April 30, 2015
For 10 years, students of the UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health have been building research-based bridges between the School and Durham-based non-governmental organization (NGO) FHI 360.
These students, known as FHI 360-UNC Global Health Research Fellows, have the opportunity to work directly with world-renowned researchers on real-world projects in the global health arena. FHI 360 has over 40 country offices in Africa and Asia, and offers the fellows hands-on learning experiences in exchange for research support.
Former fellows have conducted research on pregnancy, microbicides and HIV/AIDS, published peer-reviewed articles, presented at international conferences, managed research grants and traveled to participate in studies in South Africa and Rwanda.
Gretchen Van Vliet, MPH, was the director of the Gillings School’s Office of Global Health when the fellowship commenced. Now she works as the director of business development at FHI 360.
“The fellows work on everything,” she said, “They do grant proposals, protocol development, data analysis, paper writing, dissemination activities – anything you can identify that takes public health research from concept inception to impact in the field.”
In exchange for working at FHI 360 for 20 hours per week, the fellows receive support for in-state tuition, university fees and health insurance, as well as a competitive stipend. They may also choose to work on a research project that will provide the basis for a dissertation or master’s thesis, or fulfill practicum requirements.
This entire body of learning and accomplishments has grown from a partnership between FHI 360 and the Gillings Global GatewayTM (then known as the Office of Global Health).
Ward Cates, MD, distinguished scientist and president emeritus at FHI 360, brought the idea of the fellowship to the Gillings School 10 years ago.
“We had long recognized and drawn on the immense degree of talent right down the road at UNC-Chapel Hill,” he said. “The fellowship program began when we started thinking about how to best formalize that relationship and involve students in work that would be of real benefit to both parties. The first year, we got two wonderful students. Since then, the program has continued to bring FHI 360 an infusion of bright, energetic, questioning individuals with wonderful data analytic methods and writing abilities.”
Peggy Bentley, PhD, Carla Smith Chamblee Distinguished Professor of nutrition, associate dean for global health and associate director for the Institute for Global Health & Infectious Disease, also described the ongoing relationship as mutually beneficial.
“The learning goes both ways,” she said. “Our student have opportunities to really develop their skills, experience the excitement of working with a stellar international NGO and receive mentoring that last for a lifetime. FHI 360 receives the benefit of having the best of our very best students supporting their researchers for a year.”
There are now 23 fellows who have completed the program, and three more have been selected for the 2015 to 2016 academic year.
“I have served as a fellowship applicant reviewer every year since the program’s inception, first on the UNC side and then on the FHI 360 side,” Van Vliet shared. “The one constant, which has always amazed me, is that the student applicants seem to get stronger every year.”
Previous fellows have gone on to teach and research at the Gillings School and several other universities, to work at FHI 360 and other, often international, NGOs. One former fellow works at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; another is a policy analyst in Washington, D.C.
The bulk of the former fellows still mention their mentors from FHI 360 as being their “go-tos” for advice on career advancement and research quandaries.
“When the fellows are selected each year, our staff compete to get matched with them,” explained Cates. “They offer their most exciting projects, the ones with real room for increased scientific productivity, and the fellows choose a focus from that menu of opportunities.”
“This fellowship will go down as a legacy in the history of the Gillings School, and hopefully for FHI 360 as well,” Bentley added. “We are so proud of the students’ achievements in the field of public health and so thankful to have the support of FHI 360. We hope to sustain this partnership for another 10 years, or forever! Both global and local health issues need this kind of collaborative research now more than ever.”
The 26 former, current and incoming Global Health Research Fellows are:
- Sara Forhan (2006-2007)
- Katie Kurkjian (2006-2007)
- Kerry Brewer (2009-2010)
- Juliana Thornton (2009-2010)
- Kumi Smith (2010-2011)
- Siobhan Young (2010-2011)