April 21, 2021

Students at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health voted last month to select the School’s most innovative classroom teachers.

First presented in February 2012, the Teaching Excellence and Innovation Awards honor faculty members who students feel “improve the learning environment at the Gillings School by integrating new technologies, engaging students in interactive activities, employing creative assessment methods, and introducing and incorporating progressive curriculum ideas into the classroom.”

A $500 prize is intended to help the teachers’ educational development in teaching and learning.

The 2021 award winners are Michael Love, PhD, assistant professor of biostatistics and genetics; Courtney Woods, PhD, assistant professor of environmental sciences and engineering (ESE) and ESE program director for the Master of Public Health (MPH) program; Christy Avery, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology; Liz Chen, PhD, assistant professor of health behavior (HB) and HB concentration lead for the MPH program; Cleo Samuel-Ryals, PhD, associate professor of health policy and management; W. Oscar Fleming, DrPH, assistant professor of maternal and child health and adjunct assistant professor in the Public Health Leadership Program (PHLP); and Tamarie Macon, PhD, assistant professor in the PHLP’s Asheville MPH program.

In their nomination letters, students shared high praise for the achievements and influence that these instructors had on their learning experiences.

Dr. Michael Love

Dr. Michael Love

Michael Love, PhD

“It is really a privilege to receive instruction under Dr. Love. While he is the expert in his field, he can convey the information to those of us who are relatively new to the field in a manner that makes us feel engaged and intelligent. He is enthusiastic about everything and anything he teaches, and this enthusiasm promotes discussion and diversity of ideas in the classroom. You would never know that we are attending a Zoom class – everyone actually wants to keep their cameras on during his lecture!”


Dr. Courtney Woods

Dr. Courtney Woods

Courtney Woods, PhD

“I’m taking ENV 784 with Dr. Woods, and she has organized the course so well, both overall and as an all-virtual course. She has very clear expectations, the assignments are really helpful and make sense – especially the annotated bibliographies that we write on the readings before some of the class meetings, which help me get so much more out of the readings. I know they will be a wonderful resource for me to go back to after the class is finished.

“She is also clearly passionate about the subject (environmental justice and research with communities) and dedicated to passing on not only her knowledge but also her commitment to the work, while at the same time communicating her openness to learning from her students, which creates a sense of mutual respect and caring in the class, even though we have never actually been together in person. I am very impressed, and I wish all my professors put so much into crafting a class that I can get so much out of. If I ever teach in the future, I will definitely use her example.”


Dr. Christy Avery

Dr. Christy Avery

Christy Avery, PhD

“Dr. Avery has led a sustained effort to revamp epidemiologic training to more accurately define and measure race and racism. Although race and racism were not core parts of her scholarship, she sought out opportunities to learn more and encouraged students, faculty and staff in epidemiology to join her. She has supported and led training in anti-racist science and is an advocate of improving diversity in science and her field of genetic epidemiology. I have been inspired by her mentorship, teaching and leadership.”


Dr. Liz Chen

Dr. Liz Chen

Liz Chen, PhD

“Dr. Chen absolutely embodies the nominating criteria. Her experience launching an educational app-based startup is a truly inspiring story of bringing academic expertise to real users in a humbling, creative and committed way.

“Moreover, she brought this creativity into the classroom. Dr. Chen very strategically planned engagement opportunities in HB 772. She hosted several professional panels and guest speakers to bring in a variety of perspectives and make the course structure dynamic, and she created intentional breakout/small group activities for nearly every class session, often utilizing tools like Jam Board and other interactive technologies.

“Finally, Dr. Chen has student success and growth at the forefront. She was flexible in accommodating student needs for deadlines to make sure that we are prioritizing our well-being while still being able to produce quality work. She and her co-teacher in HB 772 always provided detailed feedback on our assignments and work. Most importantly on this front, she accepted feedback and responded to it, providing a model to us as students for professional development.

“For all these reasons, I highly endorse Dr. Chen for this award and think she is highly deserving of recognition.”


Dr. Cleo Samuel-Ryals

Dr. Cleo Samuel-Ryals

Cleo Samuel-Ryals, PhD

“I cannot think of a more deserving faculty member for this recognition than Dr. Samuel-Ryals. First, Dr. Samuel-Ryals taught the most memorable class I’ve ever taken throughout my academic career. It was clear how prepared Dr. Samuel-Ryals was during each 3-hour session – no two classes were the exact same, and she took care to be sure to mix up the lecture with other activities. She often employed creative learning methods, such as using a monopoly board as a pedagogical activity with many pieces already ‘on the board’ to facilitate discussion on race and racism.

“She also is an excellent mentor outside of the classroom, often going above and beyond to connect students to future opportunities for growth.

After the events of this past summer, there has been an overdue renewed interest on structural and systematic racial disparities— but Dr. Samuel-Ryals has long dedicated her research, teaching and mentoring to combat such inequities.”


Dr. Oscar Fleming

Dr. Oscar Fleming

Oscar Fleming, DrPH

“I wanted to nominate Dr. Fleming for the Teaching Excellence and Innovation Award because of his unique ability to integrate and elevate community voices, create an inclusive and reflective environment, and candidness about his own shortcomings and mistakes in practice.

“Many of us have recently reflected on race and privilege following tragic events in our county. Dr. Fleming not only took the time to acknowledge his own positionality in this moment but made space for others to voice their feelings and experiences personally and professionally. He exemplifies teaching excellence by being a good example of how we can be more intentional in the communities we practice in. He encouraged us to consider how our race, educational attainment and even our choice of words can impact our ability to communicate with and work in different communities. Rather than regularly sharing his wealth of experience in a traditional lecture format, Dr. Fleming made a very intentional effort to integrate and elevate community voices. In one instance, he invited a colleague from the Durham County Health Department as well as multiple Community Health Advisors (residents of a local housing authority community) to speak to our class. Most guest speakers invited to speak in classes or during University events hold advanced degrees or training. Dr. Fleming made space for more ‘untraditional’ guests to speak about their experiences and perspectives and made it a point to genuinely elevate their voices.

“In striving to be a more socially and culturally aware public health professional, I found Dr. Fleming’s ability to acknowledge his mistakes in practice and provide helpful feedback on how to personally improve extremely helpful. He consistently emphasized the importance of using our professional training to elevate community voices rather than promote ourselves. This perspective was refreshing, candid and necessary, especially in this historic moment where equity has become a public health and social priority.

“Most notably, Dr. Fleming took the time to constantly integrate the challenging environments we work in and will continue to face as we move forward in our careers. He took the time to publicly reflect on what it means to be a white man in public health and the weight of privilege in his career. Additionally, rather than memorization and traditional testing, he offered opportunities to reflect on what mattered most to us individually and how to integrate implementation science into practice. He was incredibly thoughtful and thorough in his feedback, truly taking the time to give specific advice, praise and constructive criticism.

“Finally, Dr. Fleming continued to hold in-person instruction for the few of us who learned better in an in-person environment (hybrid course). Whether it was one or five students each day, he showed up for us. During an indescribably challenging semester for many, he showed up with a smile and a genuine enthusiasm to teach and learn from others.

“Dr. Fleming’s ability to integrate and elevate community voices, create an inclusive and reflective environment, and be candid about his own shortcomings and mistakes in practice truly makes him an exceptional instructor. He constantly provided opportunities for feedback on the course and assignments and went out of his way to be available to students, even after the course ended.”


Dr. Tamarie Macon

Dr. Tamarie Macon

Tamarie Macon, PhD

“Dr. Macon adapted with innovated technology to the pandemic-forced online teaching method. But what I love and value about Dr. Macon is how she started each class with a breathing or guided meditation technique. It was what we needed, and I love that she took our health and souls to heart during this hard time. She often asks us to check in with our bodies and makes space for us to virtually be present with each other.”


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