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Student & Alumni Achievements

Student & Alumni Achievements

UNC Students Selected for New National Leadership Program

How do we create better, more equitable health for all? That is the question that three students in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health will explore as part of the new Health Policy Research Scholars program.

[Photo: (L-R) Mr. Samuel Baxter, Ms. Jennifer Richmond and Mr. Paul Shafer were selected for the inaugural cohort of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Health Policy Research Scholars program.]

Participating students are from communities that — by race, ethnicity, socio-economic status and other factors — traditionally are underrepresented in doctoral programs and policy development. One goal of the Health Policy Research Scholars program, which is led by Johns Hopkins University with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), is to diversify the next generation of leaders who will help ensure equity in health policies.

UNC Gillings School doctoral students of health policy and management Mr. Samuel Baxter and Mr. Paul Shafer, and health behavior doctoral student Ms. Jennifer Richmond were among those selected.

Mr. Baxter is co-president of the Minority Student Caucus at the Gillings School, and his research largely focuses on improving the lived experiences of boys and men of color as they relate to health across the life trajectory. Ms. Richmond works as a research associate with the American Institutes for Research, and Mr. Shafer is a research economist in the Center for Health Policy Science and Tobacco Research at RTI International.

“I am excited by the opportunity this award offers to learn and rethink health with a diverse network of scholars and mentors,” Mr. Baxter said. “I intend to use this training to equip myself with the knowledge, skills and experiences needed to understand how to create healthier, more equitable communities.”

Ms. Richmond agreed. “I’m honored that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will support my research interests in exploring the determinants and implications of medical mistrust among African-American populations,” she said. “I plan to explore how policy can be used to change structural factors that influence overall health equity.”

As three of only 40 applicants selected to be 2016 Health Policy Research Scholars, these students represent the inaugural cohort of the new program. Now, with other scholars from across the country, they will collaborate and innovate to solve persistent challenges and advance a national Culture of Health — one that places well-being at the center of every aspect of life.

“These scholars are dedicated to advancing their field in a way that makes a positive and significant impact on their communities,” said Dr. Harolyn M.E. Belcher, program director in the Health Policy Research Scholars Center for Diversity in Public Health Leadership Training. “In order to do so, they’re willing to forge a new path, learn how to do things differently and work collaboratively to achieve a healthier, more equitable society.”

As part of the program, the three students will conduct original research that will have impact in their local communities and beyond. Along the way, they will develop high-level leadership skills through professional coaching, mentoring, networking and an advanced health policy curriculum.

“I am honored to be chosen as part of the inaugural cohort of Health Policy Research Scholars,” said Mr. Shafer. “This program will help me integrate constructs that often play into our health and use of health care – including housing, education and urban design – into my research. Currently, I’m working to understand how to better reach and engage those who are still underutilizing high-value care, such as cancer screenings, despite large increases in health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Along with my fellow scholars, I accept the challenge that we face in creating a Culture of Health in America over the next generation – for everyone.”

Additional partners providing training and coaching to scholars include: AcademyHealth, George Washington University, Mayo Clinic, University of California—Los Angeles and University of Michigan.

Health Policy Research Scholars is one of four new leadership development programs launched this year by RWJF and represents a four-year, multimillion dollar investment. The new programs join five existing leadership programs in advancing RWJF’s legacy of supporting the development and diversity of leaders impacting health. The 2017 application period for the newer programs will open in January; additional information is available at

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