From its earliest days and in the midst of World War II, the Gillings School built partnerships in nearby communities – and across the world – in support of critical public-health research, practice and student learning.

Some are longstanding research and education agreements with other universities, community engagement, and training relationships with health providers. More are within specific departments or linked to individual faculty members. Yet others involve special research collaborations. While the collaborations have grown too numerous to detail each one here, they are all an important part of what makes Gillings a unique, collaborative environment for advancing the field of public health.

One of the Gillings School’s greatest strengths is that collaboration is at the heart of its culture. The meaningful partnerships and relationships that Gillings has built over the years continue to expand the School’s reach around the world and train the next generation of public health researchers and practitioners.

Peggy Bentley, PhD, former Carla Smith Chamblee Distinguished Professor of Nutrition and associate dean for global health, was a key force behind many of the partnerships that give students the opportunity to practice public health in a real-world environment. “It is really important for our students to get that practical experience,” said Naya Villarreal, MPH, Gillings global health associate director of research, innovation and global solutions. “We are so grateful for Peggy’s vision and these partnerships that are helping us train the next generation of public health workers.” FHI 360 – a nonprofit human development organization headquartered in Durham, with a presence in the United States and more than 60 countries – has a longtime relationship with UNC as it spun out of the Carolina Population Center nearly half a century ago. Over the past 16 years, the Gillings School has enjoyed a strong partnership with FHI 360 that spans many areas, from longtime research collaborations with faculty to sponsoring the annual Water and Health Conference. One of the hallmarks of this partnership is the FHI 360-UNC Global Health Research Fellowships, which have benefited 39 Gillings students with tuition and stipends, training, and mentorships since 2004. “We’ve always said the fellowship program is a ‘win-win-win,’” said FHI 360 Chief Science Officer Timothy Mastro, an adjunct epidemiology professor at Gillings and a global health physician. “It’s a win for FHI 360 to get two to three incredibly bright graduate students each year, it’s a win for Gillings because we pay for tuition which is a nice attractant when you’re recruiting students, and it’s a win for the students who do the program and get this wonderful mentoring experience.”

We’ve always said the fellowship program is a ‘win-win-win.

Thanks to the School’s 11-year relationship with global nonprofit IntraHealth International, which has worked in more than 100 countries to improve the performance of health workers and strengthen the systems in which they work, more than 40 graduate students have gained real-world experience while making an international impact as UNC-IntraHealth Summer Fellows. Fellows receive a $5,000 stipend to spend 10 weeks at the nonprofit’s Chapel Hill office, where they are fully integrated into the organization’s work – collaborating with staff, being guided by assigned mentors, and gaining practical experience. “The fellows always bring such valuable perspectives to their individual projects and to IntraHealth as a whole,” said Emily Kiser, MPH, a Gillings alumna who is now a strategy and development officer at IntraHealth. “Each year we look forward to the infusion they bring of enthusiasm and new ideas.”

The School’s partnership with RTI International focuses on accelerating innovative clinical and public health programs. In 2018, RTI and Gillings launched a $500,000 initiative, UNC Gillings-RTI Initiative to Maximize Partnerships and Catalyze Teamwork (IMPACT), and jointly seeded three research projects co-led by RTI researchers and Gillings faculty members, including Rebecca Fry, PhD, Carol Remmer Angle Distinguished Professor and director of the Gillings School’s Institute for Environmental Health Solutions; William Vizuete, PhD, associate professor; and Jill Stewart, PhD, Philip C. Singer Distinguished Professor and deputy director of the UNC Galapagos Initiative/Center for Galapagos Studies. As of the end of October, the combined active research portfolio of projects between UNC Gillings and RTI is more than $7 million. RTI also sponsors School events and hosts visiting scholars (8 since 2014) from Gillings, and public health students regularly intern there.

Gillings Professor of the Practice Leah Devlin, DDS, MPH, helped create and grow the partnership in 2012 as a faculty member and part-time consultant for RTI. “North Carolina is fortunate to have these two amazing institutions here who can have even greater impact in the world by working together on critically important public health issues,” she said. The number of RTI researchers on the School’s adjunct faculty has doubled since the partnership formed in 2012.

North Carolina is fortunate to have these two amazing institutions here who can have even greater impact in the world by working together on critically important public health issues.

Close working relationships with N.C. local public health departments, state agencies, nonprofits and other partners have helped connect Gillings staff, students and faculty to communities across the state. With a presence in all 100 counties, the North Carolina Institute for Public Health (NCIPH) has served as a bridge between academia and public health practice partners since 1999 – providing training, coaching, technical assistance with community health assessments and accreditations, facilitating discussions with other partners, and other forms of support. One example is the Institute’s work with healthcare providers, nonprofits, universities and others to address substance abuse in McDowell County, which has one of the highest rates of opioid use and overdose deaths in North Carolina. With funding from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, NCIPH staff, in partnership with Rural Forward North Carolina and the NC Center for Health & Wellness at UNC-Asheville, are working with the McDowell County Substance Misuse Workgroup to identify needs and behavioral health opportunities and to develop resources and training, to help respond to the recent surge of drug poisoning morbidity and mortality.“One entity can’t do it all, but if we work together, much can be accomplished,” said NCIPH Director Doug Urland, MPA, who was a local public health director for almost 25 years before taking NCIPH’s helm last year. “When we’re involved and engaged in working with communities, we want to help them build capacity so they can continue and sustain the work and have a lasting positive impact on health.” Farther from home, Gillings has longstanding research-based partnerships in Malawi, Zambia, Vietnam and China, as well as the Galapagos Islands, where students and faculty travel to work with local health partners and researchers from other institutions. The Gillings School is dedicated to having a global impact, and collaborative partnerships like these help to realize that commitment. They encourage innovative research and enhance educational experiences for Gillings students, while improving the health and well-being of people both in North Carolina and across the world.



School faculty begin serving as consultants to health agencies in developing countries.


School helps establish a Department of Health Education at the N.C. College for Negroes (NCC) in Durham.


The School’s first field training station is established at the Orange-Person-Chatham District Health Department.


Faculty members help create a sanitary engineering program at the National University of Engineering (UNI) in Lima, Peru.


The School works with the Peace Corps to create the Malawi Public Health Program.


The School collaborates with the Peace Corps to create the Malawi Public Health Program.


Expands work with voluntary health organizations, schools, local environmental agencies & corporations.


The School of Public Health Board of Advisors is created, including various civic and advocacy groups, voluntary health organizations, professional associations, & government agencies.


Gillings epidemiologists collaborate with Ulm University in Germany to create an International Summer School in Germany.


Gillings professor Thomas Ricketts initiates a partnership with the French national school of public health.


Gillings is designated a World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Center for Research Evidence for Sexual and Reproductive Health.


Gillings forges a research partnership with the University of Cambridge that builds on the two universities’ complementary strengths and promotes multidisciplinary collaborations to undertake innovative research.


The Water Institute at UNC is designated as a Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) Collaborating Center for Water and Sanitation.


Aditi Borde (MHA/MBA, 2020) and Jacqueline Gerhart, (PhD/MBA, 2021), won the 2020 World of Difference student pitch competition, which was held virtually due to COVID-19. Teams lead by Gillings students and alumni competed head-to-head for the chance to win cash and consulting support to bring their idea to life. Their winning proposal leverages a partnership with Walmart and Blue Cross Blue Shield NC to bring an incentivized lifestyle management program to diabetics in rural communities. The Convenient Access for Rural Diabetics (CARD) program will provide convenient, one-stop-shopping for key components of diabetes management — healthy foods, exercise, filling prescriptions, regular A1c testing, retinopathy screens and diabetes education.

Aditi Borde

Jacqueline Gerhart