognizes faculty at the School of Public Health who have made substantial contributions to health education or health promotion through research, program development or program delivery. Recipients must demonstrate outstanding moral character, a long-term commitment to the overall growth of students, availability to students, an ability to stimulate interest in learning and personal traits leading to excellence in mentoring.

Koch, the 2007 recipient, joined the faculty at the School of Public Health in 1963 and has served as a full professor since 1976. He regularly advises at least 15 master’s and doctoral students every year, whereas a typical load for many professors is no more than five. He has encouraged publication among his graduate students by inviting them to co-author papers and is a staunch supporter of student travel, seeking travel opportunities and funding so that students can conduct research abroad.

Julie MacMillan, MPH, a former student who now heads the Accelerated Public Solutions Office at the School of Public Health, says that Koch always makes an effort to mentor as many students as approached him – including students from other departments who attend his classes – and that his mentoring often goes beyond classroom work.

“He’s humble, gently supportive and very capable,” said MacMillan. “He’s brilliant intellectually, but he’s also brilliant at calming people during the stresses of graduate school. He has a longer-term perspective on problem-solving that gets you through the panic points.”

Koch has headed the Biometric Consulting Laboratory (BCL) at the School of Public Health since 1987. Housed within the Department of Biostatistics, the BCL trains graduate students in biostatistics for collaborative activity with health science investigators. “He has also guided many students in this capacity,” MacMillan said.

Koch continues to consult with students well into their careers. Former students consider him a lifelong mentor.

“I have followed his advice and have been so appreciative of his coaching and mentoring throughout my graduate program and in my personal development,” said Paula Brown Stafford, MPH, executive vice president of Global Data Management at Quintiles Transnational Corporation and another former student. “Words cannot adequately express the value Gary has selflessly given to so many.”

The McGavran Award for Excellence in Teaching, first bestowed in 1975, recognizes teaching innovation, leadership and excellence. Recipients must have a strong record of accomplishment in courses they taught, teaching programs they administered and students they advised. They must demonstrate that a substantial number of students have been well served in the process and that this service has continued over a sustained period.

According to June Stevens, PhD, chair of the Department of Nutrition, and students who nominated her for the award, Barrett’s 20-year career with the School of Public Health has been filled with examples of her dedication to teaching. These include her classroom work, personal mentoring of student research and practice activities, teaching-related administrative roles and innovative developments in teaching methods and materials.

Barrett joined the School’s faculty in 1987 and since then, has taught and advised 200 Bachelor of Science in public health (BSPH) students and 358 master’s in public health (MPH) students. Every year since 1999, all of her BSPH students have passed examinations to become registered dieticians, and more than 90 percent of her MPH students have passed the examinations. Barrett achieved this while consistently teaching three courses per year and supervising master’s students who were completing their hospital-based training with staff dieticians in area hospitals.

“This is indeed a very impressive record,” said Stevens.

Barrett’s teaching and contributions to the field of dietetics have been recognized by her peers in the North Carolina Dietetics Association, which named her Dietetics Educator of the Year in 2002-2003. Yet her teaching is most highly regarded by her students, as demonstrated by consistently impressive course reviews and numerous personal accounts.

Laura CaJacob, a former BSPH student who will begin her dietetic internship with ARAMARCK Corporation in August, said that she would have been “lost” in college without Barrett. “As an advisor, she has counseled me on numerous occasions over a variety of topics,” said CaJacob. “She would always ensure that her students not only learned the material, but that they learned it in a way that could be applied in the future.”

Kim Orleck, a dietetic intern at WakeMed Health and Hospitals and former MPH student, said that Barrett asks students to participate in unique group projects, involves them in the teaching process and makes classes interactive and exciting. “She brought creativity to the classroom… she has a unique way of making her students learn by applying knowledge, versus just being lectured to daily,” Orleck said.

Barrett said that she is honored to receive the McGavran Award and appreciates her students’ praise. “They’ve taught me a great deal, as well,” she added.

In the 1970s, as a public health nutritionist with Project HOPE, an organization that aims to make health care available to people all over the world, Barrett worked with women whose children were enrolled in a recuperation center for malnourished children. She said she enjoyed the experience so much she made it a point to do something similar when she retired.

Barrett will be retiring this summer to join the Peace Corps.


School of Public Health contact: Ramona DuBose, (919) 966-7467, ramona_dubose@unc.edu.