UNC Alumni Association honors Earp and Cohen for service

January 20, 2015

Dr. Mike Cohen

Dr. Mike Cohen

Dr. Jo Anne Earp

Dr. Jo Anne Earp

Two of three University of North Carolina faculty members selected for service awards by the UNC General Alumni Association are researchers at the Gillings School of Global Public Health.

The UNC Faculty Service Awards were presented to Jo Anne Earp, ScD, professor and former chair of health behavior, and Myron Cohen, MD, professor of epidemiology at the Gillings School and Yeargan-Bate Eminent Distinguished Professor of medicine, microbiology and immunology in the UNC School of Medicine, where he chairs the division of infectious disease and serves as associate vice chancellor for global health.

The award, established in 1990, honors faculty members who have performed outstanding service for the University or the alumni association.

Dr. Mike Cohen

Cohen joined the UNC faculty in 1980. Since then, his achievements in HIV/AIDS research have been legendary. His infectious-disease group has achieved a top-10 ranking among AIDS programs. He has led the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases since its founding in 2007, and his team’s funding has grown to hundreds of millions of dollars to support trials in 10 countries.

He has received a lifetime achievement award from the American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association, the National Institutes of Health Merit Award, the North Carolina Award for Science and UNC’s O. Max Gardner Award, presented annually to a faculty member who “has made the greatest contribution to the welfare of the human race” in that academic year.

In 2011, Science magazine credited Cohen and his researchers with the “Breakthrough of the Year” for clinical trials showing that treating HIV-1 with aggressive antiretroviral therapy reduced transmission to uninfected partners to almost zero. The results prompted the World Health Organization to change its treatment guidelines and raised hopes among medical researchers of one day vanquishing the deadly virus altogether.

Dr. Jo Anne Earp

Earp joined the faculty in 1974 and is professor and former chair of health behavior at the Gillings School. She also is on the faculty of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Sheps Health Services Research Center and the Odum Institute for Research in the Social Sciences.

A primary focus of Earp’s research has been to end racial disparities in health-care treatment and outcomes, including in HIV/AIDS and breast cancer. An innovator of the lay health adviser approach now used across the country, Earp founded the N.C. Breast Cancer Screening Program, which brought screening to more older black women in poor, rural counties in the state, enabling them to begin treatment sooner, as their white counterparts already had experienced, and helped reduce their mortality rate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health have lauded Earp’s research approach as highly effective.

Earp also is a noted mentor to hundreds of graduate students, helping launch their own research careers. Among her many awards for teaching, mentoring and research, she has received the National Cancer Institute’s Research-Tested Intervention Program (RTIP) designation, the Gillings School’s McGavran Award for Excellence in Teaching and its John E. Larsh Jr. Award for Mentorship, the Cecil G. Sheps Distinguished Investigator Award, and the Women’s Leadership Council Mentoring Award.

Barbara K. Rimer, DrPH, dean and Alumni Distinguished Professor at the Gillings School, said she could not be more proud of the two faculty awardees.

“Because of Dr. Earp and her colleagues, women in Eastern N.C., who so often had been left behind, obtained mammograms at rates similar to white women,” Rimer said. “This earlier screening significantly decreased breast cancer mortality in black women.”

Rimer said that Earp, regarded as a prodigious, dedicated teacher and mentor, “was known for using “a never-ending supply of purple pens” in a relentless effort to improve students’ and colleagues’ writing.

“Dr. Earp has helped to make the Department of Health Behavior, the School and UNC-Chapel Hill not just more excellent academically but also more just and caring,” Rimer said.

Of Cohen, Rimer noted that he led a team that accomplished the unimaginable – proving that AIDS was not invincible and that treatment itself could prevent the disease.

“That changed everything,” Rimer said. “Science usually advances slowly, but Dr. Cohen and his team changed that also. Mike is a brilliant, charismatic physician scientist with the enviable audacity to believe that the impossible is indeed possible – and he proved it.”

Cohen and Earp were honored at a General Alumni Association board meeting and dinner on Jan. 16 at the George Watts Hill Alumni Center, along with a third awardee, Bland Simpson, Kenan Distinguished Professor of English and creative writing.

Previous winners of the award include Earp’s husband, H. Shelton Earp III, MD, Lineberger Professor of Cancer Research, director of UNC Cancer Care and professor of medicine and pharmacology at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, who was honored in 2010.


Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or dpesci@unc.edu.

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