Acclaimed researchers in HIV/AIDS and public health and a writer whose works have appeared on the page and stage were honored Jan. 16 with the General Alumni Association’s Faculty Service Award at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The association’s board of directors presented the awards to Dr. Myron “Mike” Cohen, whose groundbreaking research in HIV/AIDS revealed treatment strategies for limiting transmission of the deadly virus; Jo Anne Earp, whose research focuses on increasing access to health care for underserved populations; and Bland Simpson, whose work has found audiences through articles, essays, novels, the musical stage and documentaries. The award was established in 1990 and honors faculty members who have performed outstanding service for the University or the association.
Cohen, of Chapel Hill, grew up in Chicago and joined the Carolina faculty in 1980. He is the Yeargen-Bate Eminent Distinguished Professor of medicine, microbiology and immunology in the UNC School of Medicine, where he chairs the division of infectious disease; a professor of epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health; and the associate vice chancellor for global health.
In 2011, Science magazine credited Cohen and his researchers with the “Breakthrough of the Year” for clinical trials showing that treating HIV-1 with aggressive antiretroviral therapy reduced transmission to uninfected partners to almost zero. The results prompted the World Health Organization to change its treatment guidelines and raised hopes among medical researchers of one day vanquishing the deadly virus altogether.
Over the decades of Cohen’s research, UNC-Chapel Hill’s infectious-disease group has achieved a top-10 ranking among AIDS programs. Cohen has led the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases since its founding in 2007, and his team’s funding has grown to hundreds of millions of dollars to support trials in 10 countries. He has received a lifetime achievement award from the American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association, the National Institutes of Health Merit Award, the North Carolina Award for Science and Carolina’s O. Max Gardner Award, presented annually to a faculty member who “has made the greatest contribution to the welfare of the human race” in that academic year.
Earp, of Chapel Hill, who grew up in Great Neck, New York, on Long Island, is a professor and former chair of the department of health behavior at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, having joined the faculty in 1974. She also is on the faculty of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Sheps Health Services Research Center and the Odum Institute for Research in the Social Sciences.
A primary focus of Earp’s research has been to end racial disparities in health care treatment and outcomes, such as in HIV/AIDS and breast cancer. An innovator of the lay health adviser approach now used across the country, Earp founded the N.C. Breast Cancer Screening Program that got screening for more older black women in poor, rural counties in the state, enabling them to begin treatment sooner, like their white counterparts, and reduce their mortality rate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the NIH have lauded her research approach as highly effective.
Earp also is a well-known mentor to hundreds of graduate students, helping launch their own research careers. Among her many awards for teaching, mentoring and research, she has received the National Cancer Institute RTIP designation, Carolina’s McGavran Award for Excellence in Teaching, the Cecil G. Sheps Distinguished Investigator Award, the John E. Larsh Jr. Award for Mentorship and the Women’s Leadership Council Mentoring Award.
Simpson, of Chapel Hill, who grew up in Elizabeth City and Chapel Hill and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a political science degree in 1973, is the Kenan Distinguished Professor of English and creative writing. He joined the creative writing faculty in 1982 and was the program’s director from 2002 to 2008. He served as the faculty representative on the GAA’s Board of Directors for 2011-12.
Simpson interrupted his undergraduate studies to pursue songwriting in New York, and composing for musical theater has been one of his major pursuits. After returning from New York to finish his degree, he co-wrote the musical “Diamond Studs” with fellow alumnus Jim Wann. That musical also led to his writing for and performing with the North Carolina string band it featured, The Red Clay Ramblers. Simpson has been a co-composer and co-writer of four musicals and contributed a song to a fifth, the Tony-nominated “Pump Boys & Dinettes.” He has received the North Carolina Award for Fine Arts.
North Carolina’s coast and other natural resources have been another focus of his career. He has written extensively to champion their appreciation and protection, including books such as “The Great Dismal: A Carolinian’s Swamp Memoir.”
Simpson has received the Tanner Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and twice the Chapman Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Other recent recipients of the Faculty Service Award include Valerie Ashby, chair of the department of chemistry; Oliver Smithies, Nobel Prize-winning genetics researcher; Fred Brooks Jr., a professor and founder of UNC-Chapel Hill’s computer science program; Dickson Phillips Jr., former law school dean; Joseph L. Templeton, former chemistry department chair; Joseph S. Ferrell, secretary of the faculty; and Dr. H. Shelton “Shelley” Earp III, director of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and a professor of pharmacology and medicine. A complete list of award winners can be found at alumni.unc.edu/awards.
The General Alumni Association is a self-governed, nonprofit association serving alumni and friends of UNC-Chapel Hill since 1843.
Published January 21, 2015.