Public health is a full circle

The Gillings School’s vice dean believes that public health is more than just a profession — it’s a lifelong commitment.

Public health is actually giving people tools to be able to care for themselves and their families


Taya Jackson Scott, EdD, has taken many paths in a career that led her to the Gillings School, and each part of the journey has been driven by a deeply rooted commitment to family and community.

“It’s critical for me,” she said. “I don’t do things for other people that I wouldn’t also do for my family.”

Experiences with her neighborhood, her church, her mother and her grandfather — who lived to age 101 — have instilled her with a curiosity to understand the intricacies of community health, especially in Black communities. What makes them resilient? What inequities do they face, and how can they be resolved?

Outreach has been at the heart of Jackson Scott’s roles. On the advice of her mother, she has endeavored not to do things by halves. She has worked in finance, organizational strategy, career development, marketing and administration to understand how all of these aspects work together to affect cultural change in higher education and health care.

Many of her outreach efforts have come in partnership with her family. To contribute to workforce development, she and her husband co-founded the GIA Community Development Corporation — a nonprofit organization that connects youth to skill and career-building opportunities. Jackson Scott also works with her sister, Karen Scott, MD, in the mentorship of women in traditionally underrepresented communities, connecting them with educational opportunities needed to build skills, cultivate self-awareness and shape future careers.

Her belief that education is the great equalizer has now brought her to the Gillings School, where she uses business modeling and operational excellence strategies as part of a collective effort to advance public health initiatives. Jackson Scott embraces public health 3.0 — a modern concept of public health infrastructure that takes a holistic view on the aspects of a community that contribute to overall health and well-being.

“You can tell a person how to eat right or what they need to do for their health. But they may be hungry, or they may not have a job,” she explained. “Solving that bigger-picture challenge is one of the great things about some of the public health programs that I’ve seen.”

Since coming to Gillings, she has drawn inspiration every day from the work of students, faculty and staff and how it touches the lives of those affected by health inequities.

“Public health is really that full circle,” she says. “It’s not just what we say: ‘from global to local.’ It’s actually giving people tools to be able to care for themselves and their families.”


Facilities team makes Gillings campus safe

For nearly two decades, Facilities Manager Brent Wishart has been a major influence in the Gillings School’s growth — literally.

Every day provides an opportunity to help ensure important research and learning is advanced at the School.


From overseeing small and large renovation and construction projects, to facilitating the move of more than 200 faculty and staff to new offices, to dealing with daily facilities issues like events planning and parking logistics, to implementing COVID-19 safety measures, Wishart’s work spans all departments of the School.

“The best part of working at Gillings is the great people who work as a team. No matter your department or whether you’re faculty, staff or student, we’re all working toward the same goal of creating a thriving environment for learning,” says Wishart, who began working at the School’s facilities office in 2002. “I have a great facilities group that makes the School inviting, and we are lucky to have a part to play in facilitating so many of the achievements that come out of the Gillings School.” 

While growing up in Lumberton, N.C., Wishart often came to Chapel Hill for football and basketball games. Working on campus now, he enjoys the excitement of each new semester and the constant opportunity to work with new people on projects and events — whether it’s a student career fair or a food truck rodeo to celebrate the last day of class.

“There is no such thing as a typical day,” Wishart says. “Every day provides an opportunity to help ensure important research and learning is advanced at the School.”

With that in mind, Wishart and his team, which includes Facilities Coordinator Julie McManus and Facilities Assistant David King, execute facility changes — for example, dealing with scheduling challenges posed by a $10-million lab upgrade or implementing noise and dust abatement strategies due to an auditorium renovation — in a way that prioritizes the School’s learning and research missions. “These types of facility issues intersect with busy classrooms, student study needs, research and work spaces,” Wishart says, “so we use planning and project management to help connect all of these parts so that our operations can run as smoothly as possible.”

In recognition of his work, Wishart received the School’s Staff Excellence Award in 2008, with colleagues praising his helpfulness, calm demeanor and good humor. In addition to his full-time job, Wishart recently earned a master’s degree in project management. His thesis project: writing a manual for project management at the Gillings School.

“Brent is our resident superhero. He quietly handles a huge array of facilities issues, including many that are stressful for those involved, and I have yet to see him respond with anything other than calm efficiency and a dry wit,” McManus says. “Taking care of the Gillings campus, its students, faculty and staff comes very naturally to him — and he inspires it in others as well.”