Spring 2021 Faculty Spotlight – Sarah Thach

Sarah Thach, MPH, is assistant director of the UNC Gillings School’s Masters of Public Health Program in Asheville and an assistant professor in the Public Health Leadership Program. For over twenty-five years, she has promoted community health and rural health workforce development in Western North Carolina and West Virginia.

Sarah Thach

Sarah Thach

What do you do at Gillings (and why do you love it)?
I’m the assistant director of the UNC Gillings School’s MPH Program in Asheville, concentration lead for Place-Based Health, and manager for students’ practica and culminating experience masters papers. I love connecting our students with the organizations and groups improving communities’ health in Western North Carolina.

What is your latest research/project?
My latest project is working with young Latinx residents in Yancey County along with a health partnership and an FQHC to spread information about COVID prevention.

What do you do enjoy doing when you’re not working?
I spend my free time in my garden, watching my three sons play sports, and reading Harry Potter to them.

If you could wake up tomorrow having mastered one new ability, what would it be?
I would love to be a much more skilled genealogist!

What is a recent TV show or movie that you have watched? (You can also describe a book if you are more of a reader).
I recently read the NY Times’ recent account of African American teenager Dennis Richmond Jr.’s family research and the insights it offered him. It demonstrates how American history can be inspiring.

What is something that you are looking forward to? (this can be professional or personal)
I’m looking forward to feeling safe to travel again to see family and friends all over the country!


Fall 2020 Faculty Spotlight – Lori Carter-Edwards

Lori Carter-Edwards, PhD, is an associate professor in the PHLP, and adjunct faculty member in the Departments of Epidemiology and Health Behavior at UNC Gillings. She is the director and co-lead of the Community and Stakeholder Engagement Program in the North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute (NC TraCS), and co-director of the program, ACCLAIM – Academic Career Leadership Academy in Medicine. A social epidemiologist and health educator, she has 25 years of experience conducting observational studies, interventions, and programs, with emphasis on social determinants of health associated with cardiovascular-related risk factors and outcomes in Black faith communities. She is a nationally recognized expert in community-engaged research. Currently, Dr. Carter-Edwards is the principal investigator of a COVID-19 study on risk communication strategies in rural, Black faith communities, one of seven 2020 Gillings Innovation Labs COVID-19 awards.

Dr. Lori Carter-Edwards

Dr. Lori Carter-Edwards

What do you do at Gillings (and why do you love it)?
I am an associate professor in PHLP, and an adjunct associate professor in the Departments of Epidemiology and Health Behavior. I work with a wonderfully diverse group of faculty and staff. One of the reasons I love being in PHLP is that we are at the edge for addressing the applied needs for the transformation of our leaders who are going to be the future of public health. Our faculty understand the importance of adapting leadership to today’s public health needs as well tomorrow’s. A reason that I love being in the School is the opportunity to serve as PHLP’s representative for the Research Council and Conflict of Interest Committee for the School. It allows me to partner with other faculty from other departments. I enjoy working at the school level and feel that being a part of these groups helps me as a PHLP faculty member who is trying to promote leadership. I get an opportunity to see how we can be leaders at the school level for addressing internal needs as well as external needs in the community.

Tell us about your current work with COVID-19 related efforts.
The first project is the COVID-19 Community Engaged Risk Communication Project. Because of my relationship with faith-based community partners, I was able to connect with Pastor James Gailliard of Word Tabernacle Church in Rocky Mount, North Carolina (NC) who is a part of the Faith-Based Organizational Network (FBON). Pastor Gaillard introduced me to Dr. Monica Taylor, a member of his congregation who has both a policy and public health background. After the three of us had multiple conversations about the pandemic, we applied and were awarded one of the Gillings Innovation Labs grants. We are working with colleagues at the Word Tabernacle Church to leverage rural, Black, faith-based social connections to spread critical COVID-19 information now and study the method’s effectiveness for use in future public pandemics in North Carolina. More specifically, we are working on the best ways to send risk communication in this particular community remotely. Drs. Rohit Ramaswamy and Leah Frerichs are assisting by conducting systems mapping. We are using a community-engaged adaptive approach to implementation science research. Our resource partners are the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), the NC Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities, and UNC’s Department of Social Medicine. Read more about Dr. Carter-Edwards' other COVID-19 related projects.

The second school-level project is funded by the Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES). Gillings in partnership with the Population Center and Sheps Center developed the UNC COVID-19 Dashboard which is designed to be interactive and provide up-to-date information to our university constituents and the public-at-large. I was asked to lead the community engagement arm of the project where we are getting stakeholder feedback on what they would like to see in the dashboard. The website development team has used this feedback in the design of the dashboard’s website. We are currently gathering feedback from a select group of stakeholders to assess the utility of the website and make final modifications to the dashboard by the end of the year when CARES project ends.

The third project that I am working on is the Community Engagement Alliance (CEAL) Against COVID-19 Disparities Initiative sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The initiative is conducted in 11 states and NC is one of them, with the Increasing Trustworthiness through Engaged Action and Mobilization (I-TEAM) Project, a partnership between the UNC Center for Health Equity Research (CHER), Community Campus Partnerships for Health, and Wake Forest Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity. The goal of this project community partners to understand how to communicate information about COVID-19 testing and how to best involve the community in vaccine trials to try to combat the virus in disadvantaged communities in North Carolina.

The fourth project that I am working on is the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) through the National Institute of Health (NIH). Duke and the UNC Center for Health Equity Research run the RADx-UP Coordination and Data Collection Center for 70 sites across the nation. In conjunction with my work on the CEAL Initiative, I am leading the effort to conduct a RADx-UP/CEAL Evidence Academy, an interactive, stakeholder-engaged conference that originated at UNC to present the state-of-the-science on, in this case, COVID-19 in vulnerable communities, and recommendations and a plan for action. This is the sixth Evidence Academy, the first national one. Our team just finished pulling together a steering committee that includes community partners, physicians, and scientists from both the CEAL and RADx-UP initiative so that we can use our combined expertise to identify potential topics and speakers for Conference. Our team is comprised of staff from the NC Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute (NC TraCS) and Duke. There will be 300 attendees at this virtual conference which will take place February 24-25, 2021. Our plan is to put together a report in March 2021 based on our discussions from the conference.

What are your favorites ways to practice self-care?
Finding ways to practice self-care better! I am trying to get better at it but what I currently do is play games on my phone. I watch old mystery television shows like Matlock, Perry Mason, and Columbo. I also enjoy reading mysteries. One of my favorite authors is the late Sue Grafton who was known for the Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series. I like mystery-focused shows and books because they are investigative and challenge you to think!

What is something that people wouldn’t know about you just by looking at you?
They wouldn’t know that I was born and raised in California. I am one of the very few people who was actually born and raised in Los Angeles. So, earthquakes are a way of life than me, more so than tornados. Something else that people wouldn’t know by looking at me is that I used to be the lead singer for the Notre Dame jazz band during my junior and senior years as an undergraduate student at the university. I had the opportunity to meet some of the greatest jazz artists. One time, I sang in front of the late jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis Jr., father of Wynton and Branford Marsalis. It was a pretty big deal! He complimented my singing which really warmed my heart!

If you had a superpower, what would it be and why?
I would like to be a time traveler. One of my favorite set of movies is the Back to the Future trilogy. I watch it almost every time it comes on TV. I love the role of Doc Brown and his sentiment that you cannot change time but if you did, what cool things would happen? Going back in time would provide us with a broad perspective on life and how to appreciate its strength and its delicacy. As public health professionals, we sit in a space where we often are responsive to needs, but now we are in the framework of understanding that we have to be more proactive. Even just understanding how we fit in the time-space continuum. What happened when John Snow learned that the water pump in England was causing people to get sick? What happened when C. Everett Koop released reports on the health consequences of tobacco use? What was it like when Betty Ford was diagnosed with breast cancer and the decision in signing the policy that women can get mammograms for free? When we made these and other major decisions, there is so much that we can learn from those moments in time. How have these and other big moments in public health history been markers for how the public’s health improved? What were leaders thinking at that time? We know that our system is still broken in many areas, but I am always hopeful that people will raise up from the ashes like the phoenix and make the best decision. Examining the past would make me a better public health professional for those behind me. I want to show that what we do matters.

What is something that you are looking forward to both personally and professionally?
I think everyone is looking forward to COVID-19 being over! Personally, I am looking forward to seeing my parents in Los Angeles. I just saw my son which was great. I look forward to my son moving along in adulthood and finding his space and his gifts. Professionally, I look forward to working with my teams. They are just such great people! I look forward to each day to work with them.


Spring 2020 Faculty Spotlight – Bill Sollecito

Bill Sollecito, DrPH, is a professor in the Public Health Leadership Program (PHLP) and co-director of the Academic Career Leadership Academy in Medicine (ACCLAIM), a cross-disciplinary leadership program for UNC faculty in the School of Medicine. He also was the director of PHLP from 2000 through 2009. Dr. Sollecito currently teaches graduate courses, lectures and publishes on topics that span team and organizational leadership, project management and continuous quality improvement. He recently served as co-editor for three books on Continuous Quality Improvement in Health Care, including a new edition published this year. Prior to joining the faculty at UNC Gillings, Dr. Sollecito worked in the contract clinical research industry at Quintiles Transnational Corporation from 1982-1996, where, as President of Quintiles Americas, he was responsible for all clinical operations in North and South America. Dr. Sollecito will be retiring from UNC Gillings after the spring semester.

Dr. Bill Sollecito

Dr. Bill Sollecito

What do you at Gillings (and why do you love it)?
I have always seen my role at Gillings as sharing and further developing the leadership knowledge that I gained in the private sector (at Quintiles and prior to that in New York where I worked as a health services researcher) with the students and colleagues who I have had the great fortune to meet at Gillings. This has been a mutually beneficial process where I have taught others and led by example – but have also learned from others, particularly about the challenges of public health. I think that the thing that I have loved the most at Gillings is teaching and advising students who were experienced practitioners when they were admitted to our program and seeing them further develop as leaders during and after completion of our MPH and certificate programs. I have always enjoyed being innovative and in the early days that I spent at UNC there was a lot more flexibility and opportunities to innovate – taking what started out as interesting ideas and then developing them quickly and successfully by strategic actioning and staying true to our vision. Examples of innovations that I am very proud of include, first, playing a leadership role in the development of our high-quality distance education MPH program, and later starting other innovative programs, such as the leadership and global health certificate programs; and most recently continuing the success of the ACCLAIM program, which is a unique, creative program that was not started by me, but which I had the good fortune to put my imprint on by following the lead of one of my best friends and role models, David Steffen when he retired.

If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
That’s simple and unfortunately, it shows by the size of my waistline – pasta, with any kind of sauce, but mostly with those sauces and preparations that come from my Sicilian heritage.

Complete the following sentence: “Key elements of leadership include:”

Vision, vision, vision and absolutely a shared vision that ensures the empowerment of others, working in teams, to achieve goals that may seem impossible to others but are clearly doable when teams work together with what Deming called “constancy of purpose.”

What is one of your favorite teaching experiences?
I have two answers for this question – first was the development of my first course that I taught when I first joined UNC – that is project management (PUBH 747) – because it was the first course that I developed and taught (based on my Quintiles experience), and it was my first distance education experience. It has continued to be a highly regarded course for over 20 years and is now taught by one of my closest friends, Lori Evarts, who also learned these principles at Quintiles and who is one of the best teachers and team leaders that I have ever known and who has continuously improved the course over the years.
But another very important course that I was co-developer of was Leadership in Biostatistics (BIOS 844); which is important to me because it was and still is taught to doctoral students in the Biostatistics department, which is where I received my DrPH. What I am most proud of is the impact that this course has on the student-practitioners who take the course and how it allows us to expand our vision of leadership development beyond PHLP to other departments and especially to my fellow Biostatisticians – once again this was an interdisciplinary innovative idea that we (the faculty of PHLP and BIOS) made real.

What is a fictional character from a book or movie that you identify with?
I’ve said too much already – so I’ll keep this short. I am a film fanatic so I have many choices, but I will simply say any character who, as Kouzes and Posner say, “challenges the process” or fights to change the system; one that comes to mind from both the book and the movie is Al Pacino’s portrayal of Frank Serpico.

What are you most looking forward to in your retirement?
First and foremost, to relaxing with my family – as soon as we defeat this pandemic and it is safe to be able to hug my grandchildren again. But, also as a realist about being a workaholic, finding new ways to contribute to the continuous improvement of public health; perhaps by addressing some of the many challenges that COVID-19 has exposed, and doing this without the encumbrances that academia seems to have become a victim of in recent years.
What I am not looking forward to is the gap that will be created by missing the interactions with so many great mentors and colleagues who I have had the privilege to work with here at UNC, both as a student and as a faculty member; the relationships that have made these past 20 years so rewarding.


Fall 2019 Faculty Spotlight – Aimee McHale

Aimee McHale

Aimee McHale, JD, MSPH

Aimee McHale, JD, MSPH, is an assistant professor in PHLP and the chair for the PHLP curriculum committee. On a School level, she serves on the UNC Gilling MPH Core teaching team. She also holds a University-level position in the UNC Faculty Athletics Committee. Professor McHale is an attorney by training and has expertise in health policy with a special focus on health equity, social justice, and the health needs of vulnerable populations.

 What do you at Gillings (and why do you love it)? I teach Leadership in Health Policy for Social Justice which is a required core course for the Leadership in Practice concentration. I teach this course for both the residential and MPH@UNC platforms. I also serve as the chair for the PHLP curriculum committee. I am currently re-developing the two-credit solution course for the Gillings MPH Core in the Spring. I love what I do because I am able work with, teach and learn from students, who are essentially the future of public health. They give me hope for a future in which we will alleviate many of the greatest barriers that keep people from being healthy.

What is your latest research/project? I am currently working with Dr. Upshaw and Dr. Carter-Edwards in the early stages of an upcoming project with the Durham VA. I don’t think it’s any secret that there are significant issues around the health and wellbeing of our military Veterans, so we’re working with the VA to develop a public health model for addressing Veterans’ health issues at the community level. It’s an issue of health inequities and social justice, and, as the step-daughter of a retired US Marine, it’s something about which I care deeply.

Favorite teaching moment? At the beginning of semester this fall, we had a discussion about identity and how it is related to our role as both an individual and public health professional. The following week after this discussion, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my students were so devoted to the discussion that they continue the conversation even though our class session was over. It really showed that they genuinely cared about getting to know their fellow classmates and understood the importance of this topic as it relates to public health as a whole.

If you could you have three apps on your smartphone, which would you pick and why?  I would say Twitter and Instagram would be my first two that I would pick because I like to follow different leaders in government and keep up with current events. I am also able to follow all things Tar Heel and talk a little smack to people who support other teams. (I am only borderline ashamed to say that). The third app that I would pick would be Apple Music because I have access to all of my music. My teenage daughter and I share an account so it’s a very eclectic collection of music, which is, at times, a mixed blessing.

 What’s your favorite way to unwind after a busy day? I generally don’t have enough time to unwind. Sometimes, I may have a drink with a friend or invite our social group over for dinner. I watch my favorite TV shows at night, a mix of news, and other stuff. I also enjoy reading, but sometimes I’m so tired I can only read a few pages before I fall asleep. I am a huge Tar Heels fan, so I spend a good amount of my free time attending sporting event especially football and baseball. I am a member of the UNC Faculty Athletics Committee assigned as liaison to both baseball and women’s lacrosse so in the Spring, I’ll frequently be found at those two venues.

 What is the last TV show or book that you read? I enjoy reading historical fictions and any content related to social issues. I am currently reading the Nickel Boys. The book takes places in Florida during the Jim Crow era and focuses on two African American boys who attend a state-run reform school called Nickel Academy. The books sheds light on racial injustice and unethical practices in the school. I am a fan the author, Colson Whitehead, author of The Underground Railroad, which I really loved. I’m also reading The Cross and the Lynching Tree, by theologian James Cone, which examines the Black experience in America, intertwining the injustices and the abiding faith that have been hallmarks of that experience.


Spring 2019 Faculty Spotlight – Lori Evarts

Lori Evarts is an assistant professor in PHLP. She also serves as the graduate studies director for the program. Professor Evarts has extensive experience in project management and clinical research. Prior to PHLP, She worked at Quintiles, Inc. as the director of project management training. Professor Evarts’ interests include project management, team effectiveness, leadership, quality improvement, clinical research and online education.

Professor Lori Evarts practice mindfulness at the 2019 Science Expo.

Professor Lori Evarts practice mindfulness at the 2019 Science Expo. Each spring, Professor Evarts’ PUBH 784 students represent Gillings at the annual event by facilitating educational booths focused on public health.

What you do at UNC Gillings (and why you love it): I am a faculty member and I teach project management courses (PUBH 747 and PUBH 784) and team leadership (PUBH 767).  I love my students and teaching. I also enjoy seeing students apply their learning and related tools in their public health endeavors and careers.  This is one of the several reasons why I enjoy staying in touch with alumni as well.

What is the latest project that you are working on? At the moment, I am working with students in Project Management: Strategies & Application to prepare for the UNC Science Expo on Saturday, April 6th. Our class is representing Gillings at the event with four booths. This year, the topics for the projects focus on the following: dangers of flooding; the importance of vaccination and herd immunity; healthcare access considerations; benefits of mindful meditation.

What is something that people wouldn’t know about you just by looking at you? I have lived in Orange County almost my entire life. Most people may not know that because I do not have a distinctive southern accent. There are some words that give me away, like “hair,” but other than that I do not have much of an accent. My family moved to Chapel Hill when I was two years old. My husband has me beat though as he has lived here since he was ten months old.

Best teaching experience: Can I say all of them? Actually, I have the best teaching experiences when there is real learning taking place. I enjoy seeing my students apply solutions to ambiguous situations. I also enjoy having a little fun in my class by using humor. One example that comes to mind is when I used this goofy National Geographic article in my project management course. The article showed different animal groups and how some groups have more than 20 ways to use tools while others only have a few, and how they change. I incorporated the article in my class to underscore the importance of testing out different project management tools and techniques to ensure that these are right-sized and appropriate for a given project. These tools also change over time as well, so we have to be able to adapt and use the tools accordingly.

If I could wake up tomorrow having mastered one new ability: I wish I could wake up with the engineering skills to create some type of Winnebago flying hovercraft. I would use this invention to travel as quickly as possible to the beach, of course avoiding all traffic. Ideally, I would not limit myself to North Carolina, and would be able to travel quickly to any beach. In case, you couldn’t tell, I really enjoy spending time at the beach!

What is a fictional character from a book or movie that you identify with? I guess I identify with Tigger from Winnie the Pooh. I really admire his high energy and positivity. I strive to be like Tigger in my everyday life and less like Eeyore. Although I can imitate Eeyore’s voice really well.


Fall 2018 Faculty Spotlight – Travis Johnson

Travis Johnson, MD, MPH, died on Feb. 13, 2020, after an eight-year battle with colon cancer. He was 43 years old. Travis was an assistant professor for the PHLP and the Interim Director for the UNC Gillings Masters in Public Health program in Asheville. For 15 years, he served as a family physician, specializing in maternal-child health in rural settings. Read more about Travis’ life and his work with the Gillings School.

Travis Johnson, MD, MPH

Travis Johnson, MD, MPH

The following interview was conducted in Fall 2018.

What you do at UNC Gillings (and why you love it)? I am the Interm director for the Leadership in Practice concentration on the UNC-Asheville campus. I also co-teach the leadership workshop course (PUBH 791) with Vaughn Upshaw. So far, I have really enjoyed the camaraderie between us as well as learning from Vaughn who has taught the course before.  I love what I do because I enjoy thinking of creative ways to combine core leadership concepts with public health to brainstorm solutions on how to break down barriers in our communities.

What is your favorite thing to eat? Good question! I love strawberry rhubarb pie. It has a sweet tart flavor. My grandmother would make that for me. It brings back great memories.

What’s something that you enjoy most about the Asheville campus? I appreciate Asheville for its smallness especially with our cohort. I am able to get to know students better, which allow me to really help them develop and work through their professional goals. The close-knit nature is also a great teaching tool as well. I also enjoy the campus’ strong drive to involve different stakeholders in the area to practice public health in Western North Carolina. It really is a community effort.

If I had one superpower: I would probably freeze time in place. I think the ability to stop time would help me revel in the moment and get a better sense of what’s happening in present time.

A fictional character that you identify with: I really identity with Huckleberry Finn. He is able to think outside of the box. He is also always open to new and exciting adventures and willing to invite any and everyone one along the way. I think that is how I try to approach life.

What is your biggest teaching goal? My dream teaching goal would be to partner with local agencies to give students the opportunity to solve cases based on real life issues in real time. This approach would allow students to further hone their skills through creative and critical thinking while also working on current public health issues in the field. I firmly believe that the best and most innovative teaching takes place outside of the classroom.


Spring 2018 Faculty Spotlight – Karine Dubé

Karine Dubé, DrPH is an assistant professor with PHLP and has worked with the program since February 2017. Her research focuses on integrating biomedicine, social sciences, ethics, community engagement and public health in HIV cure-related research.

Dr. Karine Dubé

Karine Dubé, DrPH

What is your latest research? My latest research has focused on bridging biomedical research, social sciences, ethics, community engagement and public health in HIV cure-related research in the United States. With Project Inform,  we are about to launch a new survey looking at how people living with HIV perceive HIV cure-related research interventions, and what they would consider to be improvements above standard antiretroviral HIV therapy and acceptable target product profiles for an HIV cure. I am also embedding social sciences as part of actual HIV cure-related studies, including the Last Gift study (http://lastgift.ucsd.edu/) at the University of California San Diego. I also help support a clinical research capacity development effort in Liberia, following the Ebola outbreak.

What do you do at UNC Gillings (and why do you love it)? I help mentor the next generation of global health leaders! I teach three global health courses: PUBH 711 (Critical Issues in Global Health), PUBH 712 (Global Health Ethics) and SPHG 700 (Introduction to Global Health). I will be part of the new global health concentration. I love it because I get to pursue my passion every day! I found a nice balance between teaching and research, and I am very grateful to be working with amazing students and in an academic environment.

What do you do when you’re not at work? I like to travel. My husband and I try to travel somewhere at least once a year. I have really enjoyed visiting different African countries especially Mozambique. I would love to go back there. I also like to read during my spare time. I just really like the smell of old books. I also enjoy photography.

Complete the following sentence: “Innovation in teaching means…” I think it means being responsive to current challenges that we face specifically in public health. I also think of how to tie teaching to advocacy. When I was an undergraduate student at UNC, I was president of  the APPLES Service-Learning program and learned a lot about experiential learning. That really showed me the importance of bringing the real world to the classroom and giving back to our communities. When I conduct research, I try not to do “parachute research” and I like to build capacity. It’s a similar concept when I teach. I strive to create a classroom that emphasizes the exchange of information and resources and meaningful dialogue.

If you could wake up tomorrow having mastered one new ability, what would it be? I want the ability to add more time to my day. Time is my most precious resource. If I could, I would make it so that we have eight-day weeks because seven-day weeks are just not enough!

What is something that you’re looking forward to? Everything! I look forward to continuing my research and teaching my classes. I look forward to further bridging the gaps between biomedicine, social sciences, public health, and the community for HIV cure-related research. I found my home within PHLP and enjoy the interdisciplinary lens of my colleagues and the overall program. I am happy that I am able to align my passions with my career through PHLP.