Phyllis Fleming has lots of experience in finding creative solutions to research problems, but her retirement from the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (HPDP) on June 30 means she will be able to expand those skills in new arenas.
Fleming has been the director of the HPDP Evaluation Core for 3.5 years, leading evaluation of national and statewide projects. She led the evaluation of the Farm-to-School Network, a project aimed at connecting school lunch programs with local farmers’ produce and The Period of Purple Crying, a North Carolina project to reduce shaken baby syndrome, among many others.
“I really like projects hard to evaluate, because it’s hard and you end up doing funky things because you can’t do random samples,” Fleming said.
Evaluation is often the last stage of a project, to assess whether a new program or intervention has been effective and cost efficient. However, it is important to think about evaluation from the beginning of a project, to know what parts of the project are most important to measure and what “effective” means for each program.
“People really differ on what they should be producing (when it comes to evaluation)”, Fleming said. “There is a perspective called utilization-focused evaluation. In that, you determine who are major stakeholders- they are often funders- and what do they want to know. What they want to know is not what researchers want to know, so you end up with an evaluation design quite different from what a standard research design would be.”
Before coming to HPDP, Fleming worked for the UNC Injury Prevention Research Center for one and a half years. During her career, she also worked at the University of Georgia in Athens at the Community Nutrition Intervention Lab, the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and in the private sector as a performance improvement consultant, measuring employee/customer satisfaction, and had her own business doing evaluation, marketing research and strategic planning.
Fleming said she was very excited to retire and begin a new chapter of her life.
“I’m certainly old enough,” she laughed. “I just have a lot of passions that I pursue on weekends and evenings and thought it was time to pursue those, to have more time to devote to them.”
Fleming is a master gardener and intends to work on a blog about her adventures growing plants that are either rare of have a reputation of being difficult to grow. The blog, www.oddcrops.com, will include her experiences growing ginger, herbs, vegetables and spices used in Thai cooking, and curry leaves.
“I look at the farmers’ market and they’re always selling tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers,” she said. “I always wanted to be a farmer of some sort, so I thought I’d try something different.”
Fleming also plans to expand her bee yard to be able to sell honey, as well as travel, spend time with friends and ride horses.
“I think I’m a right-brain person who’s been trained left-brain,” she said of her transition. “I’m going to make room for the right-brain stuff. “