Sonia Napravnik, PhD, majored in philosophy and then the AIDS epidemic prompted her to return to university for nursing and epidemiology degrees. Now a researcher and educator at UNC, her students are honoring her for keeping the course work interesting and inspiring careers in public health.
“There are many aspects to what I do each day, and some continually evolve and change, but learning has been constant,” she says. “This is one of the reasons being at UNC has been so incredible. I am surrounded by faculty, clinical and research team members, and students who challenge and inspire me to learn and grow.”
Just as she is being inspired by her students, her students are being motivated by her. Students in her epidemiology 711 class, clinical measurement and evaluation, nominated Napravnik for a Gillings School of Global Public Health Teaching Excellence and Innovation Award. The awards are presented annually to a professor in each of Gillings’ departments who possesses subject matter expertise, explains complex topics in an understandable manner and shows genuine interest in students’ lives in and out of the classroom.
Napravnik received the teaching award for the Department of Epidemiology during a ceremony in the Armfield Atrium of the Michael Hooker Research Center on Thursday, March 23. The competition for a teaching award this year was intense with 250 nominations being submitted for 70 faculty. Only eight faculty are chosen to receive an award.
“Being acknowledged by students is an extraordinary honor,” Napravnik says. “It is inspiring to be a teacher at UNC where the students have such a diversity of perspectives, dedication, passion and an infectious energy and drive to make a difference in clinical care and public health.”
The course Napravnik teaches provides a broad-based introduction to the concepts and methods of epidemiology with particular emphasis on their application in clinical research, clinical practice and health care policy. Napravnik’s students’ nomination letters praised her ability to make intimidating subject matter understandable.
“One student wrote that they hoped they would one day be appreciated by students as much as the class appreciates Dr. Napravnik,” says Laura Linnan, ScD, associate dean for academic and student affairs and professor of health behavior. Linnan presided over the awards ceremony.
Receiving a teaching award from the Gillings School of Global Public Health is especially meaningful to Napravnik as she earned her master’s in public health and doctoral degrees in epidemiology from the school.
“It is an honor to be recognized among the many outstanding teachers at UNC, many of whom have taught me,” Napravnik says.
In addition to her roles in the Division of Infectious Diseases within the School of Medicine and the Department of Epidemiology in Gillings, Napravnik is associate director of the UNC Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) Clinical Core. She oversees the UNC CFAR HIV Clinical Cohort study as well as provides assistance with study design, implementation and analysis to translational and clinical investigators. She credits the CFAR’s Clinical Core Director Joe Eron, MD, with mentoring, inspiring and encouraging her both academically and professionally.
“Sonia is an integral member of the HIV research community at UNC and the reason our HIV clinical cohort has been so successful and has provided a platform for many students interested in understanding more about HIV disease and its treatment,” says Eron, professor of medicine and vice chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases. “Sonia brings depth of knowledge, analytical talent, problem-solving skills and a welcoming, inquisitive personality to our research group. I am not surprised that she was recognized by her students as an outstanding teacher.”