August 10, 2022

The 2022 Aspen Ideas: Health Fellows are a diverse group of health leaders from more than 25 states in the United States and five other countries who were selected for their work, accomplishments and ability to transform ideas into action.

Naya Villarreal

Naya Villarreal

Naya Villarreal, MPH — global health associate director for Research, Innovation and Global Solutions and adjunct assistant professor of health behavior at the UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health — was part of the prestigious cohort.

“This was such a good networking opportunity,” she said. “There were 60 fellows in total, and I got to speak with someone in health communications, a chief resident of a hospital and another public health faculty member. I even ran into a Gillings health behavior alum! My experience matched the theme of the event — innovation and health kept connecting.”

Villarreal was nominated by Leah McCall Devlin, DDS, professor of the practice of health policy and management at the Gillings School and chair of the CDC Foundation’s Board of Directors.

Aspen Ideas: Health took place June 22-25 in Aspen, Colorado. The event convened a global community of researchers, business leaders, practitioners, policymakers, advocates, artists and journalists. As with all Aspen Institute festivals, the goal of the gathering was to inspire and improve actions taken in the real world.

From left to right: Dr. Leah Devlin, Naya Villarreal and Mary Willoughby pose by the Aspen Ideas sign.

From left to right: Dr. Leah Devlin, Naya Villarreal and Mary Willoughby pose by the Aspen Ideas sign.

“One of my favorite moments was when I met Maria Shriver,” Villarreal shared. “The speakers were all amazing, but it meant a lot to speak to her face-to-face, especially since I am from California and she’s my former First Lady as well as the founder of the Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement. The Supreme Court decision about the right to abortion came out during the festival, and she and others were so committed to addressing the topic head-on. The event planners really met the moment and changed the day’s schedule so all participants could attend a panel of experts on women’s health and health law.”

Villarreal left the event intent on learning more about local public health issues.

“I always say that ‘local is global,’ and this event drove that point home,” she said. “I largely focus on trends in global health, but everything our School community does in North Carolina is linked to what we do around the globe, and vice versa. There are so many amazing people working to improve health around the world, and what happens in Chapel Hill can absolutely improve care on another continent.”

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