April 22, 2021
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 2021 winners are George Pink, PhD, Humana Distinguished Professor of health policy and management (for the Larsh Award); Meghan Shanahan, PhD, assistant professor of maternal and child health (for the McGavran Award); Catherine Sullivan, MPH, assistant professor of maternal and child health and director of the Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute, and Stephanie Wheeler, PhD, professor of health policy and management (for the Greenberg Award); and Leandris Liburd, PhD, 1982 alumna of the Master of Public Health program in health behavior and associate director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Office of Minority Health and Health Equity (for the Barr Award).
George Pink, PhD, is the winner of the 2021 Larsh Award.
In addition to teaching in the Department of Health Policy and Management, Pink is a senior research fellow at UNC’s Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research and deputy director of the NC Rural Health Research Program. He teaches courses in health care finance and is involved in several research projects funded by the federal Office of Rural Health Policy.
Pink has an undergraduate degree in marketing, a Master of Health Services Administration and a doctoral degree in corporate finance. Prior to earning his doctoral degree, he spent ten years in health services management, planning and consulting. Over the past 30 years, Pink has served on more than 100 boards and committees of hospitals and other health care organizations. He is also a member of the Board of Piedmont Health Service, a large community health center that provides primary health care to residents of five largely rural counties in North Carolina.
Throughout his career, he has mentored over 30 master’s and doctoral students in health policy and management, both at UNC and at other institutions, and he displays a tireless commitment to foster growth in every student he teaches.
In a nomination letter, one former student wrote: “In my opinion, what sets Dr. Pink apart from other candidates is his long track record of going above and beyond to help (current and former) students – not for personal gain but just because he likes to help, which is what I think mentorship is all about. Due in large part to the passion and curiosity for health services research that Dr. Pink instilled in me, I am planning to apply to doctoral programs next fall and am excited to continue my career in this direction.”
“When I think of what servant leadership should look like, I think of George Pink,” wrote another nominator. “With decades of experience and a lifetime commitment to educating and developing the next generation of leaders, I would say he has been successful. I am a proud student of Professor Pink. He made finance – which is often daunting – fun and easy to learn. He made us think beyond the numbers to the story behind them and the impact we can make by being knowledgeable in this area.”
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 $4,000 prize may be used in any way that enhances the faculty member’s ability to mentor and support students.
Meghan Shanahan, PhD, is the winner of the 2021 McGavran Award.
In addition to teaching in the Department of Maternal and Child Health, Shanahan is a research scientist at the UNC Injury Prevention Research Center. She holds an undergraduate degree in biology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s and doctoral degree in maternal and child health (MCH) from the Gillings School.
In her research, she seeks ways to improve the health and developmental trajectories of children, with a focus on adverse events that potentially influence these trajectories and prevent children from realizing their full potential. Examining prevention strategies to reduce child abuse and neglect has become another focal point of her research, and she has evaluated prevention strategies at both the family and the policy level in N.C. Shanahan is also interested in examining the impact of prescription and illicit opioid use on parenting and, subsequently, child development, as well as the effects of experiencing intimate partner violence. She is also committed to translating research into tangible products and policies that have an impact on children and families.
Through teaching and leadership, Shanahan plays a key role in shaping education in maternal and child health at the Gillings School. She revised part of the core curriculum for the Master of Public Health (MPH) degree’s MCH concentration to avoid duplication of core content and to enhance race-related equity issues in course content. She serves on the MPH steering committee and contributed to the development of the MPH comprehensive exam format. She also chairs the Maternal, Child and Family Health program’s admissions committee.
One nominator wrote that, in her teaching of the “Foundations of Maternal and Child Health” course, she has “transformed it into an extremely well-received introduction to MCH issues. In addition to assuring a deeper dive into MCH content, Meghan quite systematically addresses the historical and structural causes that contribute to the many unfortunate but well-documented racial disparities among the MCH population. Meghan is also mindful of the fact that students learn most effectively in different ways, and she addresses that reality by offering a variety of modes of instruction and activities in her class. In short, she is a champion of equity in teaching.”
“Meghan is not only an exceptional classroom instructor, but she also excels as a mentor,” said another nominator. “She is accessible, welcoming and productive. She has served as a primary advisor for 12 graduated master’s students in the past five years and led a successful doctoral dissertation. Meghan has also served on 10 other dissertation committees, as well as numerous MCH curriculum committees. She is generous in collaborating with students, as indicated by her 23 publications that were led by student authors whom she mentored.”
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. The $1,000 prize may be used in any way that enhances the recipient’s ability to teach and support students.
Catherine Sullivan, MPH, and Stephanie Wheeler, PhD, were selected as recipients of the 2021 Greenberg Award. This is the first year that two recipients have been selected since the award’s establishment.
Catherine Sullivan is director and assistant professor at the Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute (CGBI) in the Department of Maternal and Child Health. She holds an undergraduate degree in dietetics from East Carolina University and a Master of Public Health in nutrition from the Gillings School. She is a registered and licensed dietitian and an international board-certified lactation consultant. She is a recognized Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In her career, she has 24 years of experience in the fields of nutrition and lactation, including service as state breastfeeding coordinator for the N.C. Division of Public Health.
At CGBI, she leads program efforts in the areas of breastfeeding-friendly health care, child care, communities and lactation training. She serves as principal investigator for The Duke Endowment’s ENRICH Carolinas Project and Co-PI on the core leadership team of CDC’s EMPower Best Practices initiative. She is also the principal investigator for the R.I.S.E.: Lactation Training Model (Reclaiming Improving and Sustaining Equity) funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
Additionally, Catherine serves as faculty and course coordinator for the Mary Rose Tully Training Initiative – an MHC-based nationally accredited lactation consultant training program that sees consistently high levels of enrollment. It was the first program of its kind to be accredited, which occurred under Sullivan’s leadership.
“I am glad to have Catherine as a colleague,” wrote one nominator. “She brings a passion for this work and is so approachable and generous with her knowledge and time. While I am impressed, I am not surprised by her accomplishments thus far. I have no doubt she will continue to make meaningful contributions and to lift others up to increase the impact of her work into the future. It is my great pleasure to endorse Catherine for this award in recognition of what she has done for infants and their families.”
Stephanie Wheeler teaches in the Department of Health Policy and Management and directs the Office of Community Outreach and Engagement within the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. She holds undergraduate degrees in biology and theater and a Master of Public Health. She also received her doctoral degree in health policy and management (HPM) from the Gillings School.
Wheeler is a health services researcher and decision scientist focused on quantifying the social, behavioral, clinical and organizational factors that affect health care access, quality, value and equity. In her portfolio of work, she investigates issues of cancer disparities, screening and treatment for breast and colorectal cancer, financial toxicity of cancer care and dissemination and implementation of cancer care innovations.
She has been prolific in areas of research, teaching, leadership, service and mentorship and has earned numerous honors for her work. She currently serves on boards and committees for the National Cancer Institute, AcademyHealth, the American Cancer Society, the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology, the American Association for Cancer Research and the CDC.
Of her work with Lineberger’s Office of Community Outreach and Engagement, one nominator wrote, “She built this office and a cutting-edge program from scratch. She hired a diverse and talented team who worked to convene a new external advisory board that guides our cancer control efforts at Lineberger. She has advocated for a strong role of patient and community voices for our cancer prevention and efforts. She also has been a powerful ally with a strong anti-racist perspective and is helping her department and the cancer center become a more inclusive and equitable setting for people of color. Her work in addressing financial toxicity has put a spotlight on the heavy burden faced by lower-income cancer survivors – many of whom go bankrupt and have their lives upended by a cancer diagnosis. She is not simply documenting the problem, but she is also working on a financial navigation program to solve it.”
Wheeler has directly mentored more than 50 master’s and doctoral students, as well as hundreds of others in her highly sought-after classroom instruction in advanced research methods.
“Dr. Wheeler is incredibly intelligent, highly motivated and mathematically gifted; her work over the next decade with big data will lead this state and the nation to understand the impact of cancer on those in poverty,” wrote another nominator. “She is an academic with boundless impact and a temperament and communication style that is the envy of not only her peers but her elders.”
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.
Leandris Liburd, PhD, MPH, is the 2021 Barr awardee.
Dr. Liburd graduated from the Gillings School in 1982 with a Master of Public Health in health behavior. She also holds an undergraduate degree in urban community studies and health, a master’s degree in cultural anthropology and a doctoral degree in medical anthropology.
She currently serves as the CDC’s associate director for minority health and health equity, where she leads and directs the development and implementation of a comprehensive health equity program that strengthens CDC’s effectiveness in protecting the health, safety and security of diverse communities vulnerable to largely preventable disease, injury and premature death. She oversees the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity, the CDC’s Office of Women’s Health and the agency’s Diversity and Inclusion Management program.
Dr. Liburd also serves as policy advisor to the CDC Director, serves on senior-level committees, and provides leadership and consultation to CDC’s centers, institute and offices to ensure health effects on women and minority populations, and the elimination of health disparities are considered in all agency initiatives, policy proposals, strategies, communications and ongoing institutional practices.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Liburd was named chief health equity officer for the CDC COVID-19 response. This was the first time in the agency’s history that a senior leader was assigned to the Incident Management Structure to lead an all-of-response strategy for addressing health disparities. Most recently, Dr. Liburd was a part of a CDC brief to President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Vice President Kamala Harris on the agency’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to ensure equity in public health outreach.
In her career, which has spanned decades, Dr. Liburd has led efforts across the nation to understand the drivers of health disparities and the importance of community engagement. After graduation from the Gillings School, she served as a health educator for a Federally Qualified Health Center serving two rural counties in Virginia.
As one nominator wrote, “the training and fieldwork experience she received as a student effectively prepared her to launch, implement and evaluate award-winning community health education programs. Her time implementing public health education programs in these rural communities sealed her passion for public health that, to this day, has not waned.”
Dr. Liburd began working at CDC in 1987 as a public health educator in what is now known as the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP). She has worked at local, state and federal levels to develop public health programs and policies. In her role as Chief of the Community Health and Equity Branch within the former Division of Adult and Community Health, she advanced the Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) program with the aim of reducing disparities in communities of color across the U.S.
“Dr. Liburd’s service goes far beyond the requirements of her employment,” said another nominator. “Long after the projects she has worked on finish, she maintains connections with these communities. Through her presence, accessibility and relationships, she helps communities better understand what public health means to them. She continues to help arm them with the confidence to advocate and engage on behalf of their community when she is not around. She is diligent in conveying that the community health work from her past was not just a requirement of her job. She demonstrates daily that effective public health professionals are often driven by so much more than the job assignment.”
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 associate professor of health behavior and the first director of alumni affairs.
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