2021 Diversity Award Recipients
Kira Griffith (’21)
Kira Griffith is an Afro-Caribbean undergraduate senior and Distinguished Chancellor’s Science Scholar graduating with a Bachelors of Science in Neuroscience, minors in Music and Chemistry, and Honors through the Department of Psychology & Neuroscience. She was raised on the island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands and is a talented ballet dancer, swimmer, and pianist. She loves reading, writing, and listening to music. Kira graduated from high school in St. Croix and matriculated at UNC-Chapel Hill in the Fall of 2017. At the end of her sophomore year, she was elected President of Residence Hall Association (RHA) which is one of the largest University Sponsored Organizations on UNC’s campus. During her two-term Presidency, she led several efforts centered around leadership, mentorship, and advocacy.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Kira has made significant strides to effectuate positive change in the community by serving as a representative and advocate on behalf of thousands of Carolina students to UNC administration. She has played a key role in communicating between the student body and administrative leadership and she has also used her platform to create virtual opportunities for students to connect with each other during the pandemic. Most recently Kira served as a student representative on the Chancellor’s Campus & Community Advisory Committee to advocate on behalf of the student body and underrepresented voices in the community. Kira has also played an instrumental role in the University’s building renaming efforts, working to better align our campus landscape with the mission and goals of the University. Recently, UNC alumnus Scott Peeler (Class of 1993) initiated funding through Student Affairs for a new scholarship in her name to honor her advocacy work through RHA.
Kira has defended her independent senior honors thesis as a culmination of her 3 years of research in the Hopfinger Lab in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience. She also completed her medical school application process and will be attending UNC School of Medicine this fall. In the future, Kira plans to pursue interventional neurology and explore healthcare administration, health care policy, and public health work at a national and international level.
Anna Manocha (’22)
Business Administration major
Anna has advocated for DEI at UNC, on both a personal and organizational level. Anna has personally experienced a lack of DEI at UNC, prompting her to advocate for herself and other students. Anna took action to motivate the deans of the business school to promote DEI training to all professors at the business school. Anna’s efforts have made the business school a more inclusive environment for all students.
In addition, Anna leads several organizations which focus on improving DEI, on campus and abroad. For example, Anna is president of the She’s the First Club, which is an international non-profit that raises money for the education of girls in developing countries. Anna ensures that the UNC chapter raises enough money to support three girls in India and one in Guatemala. In addition to fighting for educational equity abroad, a large part of the club includes advocating for women’s equality everywhere. Anna ensures that during club meetings members can express their concerns about women’s equality on campus, come together to read books, watch TED talks, and engage in thoughtful discussion to educate themselves about women’s issues, etc.
During Anna’s sophomore year, when many of her friends were applying to the business school, she realized that students of color were often unaware of opportunities at the business school and therefore not highly involved prior to applying. These factors–along with the intimidating business school environment–have led to lower admission rates for students of color. To combat these barriers, Anna personally mentored her friends (women of color) who expressed an interest in business.
This year, all of Anna’s mentees received admission to the business school! Anna received the UNC Advancement for Women Award for her mentorship efforts, but she wanted to have an even greater impact so she took on a leadership role in the Allison Mentorship Program (AMP). The AMP offers application readiness support and professional development for low-income and minority students who are interested in applying to the Kenan-Flagler business school. This program historically has a 100% acceptance rate for all mentees, which largely contributes to diversity within the student body at Kenan-Flagler.
In addition, since the AMP’s mentors are not all from minority or low-income populations (unlike the mentees) their mentorship work can serve as a way for them to form a bond with students with who they normally may not have been friends. These connections and friendships help break down barriers between students from different racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. This network of emotional and professional support, that Anna has worked to create, is invaluable for the mentees. Anna also plans to facilitate implicit bias training for mentors so that they are more knowledgeable about the biases they possess.
In the future, Anna hopes to create similar mentorship programs and networks of students within other professional schools and departments to address educational equity at UNC as a whole.
Graduate/Professional Student Award
Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics
School of Medicine
Nikea Pittman, PhD, is a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Seeding Postdoctoral Innovators in Research and Education (SPIRE) fellowship program. She completed her undergraduate and graduate training at the University of Florida, earning a B.S. in Animal Science, M.S. in Translational Biotechnology, and Ph.D. in Biomedical Science. Currently, her research in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics captures snapshots of proteins that are produced by bacteria like Escherichia coli – a common cause of food poisoning. She utilizes cryo-electron microscopy to collect thousands of images at a time and visualize the three-dimensional shape (or structure) of a given protein. In addition, Dr. Pittman uses these images to initiate conversations with early-career college students and encourage them to pursue science careers. Through effective mentoring and teaching practices, she empowers students to overcome barriers that would leave otherwise marginalized groups on the outskirts of academia.
Dr. Pittman’s personal goals include combining her roles as a researcher and educator to advocate for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color within science professions. For these efforts, she has been highlighted at the national and international level, including an invited interview for Nature that outlines actionable goals for scientists to pursue anti-racism in academia.
This year Dr. Pittman launched and led a task force at UNC-Chapel Hill which established an anti-racism curriculum for 120 incoming PhD students in the Biological and Biomedical Science Program. SPACE: Scientists Promoting Anti-Racist Conversations and Equity – encourages students and faculty to discuss intersections between science, race, and racism. As the first of its kind, this three-part course provided an avenue for graduate students to amplify their voices and demonstrate the importance of expanding this training for future cohorts. Ph.D. students also collaborated to build a database that highlighted >100 scientists of color and their achievements.
In parallel, Dr. Pittman joined forces with a group of ~30 scientists from multiple institutions to launch Black In Microbiology week. The inaugural virtual conference hosted invited speakers and panelists from all sub-disciplines of microbiology, attracting more than 2,500 participants across 49 different countries. To expand upon this success, Dr. Pittman joined the executive board for the Black Microbiologists Association (BMA), a rising non-profit organization committed to amplifying Black microbiologists around the globe. As a culmination of these efforts, Black in Microbiology/BMA is featured in multiple publications (such as The New York Times and Lancet Microbe).
Overall, Dr. Pittman’s service to the University and the community spans across multiple levels, including the Diversity & Inclusion Council of the School of Medicine, the Biochemistry & Biophysics department Diversity Committee, the Dismantling Racism in Academia Journal Club, and mentorship of undergraduate students.
Resident Physician, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Celeste A. Green, MD, MPH is an OBGYN resident physician at the University of North Carolina (UNC). After completing her Bachelor of Arts at the University of Central Florida, she earned her Master of Public Health with a focus in Community-Oriented Primary Care from The George Washington University. Celeste worked in stakeholder engagement at the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) prior to moving to Chapel Hill for medical school.
As a UNC medical student, Celeste and four classmates created the White Coats Black Doctors Foundation (WCBD), a 501(c)3 nonprofit designed to celebrate, unite, and uplift future Black physicians. WCBD provides mentorship, financial support and community-building for pre-medical and medical students across the country. For their work, WCBD was recognized as one of Triangle Business Journal’s Healthcare Heroes (2019), and Celeste received the 2018 Robert A. Bryan Public Service Award. WCBD was recently featured on The Drew Barrymore Show in a segment highlighting their impact on medical students and physicians across the country.
As a first-generation physician and the proud daughter of Jamaican immigrants, Celeste focuses her work to improve equity and create opportunities for Black physicians, medical students, and patients to thrive. She has been published in the Journal of Perinatology and the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. She has presented her work on disparities in birth outcomes and in medical education at multiple conferences.
Celeste currently serves as the Resident Liaison for the UNC OBGYN Department’s Diversity Task Force; in this role, she created and led the implementation of the monthly Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Advocacy Lecture Series (IDEALS). This series features speakers who address the histories of discrimination based on sex, gender identity, race, country of origin, and ability, and how this systemic marginalization affects present-day health disparities. The program has drawn national attendance in its inaugural year. Celeste also sits on the UNC School of Medicine’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council and stays involved with WCBD as Chairwoman of the Board of Advisors.
After residency, Celeste will pursue subspecialty training in Maternal-Fetal Medicine, with her clinical work, research, and community involvement focused on prioritizing safety and equity in the Black maternal health experience.
Alumni Student Award
Frank Tillman, III (’15 BA; ’19 PharmD)
PGY2 Psychiatric Pharmacy Resident, Department of Pharmacy
UNC Medical Center
Dr. Frank Tillman III was born and raised in Fayetteville, NC and is currently a PGY2 Psychiatric Pharmacy Resident at UNC Medical Center. He graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in Interpersonal/Organizational Communication Studies with a minor in Chemistry.
During his undergraduate career, he developed a keen interest in serving racially minoritized and otherwise marginalized communities and worked extensively with initiatives such as Sleep out for the Homeless, Minority Student Recruitment Committee, and founded an organization titled Undergraduate Students for Diversity in Pharmacy.
Following undergrad, Dr. Tillman was able to maintain his commitment to serving the underserved through his work with the Student Health Action Coalition (SHAC). As a PGY2 Psychiatric Pharmacy Resident, his career interests include caring for patients with severe mental illness, med-psychiatry, and addressing the various factors contributing to health/workplace inequities. Currently, Dr. Tillman is implementing a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) educational series targeting pharmacy residents, which has been supported through generous grant funding awarded from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP).
Within the next five years, Dr. Tillman hopes to continue serving patients with psychiatric illness while also maintaining his commitment to promoting health and workplace equity. His ideal world is one where systems of oppression are dismantled and the concept of liberation for all is a reality. In his spare time, Dr. Tillman enjoys spending quality time with his amazing and extremely talented wife, daughter, and dog (Denver). His favorite quote is, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Janet Edwards (’95, BS, Pharmacy)
Senior Account Specialist for Respiratory Biologics, GlaxoSmithKline
A native of Siler City, NC and now a 25-year Washingtonian, Janet has worked 23 years for GlaxoSmithKline in pharmaceutical sales, where she started with the company as an intern. She is currently a Senior Executive Account Specialist in the Respiratory Biologics Specialty Business Unit. In 1995, Janet graduated from The University of North Carolina with a B.S. in Pharmacy, and in 2021 she will graduate from The University of Maryland School of Pharmacy with an M.S. in Regulatory Science. She is a member of The Rho Chi Pharmacy Honor Society and The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi. Janet recently served on the Board of Directors of the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy Alumni Association for six years and is a current member of its Foundation Board of Directors, and she is also a member of the UNC Alumni Committee on Racial & Ethnic Diversity.
While at UNC, Janet was the President of the Student National Pharmaceutical Association, a member of Order of the Bell Tower, and a member of the Theta Pi Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (and is now a Silver Star member).
One of Janet’s proudest moments was her election as Mentor of the Year in 2018 by Capital Partners for Education in Washington, DC, helping students navigate their college and career paths. She says her morals rest on serving others in the same way that countless people have helped in her educational and career endeavors.
Director, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion;
Senior Technical Specialist,
Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute
Betsy Ayankoya, M.Ed., currently serves as an Associate Director of the Early Childhood TA (ECTA) Center and Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion for the FPG Child Development Institute. In her role as the EDI Director, Betsy facilitates the FPG Strategic Plan Initiatives related to Culture and Belonging in the workplace. In collaboration with staff and mentors, she coordinates the McKinney Scholars Program in Research Practice and Policy, a summer internship program at FPG aimed at supporting students from North Carolina HBCUs. She supports individual FPG projects and staff in examining practices, policies and behaviors that support an anti-racist and culturally welcoming environment. She facilitates groups and provides training on welcoming diversity, bias, and prejudice reduction, etc. Betsy is co-author of The New Voices ~ Nuevas Voces: Guide to Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in Early Childhood (2011).
Betsy specializes in the areas of personnel/workforce development, family engagement and quality assurance. Betsy has worked with states to evaluate their current personnel and general supervision systems, helping them to identify potential areas for improvement and develop more effective and streamlined processes for ensuring positive outcomes for children and families. Betsy has directed several large national early childhood conferences, working with planners, the Office of Special Education Programs and other stakeholders to develop opportunities for participants to learn from experts in the field, to learn about evidence-based practices and to share experiences with colleagues.
As part of ECTA, Betsy supported the work of the DEC Commission in revising the DEC RPs and co-authored with Pat Snyder a monograph article: Revising the Division for Early Childhood Recommended Practices: When, Who and How. She currently leads the work related to disseminating the DEC Recommended Practices (RPs) and the ECTA Centers’ Practice Improvement Tools, including the aRPy Ambassador Initiative, a collaborative partnership between the Division for Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children (DEC) and the Region B Parent Technical Assistance Center at Parent to Parent of Georgia. Betsy is a member of DEC and previously served on the DEC Executive Board; she has worked internationally and provides TA throughout the United States.
Coordinator for Resilience and Student Support Programs,
Dr. Holman-Copeland has served in the capacity of Associate Director for Counseling and Wellness Services, Associate Director for Healthy Student Behaviors and presently, Coordinator of Resiliency and Student Success in her career at the University of North Carolina. There are several quotes that she uses as “guiding principles”, but her favorite is a Latin quote: Esse Quam Videri: “To Be, Rather than to Seem”. As a professionally trained primary prevention specialist, Health Educator and Duke Certified Integrative Health & Wellness Coach, Dr. Holman-Copeland is affectionately referred to by students as “Dr. D”. She earned her B.A. degree from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, as well as, her Master’s Degree in Public Health from the Gillings School of Global Public Health. Dr. D. earned her Ph.D. from North Carolina Agricultural &Technical State University.
Dr. D. has spearheaded several groups, organizations and think tanks on campus. The following are just a few which have impacted and advanced the mission of the University: DICE (Diversity & Inclusion in Collegiate Environments); SISTER TALK (Recognized as a UNC High Impact Program); SISTER TALK AFTER DARK; R.E.A.L. TALK, as well as, multiple population-based programs. Her passion for the overall well-being of students is demonstrated throughout her work at UNC-Chapel Hill. Dr. D. serves as the Faculty Advisor for several student organizations and Affinity groups. Each of these groups has propelled students to become more resilient, self-actualized, empowered and engaged both in and out of the classroom. She has collaborated with UNC campus partners on numerous initiatives to advance the mental, physical and emotional well-being of Carolina students. Her body of work emphasizes persistence, self-awareness, resiliency, a growth mindset and its relevance to personal agency in the classroom. Student groups and organizations have recognized her for exceptional leadership, mentorship, guidance and “Othermothering”. Dr. D. serves as the UNC Faculty Advisor for Carolina Curls, UNC Collegiate Chapter of the NAACP (formerly); and P.E.A.C.E. (Processing Emotions And Communicating Effectively) to name just a few. Dr. D. is frequently called upon to serve as a panelist for UNC Minority Graduate School programs. One of her most endearing roles is serving as a Faculty mentor to Covenant Scholars for over 12 years.
DeVetta serves on several campus committees. She was appointed by former Provost James Dean to the Advisory Board of the Carolina Women’s Center, Provost Committee on Inclusive Excellence, Ex-officio Advisory Board Member of Campus Health Services, and the Carolina Black Caucus. She is a past recipient of the C. Knox Massey Award, 2012 recipient of the UNC Diversity Award, Member of the Frank Porter Graham Honor Society, Student Undergraduate Teaching and Staff Awards (SUTSA) and Argonaut in the Order of the Golden Fleece. To give back to the community, Dr. D. serves as the Executive Director of Global Health Connections, Inc. hosting 2-week, residential Summer STEM camps for under-served middle school students in the eastern-most part of North Carolina. DeVetta is married to E. Rick Copeland and has one son.
Department of Germanic and Slavic Languages and Literatures
Dr. Layne is an Associate Professor, whose work is on German national identity, conception of race and self, cross-racial empathy, postcolonialism and rebellion. Her most current work is on Afro-German Afrofuturism. In relation to DEI, Dr. Layne has established and chaired the Diversity Committee in the department and also worked with other diversity officers across campus to problem-solve issues together. The department Diversity Committee included undergraduate and graduate students, at Dr. Layne’s insistence, to improve equity in recommendations.
She created the Jonathan Hess Prize for Diversity, specifically for undergraduates to write short essays that address diversity in GSLL. She has developed classes on Germany and the Black Diaspora, Afrofuturism, gender and sexuality in German film among others, and is writing a publication on decolonizing German studies, which may be applied at universities across the USA. She has created an exhibit at Hayti Heritage Center that highlighted students work and has invited Black German scholars to talk about their work with audiences from UNC, State, NC A&T, Duke, and NCCU, as well as local community members to think about the role of Black culture in Germany.
She serves on two national committees on German studies and has worked on addressing diversity and inclusion issues that have plagued some of these organizations for 100 years. In terms of outreach, she has created a K-16 curriculum on Black Germany history and culture to Black History Month that is public-facing and can be replicated. Also, she has hosted training for K-12 teachers to discuss racism in the EU through film.
Research Assistant Professor, Director of Diversity and Equity,
UNC-NCSU Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering
Kennita Johnson, PhD, received her bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Maryland Baltimore County, where she was a Meyerhoff Scholar. She performed her graduate work at the University of Florida. There, she earned a Master’s degree in medical physics and a PhD in biomedical engineering. After a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, NC, she came to UNC to start her research career path in the UNC-NCSU Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME).
Dr. Johnson began as a research associate, moved to laboratory manager, and eventually became a research assistant professor. At the same time, she explored teaching as an adjunct assistant professor in the North Carolina A&T State University’s Chemical, Biological, and Bioengineering Department, by teaching a course each spring. She is currently transitioning to a tenure-track faculty position in the UNC-NCSU BME department to expand her research on biomedical imaging of chronic kidney disease, which disproportionately affects Black and Brown people. In 2020, Dr. Johnson became the first Director of Diversity and Equity in the UNC-NCSU BME Department. This unique but complex department combines the College of Engineering at NCSU with the UNC School of Medicine and the UNC College of Arts and Sciences. As the director, she chairs the department’s active diversity committee and has developed internal initiatives to bring undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral trainees, faculty, and staff together.
She is involved with several diversity organizations on both campuses, including serving as diversity liaison to the School of Medicine and College of Arts and Sciences at UNC. At NCSU, Dr. Johnson serves on the Graduate Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee, and the Dean appointed her to the College of Engineering’s Broadening Participation Strategic Planning Committee. Her favorite part of her research, teaching, and diversity work is interacting with students through mentoring student research projects, teaching students complex concepts, and talking to potential students about joining her department.
Intergroup Collaboration Award
The Jordan Institute for Families
The Jordan Institute for Families aims to support safe, stable, and nurturing families in North Carolina and beyond. We envision a state where everyone in the family can grow and flourish. The Jordan Institute catalyzes change and extends the mission of the UNC School of Social Work beyond the academy walls into communities. We weave a focus on social justice and racial equity across everything we do. The Jordan Institute is catalyzing change by connecting the wisdom of communities with research, policy and practice to advance strategies to support families across the lifespan.
CAPS Multicultural Health Program
The MCHP program was developed in summer 2020 following what has been dubbed the “Red Spring of 2020”; a time in our nation where racial injustice and police brutality were brought to the forefront of our collective attention. During that time, as a counseling center, we experienced an increase in BIPOC students struggling not only with the impact of the health pandemic, but a racism pandemic as well. We began, as a center, to envision what it would look like to have a program aimed at meeting the unique needs of this student population. At the same time, we began our own journey of anti-racist work by engaging in learning modules, caucuses and focused discussions.
By the start of the academic year, the MCHP program was fully installed with four FT staff members and 2 facilitators. In their role as facilitators, Dr. Scott and Dr. Williams spent much of the fall semester meeting with administration, campus partners and student organizations to discuss the programs’ goals and services. Liaison relationships were established between departments such as the Covenant Scholars Office, School of Medicine, Carolina Indian Center, and Athletics. That semester the MCHP staff engaged in over 30 outreach projects involving more than 200 BIPOC students!
Our MCHP staff members carry a variety of expertise including trauma, LGBTQIA, spirituality, eco or nature therapy, and first-gen support. They engage in individual therapy, group therapy, monthly workshops and outreach activities. Staff members are fully integrated into the counseling center and also have the ability to carry a small caseload of long-term clients. After a successful first year, we are excited to continue our work and look forward to spending some time this summer brainstorming ways to grow our program even more in the future!
2021 Diversity Awards Selection Committee
Dr. Erin Malloy, Director/Professor (CHAIR)
Medical School Education, Department of Psychiatry
Dr. Benjamin Frey, Professor
Department of American Studies
Patricia Harris, Director of Recruitment/Vice Chair Carolina Black Caucus
School of Education
Shahnaz Khawaja, Assistant Director, Resiliency & Recovery Strategies
Dr. Trevy McDonald, Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion/Associate Professor
Hussman School of Journalism and Media
Kathy Nguyen, Undergraduate Student
Psychology and Neuroscience
Josmell Perez, Director
Carolina Latinx Center
Dr. Terri Phoenix, Director
Dr. Annette Rodriguez, Assistant Professor
Department of American Studies
Hannah Spinrad, Campus Director
Dr. Deshira Wallace, Postdoc
Carolina Population Center
Kathy Wood, Director, Diversity & Student Success
The Graduate School