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UNC Gillings-RTI “PHield Trip” highlights institutional partnerships, global health

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — Senior leaders from RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, addressed students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health on April 7 during the school’s “Virtual PHield Trip,” an annual event that immerses Gillings students, faculty and staff in the work of public health partners throughout the community, with RTI as one of their key partners.

As Elizabeth French, Gillings’ associate dean for strategic initiatives affirmed in her opening remarks, UNC’s decades-long partnership with RTI has produced pathbreaking findings to support health while also providing critical support for university students and graduates, as well as faculty. The Gillings mission is to improve public health, promote individual well-being and eliminate health inequities across North Carolina and around the world.

“The depth and breadth of our partnership with RTI International is such that it touches all parts of this expansive mission,” French said.

Jacqueline Olich, Ph.D., vice president for university collaborations at RTI, emphasized the diverse array of talent that has allowed RTI to help university partners scale their own solutions and increase impact. She gave an overview of the University Collaboration Office (UCO), which advances RTI’s founding goal of synergizing the region’s university research resources to “gro[w] people, impact, stature and financial strengths” for RTI and for its partners.

“UNC Gillings and RTI,” Olich said, “are longstanding partners and leaders in improving human health and the human condition.”

BriAnna Walker, a senior university program specialist at RTI and lead organizer of the PHield Trip, introduced the keynote speaker, Dr. Hala AlMossawi, RTI’s vice president of global health.

AlMossawi argued that solving global health problems such as infectious diseases, public health threats, such as COVID-19, climate change, conflict crisis, equity, quality and access to health services required professionals to measure the problems and understand their underlying causes before finding solutions that have practical, policy and commercial applications.

“As you all know, a pandemic can bring economies and nations to their knees… We face shared threats, and we have shared responsibility to act,” AlMossawi said. She called on those present to take up complex global challenges and work hard to discover solutions.

The work of UCO reflects in strategic collaborative initiatives such as the Initiative to Maximize Partnerships and Catalyze Teamwork (IMPACT) and University Scholars Program, which has brought distinguished former and current Gillings faculty to RTI to work with experts in RTI’s practice areas. The UCO also runs a robust internship program that counts many Gillings students among its alumni.