IMPACT, a quarterly newsletter from NCIPH
June 2017 UNC Gillings School of Public Health

Schenck Passes Baton to Wilfert as Search for Permanent NCIPH Director Moves Forward

By Todd Nicolet, PhD, Vice Dean, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health

Rachel Wilfert and Anna Schenck

Rachel Wilfert (left) takes over as NCIPH Interim Director as Anna Schenck (right) focuses on her other roles at UNC Gillings.

Director. Leader. Captain. Pacesetter. Supervisor. Pioneer. The role of director is no small task, but Anna Schenck gave a beautiful performance over the last six years as director of the North Carolina Institute for Public Health (NCIPH). She successfully shepherded NCIPH through an economic downturn, setting the organization on a successful path for the future while also building a strong staff and portfolio of high impact projects. While serving as NCIPH director, Schenck also held positions as director of the Public Health Leadership Program (PHLP) and as associate dean for practice here at UNC Gillings—quite the full plate of responsibilities for one mere human. Despite her many professional capacities, she performed each role well and with poise.

While everyone at NCIPH deeply appreciates her willingness and ability to lead and serve as director, the 2016 university-level review of NCIPH included a key recommendation that NCIPH have a full-time director, a recommendation that paralleled that of the PHLP program review in 2015 which indicated a full-time director would better position PHLP for the future. As NCIPH continues to expand its training and development programs, the demands placed upon the director were such that the need for someone dedicated to leading in a full-time capacity became apparent.

Following the review, a subsequent search process identified two very strong candidates, who, combined, possessed all the key qualities and experience that we had hoped to find in a director. Their differences, however, highlighted the challenges inherent to this position. The NCIPH director must serve as leader of an organization that bridges academic and practice settings, and it takes a unique skill set, like Schenck’s, to fill that role and excel in it.

Given Schenck’s many responsibilities and in recognition of the fact that search processes take time, we appointed training manager Rachel Wilfert as interim director of NCIPH, effective May 1. As part of the core management team for the organization since 2006, Wilfert develops and manages competency-based training programs for public health professionals with a particular focus on online learning programs and tools. “I’m honored to be filling Anna’s shoes as we search for a permanent director,” Wilfert said. “I’m looking forward to providing continuity for the organization’s work as we search for a new leader and colleague.”

This interim appointment allows NCIPH to stay strong while moving forward in its search for a full-time director, while also allowing Schenck to devote her energy to her director and associate dean roles. We welcome Wilfert into this role and look forward to her leadership as NCIPH grows its portfolio of training and development programs.

We are deeply grateful to Schenck for her leadership of NCIPH over the last six years, and we look forward to continuing our collaboration with her as associate dean for practice in strengthening NCIPH’s work to support public health practice.

Pair of NCIPH Programs Spark and Sustain Leadership at State and Local Levels

By Avia Mainor, MPH, Workforce Development Associate, NCIPH and Janet Suttie, MA, Project Director, NCIPH

Group photo of Cohort I members

2017 NC PHLI Cohort I and faculty embark on their year-long training program.

Leadership development is at the core of NCIPH’s mission to “deliver training, conduct research and provide technical assistance to transform the practice of public health for all.” Some of our core programs, particularly continuing education, began in the 1930s as a core function of public health at UNC-Chapel Hill, long before the founding of NCIPH. We continue this tradition of implementing leadership development programs with the recent launch of two programs: the brand new North Carolina Public Health Leadership Institute (NC PHLI) and the second cohort of the Emerging Leaders in Public Health (ELPH) initiative.

In March of this year, NCIPH launched the new leadership development program for North Carolina public health practitioners in partnership with the North Carolina Division of Public Health and with support from the North Carolina Public Health Association. The objectives of this year-long North Carolina Public Health Leadership Institute (NC PHLI) are two-fold: 1) to facilitate leadership development among public health professionals in North Carolina; and 2) to foster increased communication between state and local public health practitioners.

NCIPH received nearly 50 applications for the 18 available slots in the 2017 NC PHLI cohort, which includes nine participants from local health departments and nine from the state health department. Participants have diverse public health expertise and an average of 12 years of public health experience, ranging from as few as three and a half years to as many as 33 years.

The NC PHLI includes on-site sessions, web-based learning via Zoom and peer coaching groups to provide participants support in accomplishing their individual applied learning projects. Participants gain self-awareness through the use of leadership assessments, self-reflection, readings, and discussion forums on how to practically implement leadership practices. 

The 2017 program concludes in March of 2018, and applications for the 2018 NC PHLI cohort open in October 2017. For more information, please visit our website.

Anna Schenck, Lori Carter-Edwards, Janet Suttie, Stephen Orton

National Program Office Team, Left to Right: Anna Schenck, Lori Carter-Edwards, Janet Suttie and Stephen Orton

Also this spring, NCIPH, serving as the National Program Office, launched Cohort II of The Kresge Foundation’s Emerging Leaders in Public Health (ELPH) program. This ongoing leadership development initiative, started in 2014, equips local public health officers with the knowledge and skills required to lead in today’s changing health-care environment. The program includes 20 teams of two public health leaders from local public health departments, including the health officer and a second leader within the agency.

These leadership teams are selected based on their visions of transforming their respective health departments to assume new, innovative roles for leading public health. Each team participates in an 18-month, action-oriented training program where they undertake projects designed to enhance organizational and leadership competencies in business, planning and public health systems development. In addition to leadership coaching and development, each team also receives a grant up to $125,000 to develop and implement a transformative concept designed to deliver a new model of public health for their communities.

Anna Schenck teaching a class of Emerging Leaders in Public Health

ELPH leadership teams learn about adaptive leadership principles

In early May, the ELPH National Program Office (NPO) hosted the first of three leadership development-training events. The 20 teams met face-to-face in New Orleans and learned about applying adaptive leadership principles to the challenge of advancing transformative change. Each team spent focused time discussing strategy and plans while being challenged by their assigned NPO coach to shift from a project-centered mindset to implementing systems-level change.

During the conference debrief, many participants expressed feeling challenged by the ELPH initiative, but were also excited about the unique opportunity to frame a new role for their public health departments. One participant articulated the depth of the program by joking that she would need “four-dimensional smart art to diagram out the ideas for our new role.” Another participant described the conference as giving her team “the opportunity to look at things from such a different perspective, to challenge each other and our own leadership skills.” She went on to say that this new perspective “is so out of the norm of what we do on a day-to-day basis, but is so needed.”

To read more about these public health leaders and their health departments, go to the Emerging Leaders in Public Health website.

Tiffany Cox and Alton Hart working together

Working in Teams (Virginia), left to right: Tiffany Cox, community health and prevention supervisor, and Alton Hart, district health director, Crater Health District, Virginia Department of Health

Michael Johnson and Ying-Ying Goh working together

Working in Teams (California), left to right: Michael Johnson, director, and Ying-Ying Goh, medical officer, City of Pasadena Public Health Department

Dreading Writing That Report? NCIPH Can Help

By Lori Rhew, MA, Research Associate, NCIPH

Children walking in woods, cover of Granville Vance 2016 Annual Report

NCIPH assisted Granville Vance Public Health with their 2016 Annual Report.

Most people don’t put report writing at the top of their lists of fun things to do, but reports are necessary for many organizations. Not only can NCIPH staff help with creating these reports, we actually enjoy it. Recently, we assisted Granville Vance Public Health (GVPH) with their 2016 State of the County Health Report (SOTCH) and 2016 Annual Report.

While the SOTCH and the annual report have different purposes, NCIPH and GVPH staff worked together to develop the reports to complement each other. Both reports play essential roles in communicating to potential funders, community leaders, community members and other partners about the importance of public health issues and the role that local health departments play in addressing them.

In working with GVPH, we first discussed the priority health issues identified in their Community Health Assessment and determined the emerging issues and new initiatives they wanted to highlight in the SOTCH report. Once these priorities were established, we then developed the key messages to convey in the annual report. “We appreciated the assistance and capacity that NCIPH staff contributed to the development of the 2016 SOTCH and the annual report,” said GVPH Health Director Lisa Macon Harrison. “Both of the reports were organized in thoughtful ways based on the suggestions and input that we provided.”

NCIPH can work with local health departments to plan the development process, collect the data and create content that is easy to read and understand by a variety of audiences. Please contact us for additional information on how we can work with your local health department on reports like these.

Conducting a Community Health Assessment: From Closed Doors to Opened Eyes

Interview team for Granville Vance Community Health Assessment

Interview team with NCIPH staff, UNC students and community volunteers prepares to hit the streets of Edgecombe County.

By Matt Simon, MA, GISP, Research Associate and GIS Analyst, NCIPH, and Britnae Purdy

Since its inception, NCIPH has partnered with local health departments to conduct community health assessments (CHA). CHAs are vital to local health departments, public hospitals and other community-based organizations. Changes in the health and health-care environment make a solid CHA process more important than ever, and new reporting rules make it easier for public health and health-care partners to work together. For this story, Matt Simon sat down with NCIPH marketing communications specialist, Britnae Purdy, to hear about her experience participating as a volunteer field staffer for a CHA in Edgecombe County. For more information, please visit the NCIPH Community Health Assessments web page.


On a Friday morning this spring, I found myself dashing through the pouring rain to knock on a stranger’s door. In fact, it was the sixth door I’d knocked on that morning. I held my breath, hoping this resident, unlike the last six, would actually answer. The door slowly creaked open, revealing a tiny, elderly woman in a nightgown. As I opened my mouth to explain why I was at her door, she simply shook her head and slowly closed the door. Surprised, my partner and I looked at each other, shrugged, and ran back to the car. We were conducting a community health survey in Edgecombe County, NC, and we were off to a rocky start.

I learned about the Twin Counties Partnership for Healthier Communities through their partners at NCIPH. Through a grant from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, the partnership was devoted to improving health access in Edgecombe and Nash Counties. First, however, the partnership had to determine exactly what the counties needed and wanted.

That’s where the survey came in. For three days in each county, teams of two would interview over 300 residents. The teams would be comprised of NCIPH staff, UNC students, and local volunteers. As a first year MPH student, I was eager to see what data collection looked like on the ground level.

After that rocky, rainy start, my luck started to pick up. We were granted one interview, then another, and another. By the end of the second day my partner, a UNC public health first year graduate student, and I had interviewed more than 20 individuals for the project. I explored extremely rural areas as well as picture-perfect small towns; I interviewed young parents as well as octogenarians. Some interviews were professional and short and took place on the front porch; other residents were eager to share additional information about their lives and ask more about the partnership, inviting us into their homes.

I left feeling uplifted, more connected to the community, and like I understood the concepts in my study design classes so much better than I had before. I can honestly say that the two days I spent surveying Edgecombe residents was challenging, rewarding, and so eye-opening. I met people I would otherwise never come across in my daily life—more than worth a little rain and a couple closed doors.

NCIPH Staff Showcase Variety of Perspectives at 2017 NNPHI Conference

The 2017 National Network of Public Health Institutes (NNPHI) Conference, held in May in New Orleans, is a national meeting that supports and highlights the work of the nation’s public health institutes. NNPHI members, including NCIPH, lead conference programming that explores new ideas and strategies for supporting healthy communities. For more information, please visit the NNPHI annual conference website.

At this year’s conference, NCIPH staff presented four sessions demonstrating the depth and breadth of expertise and services offered by NCIPH and our commitment to improving the health of communities at the local, state and national levels. By demonstrating capabilities in training, research and collaboration, these speakers represented the diversity of NCIPH’s programs and capabilities.

Rachel Wilfert

Rachel Wilfert

Successful Collaborations with Local Public Health Departments

NCIPH Interim Director Rachel Wilfert, MD, MPH, CPH participated in a roundtable presentation at the conference. She spoke about the emerging academic health department model being forged between UNC Gillings School of Public Health and Granville-Vance Public Health (GVPH).

This collaboration, which includes Dr. Wilfert; NCIPH Technical Assistance Manager Amy Belflower Thomas, MHA, MSPH, CPH; GVPH Director Lisa Macon Harrison, BSPH, MPH; and Carmen Samuel-Hodge, RD, PhD, research assistant professor at UNC Gillings School of Public Health, includes embedding a faculty member at the rural public health agency, surge capacity support for health department initiatives and student engagement in practice work.


John Graham

John Graham

Studying Healthy Food Guidelines in Hospitals and Federal Agencies

As part of its cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), NNPHI received funding to focus on the experiences of food service directors as they adopt healthy food guidelines. With support from CDC/NNPHI, NCIPH recently led two projects to explore these experiences in hospital and federal agency cafeterias. At the conference, Senior Investigator John Graham, PhD presented the findings of these projects. First, Dr. Graham discussed the various healthy food guidelines and commitments that food service directors chose to prioritize and adopt. He also noted related facilitators and barriers experienced by the food service directors and the behavioral design strategies that were found to be effective.

The second project focused on the financial sustainability of these healthy food programs. This line of research is particularly important given the increased pressure for hospitals to reduce costs and promote profitability in all of their programs. Dr. Graham noted demand and supply-side themes, offering a related set of practical recommendations to address these issues. This presentation was part of a larger panel discussion about trainings conducted by the Culinary Institute of America to prepare its graduates to successfully undertake healthy foods programs and promote the adoption of low-sodium guidelines.

Matthew Simon

Matthew Simon

Studying and Mapping Social Determinants of Health

As a conference panelist, NCIPH Research Associate Matthew Simon, MA, GISP spoke about a collaboration between NCIPH and Carolinas HealthCare System to develop an interactive online map of Social Determinants of Health. Research Associate Kasey Decosimo, MPH and Maria Reese, community benefit director of Carolinas HealthCare, spearheaded the work, with contributions from Analytics Research Associate John Wallace, PhD and Senior Investigator Gene Matthews, JD.

With NCIPH’s guidance, Carolinas HealthCare gained a better understanding of the contextual factors that influence health, informing their community outreach, community benefit investments and initiatives. In addition, Carolinas HealthCare was able to pinpoint specific neighborhoods of need to more effectively focus and tailor their intervention efforts.


Avia Mainor

Avia Mainor

Building Skills Through Evidence-Based Strategies

Workforce Development Associate Avia Mainor, MPH presented on the effective training delivery methods NCIPH has used to implement the “Putting Public Health Evidence in Action” training curriculum. Mainor provided detail on the blended learning approach used to scale trainings to efficiently extend their reach, highlighting the addition of technical assistance and coaching to provide practitioners with advanced skill building around implementing specific evidence-based strategies. From 2014 to 2016, Mainor, Decosimo, and Jennifer Leeman, DrPH, MDIV, associate professor with the UNC School of Nursing, collaborated to provide this skill-building training to 189 local North Carolina practitioners. 

Upcoming Training from NCIPH

NC Local Health Department Accreditation Skills Building Workshop: Getting in the Groove with Accreditation
July 24 – 25, 2017

Physical Assessment of Adults and STD Nurse Clinician Training Combined Practicum Course
Fall 2017: August 22, 2017 – March 28, 2018

Principles and Practices of Public Health Nursing
October 2-4, 2017
Details coming soon!

34th Annual School and Child Health School Nurse Conference
December 6-8, 2017
Registration opens August 1

Online courses, available any time:

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