Tar Heel Bus Tour marks 10 years of taking new faculty to North Carolina's people, places

May 02, 2007
School of Public Health participation common

How can a new faculty member at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, coming from states such as Michigan or California, best teach students from the Tar Heel state? And how can these newcomers get the background they need to conduct research and public service that serve the people of North Carolina – part of the university’s mission?

At Carolina, the answer is the Tar Heel Bus Tour, a five-day trip around the state each May on which professors become pupils of farmers, factory workers, military personnel, marine scientists and longtime citizens who tell them how Tar Heels tick.

The School of Public Health has been part of the tour since its inception in 1997, sending faculty members across the state and sharing School projects with tour participants.

Photograph of Dr. Kurt Ribisl

Photograph of Dr. Kurt Ribisl

Now, as the big classroom on wheels revs up for its 10th anniversary Tar Heel Bus Tour, tour alumni such as Kurt Ribisl, Ph.D., say the experience helped make them better teachers for North Carolina students and better researchers and public servants who are more likely to tackle the state’s needs.

After his bus tour in 2000, Ribisl, associate professor of health behavior and health education, received a Centers for Disease Control Foundation grant to fund his Eastern North Carolina Youth Empowerment Program. Conducted from 2000-2003, it identified 100 youth groups statewide that were asking their schools to become tobacco-free.

“We worked to help the students become more effective,” Ribisl said. He shared the findings with the state public health department and groups across the state that deal with tobacco and health issues. “The bus tour helped me get a better understanding at the grassroots level of the challenges they faced in tobacco communities,” he said.

Did it ever. At one stop, at a mountain health center, a doctor told his group about trying to persuade a youngster to stop chewing tobacco. Thinking that health arguments would not sway him, she said, “You’ll never find a girlfriend if you keep doing this.” He responded: “Well, my girlfriend, she dips, too.”

In the past 10 years, the 336 tour alumni have visited 70 towns and 51 counties and eaten 120 pounds of barbecue, toting booklets brimming with facts about every site and county visited.

Photograph of Barbara Jones talking about her role in the BEAUTY research study

Photograph of Barbara Jones talking about her role in the BEAUTY research study

In 2005, the bus stopped at the Unique Hair Salon in Burlington. Bus tour participants listened to owner Barbara Jones talk about her role in the BEAUTY research study – Bringing Education and Understanding to You – led by Dr. Laura Linnan, associate professor of health behavior and health education. The study tests the effectiveness of delivering health messages to North Carolinians in settings such as a beauty salon.

The 2006 tour included a stop at the Opportunities Industrialization Center in Rocky Mount to hear about the partnership between the center, the UNC Program of Ethnicity, Culture, and Health Outcomes (ECHO), and the UNC Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research. Tour members heard how UNC health affairs schools work with the center to provide HIV/AIDS awareness education, cancer screenings, health clinics and a mobile health center. Dr. Anissa Vines, research assistant professor of epidemiology and ECHO associate director, was one of several experts leading the discussion.

A special Web video to mark the 10th anniversary of the Tar Heel Bus Tour features interviews with several faculty members – including Ribisl – who say the tour has given them a perspective on North Carolina’s people and issues that has been helpful with their teaching, research and public service.


Video link: http://www.unc.edu/bustour/2007/video07-04.html

Tar Heel Bus Tour website: http://www.unc.edu/bustour/past.html

News Services contact: LJ Toler, (919) 962-8589.

School of Public Health contact: Ramona DuBose, (919) 966-7467 or ramona_dubose@unc.edu.