April 29, 2024

Leaders at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health have announced the winners of four of the School’s most prestigious awards – the John E. Larsh Jr. Award for Mentorship; the Edward G. McGavran Award for Excellence in Teaching; the Bernard G. Greenberg Alumni Endowment Award for teaching, research and service; and the Harriet Hylton Barr Distinguished Alumni Award, which honors an alumnus or alumna for outstanding achievements and contributions to public health.

The 2024 winners are Stephen Cole, PhD, professor of epidemiology (for the Larsh Award); Joseph Ibrahim, PhD, Alumni Distinguished Professor and director of graduate studies in the Department of Biostatistics (for the McGavran Award); Joe Brown, PhD, PE, professor and engineering programs director in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering (for the Greenberg Award); and Traci L. Baird, MPH, president and CEO of EngenderHealth and 1995 Master of Public Health alumna (for the Barr Award).


Larsh Award

Dr. Stephen Cole

Dr. Stephen Cole

Stephen Cole, PhD, is the winner of the 2024 Larsh Award.

Cole is professor of epidemiology and has been a faculty member at UNC-Chapel Hill since 2008. Through his research, he works to build robust, accurate and impactful knowledge at the intersection of epidemiology and statistics. He is interested in study designs and analyses that accurately estimate parameters of central interest to health scientists. These study designs include randomized experiments and observational studies. In particular, he is interested in infectious diseases, primarily HIV, and birth outcomes.

He is associate director of the UNC Center for AIDS Research’s biostatistics core and is a co-founder of the UNC Causal Inference Research Laboratory. His research has focused on HIV epidemiology, causal inference and statistical inference. These contributions include more than 390 peer-reviewed papers. His methodological contributions have been nationally recognized through awards from the American College of Epidemiology and the Society of Epidemiologic Research. He also serves as an editor at the American Journal of Epidemiology and as an associate editor at Statistics in Medicine.

“Steve has been my mentor throughout my career,” wrote one nominator. “He supported me through the early phases of discovering my research interests, developing technical skills and learning the basics. Then he fostered my sense of curiosity, and his support enabled me to crystalize my nebulous set of interests into clear, compelling research questions. His nearly instantaneous feedback on my early manuscripts taught me to write papers that people would want to read. His group meetings and one-on-one mentorship helped me learn how to learn from being wrong and be OK with making mistakes, even in front of my peers, in the interest of accelerating that learning. He has supported me through multiple job searches, grant proposals and professional quandaries. I would not be where I am today without Steve’s mentorship, and I cannot think of anyone more deserving of this award.”

“Steve is truly an inspirational leader in epidemiology and causal inference,” wrote another nominator. “He served on my dissertation committee, and through my interactions with Steve I learned to ask better research questions, trust my own intuition and keep sight of the big picture. My career development has been more focused and intentional as a direct result of Steve’s mentorship. Steve is the proposed mentor of my K01 application, and I look forward to continuing to learn from him in the years ahead.”

Established in 1997, the John E. Larsh Jr. Award for Mentorship recognizes a current member of the Gillings School faculty who best exemplifies the qualities of mentoring and commitment to students that Dr. Larsh embodied and valued so highly. Larsh was a health behavior faculty member from 1942 to 1981. The $4,500 prize may be used in any way that enhances the faculty member’s ability to mentor and support students.


McGavran Award

Dr. Joseph Ibrahim

Dr. Joseph Ibrahim

Joseph Ibrahim, PhD, is the winner of the 2023 McGavran Award.

Ibrahim is an Alumni Distinguished Professor of biostatistics and has been faculty at UNC-Chapel Hill since 2002. His research focuses on developing statistical methodology related to clinical trials, cancer and genomics research. He is also director of graduate studies for the Gillings School’s Department of Biostatistics and director of the department’s Biostatistics for Research in Genomics and Training Grant. In addition, he leads the UNC Laboratory for Innovative Clinical trials.

During his tenure at UNC, he has advised 48 pre-doctoral students (eight current students) and eight postdoctoral fellows in the Department of Biostatistics, helping them achieve high standards for excellence in research. Most of his students successfully publish parts of their thesis work in top statistical journals prior to graduation. Further, as the director and original principal investigator of the T32 Cancer Genomics Training Grant, Ibrahim has provided funding for 35 pre-doctoral students since 2004.

As the director of graduate studies in biostatistics, a position that he has held continuously for 21 years, Ibrahim has been responsible for shaping several teaching programs within the department. Since 2015, he initiated major curriculum updates and changes for eight graduate-level courses and was instrumental in starting several new data science and computing courses in biostatistics. According to nominators, Ibrahim’s efforts have played a critical role in the Department of Biostatistics consistently being ranked among the top five departments in the United States.

“As a teacher, Dr. Ibrahim is unrelenting in his desire to make sure his students understand the material,” wrote one nominator. “His ability to explain difficult concepts in multiple ways is truly a gift. Dr. Ibrahim’s style of teaching is almost conversational, making attending a class a joy and creating an atmosphere conducive for learning. When I first started as a dissertation student under Dr. Ibrahim, he guided me through an informal, condensed version of the Bayesian statistics course that he teaches. He took time out of his busy schedule to meet with me to cover crucial concepts, and he offered to review my “homework assignments” despite not being in a formal class. More recently, Dr. Ibrahim has been instrumental in teaching me how to be a successful mentor, teacher and faculty member in my own right. Together, we have delivered five short courses at prestigious statistical conferences. These short courses have helped me secure my own research contracts, and I am now funding my own students. Simply put, Dr. Ibrahim is an absolute model teacher.”

“Enrolling in BIOS 762 and BIOS 779 with Dr. Ibrahim has profoundly transformed my approach to learning within his disciplines,” wrote another nominator. “The quality of Dr. Ibrahim’s teaching is unparalleled. His notes are not only meticulously organized but also encompass a broad spectrum of essential concepts and thorough derivations. Such a detailed and structured approach has enabled an effective self-study experience that I previously thought was unattainable. Dr. Ibrahim’s commitment to education extends beyond merely disseminating information; he ensures a seamless connection between theoretical foundations and their practical applications, both in a technical sense and through real-world examples. This comprehensive coverage of material has proven to be extremely beneficial. Moreover, Dr. Ibrahim possesses a unique skill in accentuating and focusing on key topics, which has greatly demystified complex subjects for me, thereby streamlining my learning journey. The homework he assigns is ingeniously crafted, with each question specifically designed to tackle a common issue, enhancing our grasp of the course content.”

The McGavran Award for Excellence in Teaching honors Edward G. McGavran, MD, MPH, dean of the UNC School of Public Health from 1947 to 1963 and proponent of “hands-on” field training for public health students. First given in 1975, the award recognizes career-long excellence in teaching by a faculty member at the Gillings School. This award comes with a $1,500 prize, which the recipient may use in any way that enhances their ability to teach and support students.


Greenberg Award

Dr. Joe Brown

Dr. Joe Brown

Joe Brown, PhD, PE, is the winner of the 2024 Greenberg Award.

Brown’s current research includes the use of fecal waste streams in public health surveillance; the development and application of novel tools to track pathogens in environmental media; and observational and experimental studies to estimate the effects of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) interventions in controlling the transmission of infectious diseases. Brown has held former faculty appointments at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

His work includes the Maputo Sanitation (MapSan) Trial, an ambitious, long-term study of urban sanitation infrastructure and health in Mozambique, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in collaboration with the Mozambican Ministry of Health. He leads a number of studies on the microbiome of the built environment in partnership with colleagues in Bolivia, where he has worked for over 20 years, with funding from the National Science Foundation. Over the last two years, he has contributed to the Lancet Commission on Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Health, leading the working group on infrastructure disparities in high-income countries. A native of Alabama, Brown also works on community-based rural sanitation and health in the underserved “Black Belt” region of that state, part of a multi-institutional collaboration entitled Transforming Wastewater Infrastructure in the United States.

“In addition to Dr. Brown’s professional contributions to the field of public health, he has excelled as a professor, advisor and mentor,” wrote one nominator. “I first took a course at Georgia Tech with Dr. Brown in Fall 2017, [in which he] helped shape student‐led projects related to humanitarian aid, relief and design. Over this first semester with Dr. Brown, he motivated our projects and research plans to meet the level of excellence that he expects from all his students. Throughout the semester, Dr. Brown also shaped our views as Western engineers working with international communities to understand our partners and enable democratization of our generated data. Dr. Brown also mentored me on a project to develop novel methods of detecting pathogens in water, where he encouraged creativity and critical thinking throughout the prototyping phase, which led to a publication and multiple presentations. These efforts to build up healthier, more effective researchers have continued in his coursework and lab group at UNC.”

“Dr. Brown also goes above and beyond to mentor his students outside of the laboratory and classroom,” wrote another nominator. “He has made time to discuss career options and development goals with me any time I have needed it. He also works exceptionally hard to build a sense of community for those of us who worked in his lab. He often hosted cookouts and camping trips with his family for us all to have fun and connect with him and each other. He also encouraged and effectively modeled work-life balance, which is a critical and lacking skill in our field, as public health worker burnout is pervasive and well-documented. Through these experiences and others, I feel he provided exceptional mentorship and community in a time of historical turbulence.”

The Bernard G. Greenberg Alumni Endowment Award, established in 1986 by the School’s alumni association, is presented to an outstanding full-time, mid-career Gillings School faculty member for excellence in the areas of teaching, research and service. The award, which includes a cash prize of $14,000 annually for three years, honors Dr. Greenberg, a visionary leader who founded the School’s biostatistics department in 1949 and chaired it for more than 20 years before serving as dean of UNC’s public health school from 1972-1982. The major criterion for the award is continuous demonstrated excellence over a number of years in service to the broad public health community.


Barr Award 

Traci Baird

Traci Baird

Traci L. Baird, MPH, is the 2024 Barr awardee.

Baird is a 1995 Master of Public Health alumna in health behavior and health education, and she is currently the president and CEO of EngenderHealth, a leading global women’s health and sexual and reproductive rights organization.

Baird is an experienced leader in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights, having served in leadership roles in domestic and international organizations, and having catalyzed cross-organization initiatives designed to address the key challenges and opportunities in global health. She also serves as a mentor to former and current public health students at the Gillings School and at other universities, including at Tulane University, where she is an adjunct instructor in the Department of International Health and Sustainable Development at the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

She has demonstrated global health technical expertise and has published articles in multiple public health and medical journals, including The Lancet Global Health and BMJ. According to one nominator, her impact can be seen in the global sexual and reproductive health and rights arena through her multiple policy and programmatic innovations over the last 25 years, as well as the high regard in which she is held by colleague organizations, donors, local and international organizations, and by government officials throughout the African and Asian countries where she has worked.

“Traci’s entire career has been shaped by her passion and commitment to advancing the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls nationally and internationally – ensuring access to and choice of contraceptives, safe and legal abortion, and adolescent sexuality education, as well as the critical importance of gender equality,” the nominator wrote. “Traci is one of the most talented leaders I have ever met, bringing outstanding vision and the ability to create and implement organizational strategic plans, ensure strong financial planning and implementation, achieve impressive results, serve as a highly effective fundraiser, and an admired partner with organizations at all levels – local, national and global.”

“Beyond her accomplishments, Traci has a wonderful way of bringing out the best in all of us,” wrote another nominator. “She does this by always being optimistic about the possibility of change, by not being afraid to ask difficult questions even if the responses demand radical change, and also by making herself available to support, counsel and work with other leaders across the organization. In the last 30 years, one of the highlights of my career has been working with Traci, being inspired by her and learning to keep pushing my boundaries. Everything Traci does exemplifies the core ideals of the Barr award: commitment and service to public health, impact within the practice area, and outstanding service beyond the requirements of one’s employment.”

Established in 1975, the Harriet Hylton Barr Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes the achievements of alumni and their contributions to public health. Each year, it honors a deserving graduate of the School working full-time in public health or in a related field. The award carries the name of its 1980 recipient, the late Harriet Hylton Barr, who earned a Master of Public Health degree from the Gillings School in 1948 and dedicated 28 years of service to the School as an association professor of health behavior and the first director of alumni affairs.

Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at sphcomm@unc.edu.

Visit our communications and marketing team page.
Contact sphcomm@unc.edu with any media inquiries or general questions.

Communications and Marketing Office
125 Rosenau Hall
CB #7400
135 Dauer Drive
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7400