Written by Jennie Saia
Public Communications Specialist, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health
Carmen Samuel-Hodge, PhD, research assistant professor of nutrition at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, has won a University Award for the Advancement of Women.
The Carolina Women’s Center administers the award on behalf of the offices of the chancellor and the executive vice chancellor and provost. Awards are presented each year to a faculty member, a staff member, and a student or scholar who have elevated the status of women on campus in sustainable ways.
Samuel-Hodge was recognized in the faculty category for her continued commitment to the academic mentoring of women, specifically women of color pursuing doctoral degrees.
“Carmen has a real heart for the well-being of women in the community and here at UNC-Chapel Hill, whether faculty or students,” said Beth Mayer-Davis, PhD, chair of the nutrition department. “She cares deeply about both the professional and personal aspects of the lives of women and their families, and this is greatly appreciated.”
More than ten years ago, Samuel-Hodge founded the Sistah-Docs group, a network that provides opportunities for women of color to engage each other in meaningful ways. The group now has more than 60 members, over half of whom have obtained doctoral degrees.
“There is an important story around how the group started,” Samuel-Hodge explained. “In 2002, Dr. Shiriki Kumanyika of the University of Pennsylvania brought together 11 researchers to form the African American Collaborative Obesity Research Network. That group was where I experienced firsthand the amazing personal and professional benefits of networking with like-minded researchers.”
“Some years later, Dr. Kumanyika contacted me and asked me to provide support for an African-American postdoctoral student in her first year at UNC,” Samuel-Hodge added. “I reached out. She was joined by another, and another, until we are where we are today. So really, all of this stems from a request from a great human being and researcher, and my response to give back and share a precious gift.”
Samuel-Hodge has a very personal approach to mentoring. Twice each year, she hosts a gathering to foster social and emotional support among group members. These events also have led to professional collaborations and personal development opportunities for attendees.
On a weekly basis, Samuel-Hodge holds accountability meetings with group members on Google Hangout. Participants report on their academic progress and share feedback with each other. Many Sistah-Doc members have practiced their dissertation defense presentations in this supportive environment and called the experience “a vital step” on the path to scholarly success.
In a group nomination letter, members of the Sistah-Docs group commented on the ways Samuel-Hodge has supported their work and affected their lives.
“Carmen is a mentor extraordinaire,” wrote one member. “She makes time to mentor students who aren’t even from her own department. This type of service has no gain other than personal fulfillment in supporting women.”
Cara Person, MPH, CPH, doctoral student in the Department of Health Behavior, also noted this selflessness in her letter of support for Samuel-Hodge. “Her desire to assist students, even without official recognition, is invaluable,” Person shared. “When I thanked her for her mentorship, she asked that I just do the same for someone else when I am in her position.”
In their nomination letter, the Sistah-Docs group members shared their intention to honor Samuel-Hodge’s request. “The impact she has made on all of us will inevitably influence us to become mentors in our own right,” the letter states. “Future female graduate students of color will have a support network similar to the one that we so greatly benefitted from.”