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The Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases’s Office of Global Health Fellowships and Training is led by Benjamin Chi, MD, MSc, Kristin Reed, MPH, Marla Allen, MPH, and Dzidzai Muyengwa, MPH. This mighty team of four onboards >65 active trainees per academic year and follows 350+ trainees for evaluation and program renewal purposes. Although each came to IGHID from different experiences, they all agree. Seeing fellows and trainees succeed is a rewarding part of their work.


How did you arrive at IGHID? What was your pathway?

Kristin: “I joined IGHID in 2018 following completion of my MPH. Prior to the MPH program, I was an environmental health sanitarian at a county health department in Ohio. I realized pretty quickly after taking that job that I needed to pivot to something that was better suited for my skill set, which would require additional training. During my last semester in the MPH program, I was a teaching assistant for Dr. Rohit Ramaswamy. He introduced me to Ben, who subsequently introduced me to my previous supervisor. Originally, I started working for the Fellowship and Training Programs Office in a part-time, temporary role assisting with grant preparation and other program tasks. My position went through a few transitions before I had the opportunity to become the lead manager.”

Dzidzai: “I joined the team because I wanted to do more global health focused work. My upbringing in Zimbabwe gave me a lifelong passion to see people around the world live healthier lives. I earned my bachelor’s degree in global studies (Health & Environment) and a master’s in public health (Maternal & Child Health) from UNC Chapel Hill. Prior to joining IGHID, I worked at the UNC Center for Health Equity Research, providing program management and operations support for research projects. Before that, I worked at the Duke Global Health Innovation Center, conducting research on the launch and scale of low-cost maternal and child health innovations.”

Marla: “I completed my undergraduate education in Public Health and MPH in Epidemiology from East Carolina University in December 2019. During my time at ECU, I worked as a Graduate Teaching Assistant, teaching required undergraduate health class and interning with NC DHHS Office of Rural Health on their Community Health Worker initiative. After graduation, my first position was with the UNC Collaborative Studies Coordinating Center, working as a Research Assistant on a multi-site NIH-funded consortium grant. The combination of these experiences made me realize I wanted to focus on program coordination and education, which is my passion. The ID Fellowship Program Coordinator position opened in 2022, and I never looked back.”

Ben: “I was living in Lusaka when I joined the UNC faculty in 2012. I was part of a large team that ran HIV service delivery, research, and training programs in Zambia. We were grateful for IGHID’s support during the transition period; the Institute helped us to develop new connections and collaborations at the university. When I moved to Chapel Hill in 2015, I became more formally involved in IGHID activities and now have a leadership role within the Institute around fellowships and training programs. 

“After finishing my Ob-Gyn residency in 2003, I moved to Zambia—initially as a fellow and then a faculty member—at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. My original plan was to live overseas for a couple of years but, given the volume of work and the number of exciting opportunities, I stayed for more than a decade. I was delighted when our team joined UNC, as the move expanded the scope of expertise and reach within the region. I now support research projects across southern Africa, not just in Zambia but also in Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I also direct several research training programs (including the UJMT LAUNCH Program) that support U.S. and international investigators early in their academic careers. I attribute much of my approach and perspective to those formative years abroad.”


What do you find most rewarding about your work? 

Kristin: “The collaborative nature of the job is rewarding. Our programs span a huge range of research topics, trainee categories, and geographical locations, so we have the opportunity to support myriad research training and capacity building initiatives. We work with so many amazing researchers, and our program PIs are such incredible people. I’m also really proud of the team that I have in this office, and extremely grateful for the other administrators that we work with in IGHID.”

Dzidzai: “I love being able to support global health initiatives and activities aimed at training the next generation of scientists, doctors, and public health specialists.”

Marla: “Helping trainees and fellows advance their careers is rewarding.”

Ben: “I really enjoy building new initiatives. I like the process of identifying gaps, discussing possible solutions, and working to see them to fruition. The Institute fosters a wonderful environment to connect with colleagues across departments and schools, and find creative ways to work together.”

What are some of the new developments that you’re excited about? 

Dzidzai-IAMIGHIDTeamKristin: “Increasing awareness for IGHID’s fellowship opportunities and outreach! In 2023, we published newsletter stories about new trainees, as well as a summary of the year’s successes. I’m really looking forward to having consistent newsletter stories this year about training program updates and trainee accomplishments.”

Dzidzai: “I find it exciting that global equity principles —such as democratizing, decolonizing, and repositioning leaders —are being integrated into global health research work and initiatives.”

Marla: “The growth in size of our team from this past year and the growth in learning for our group has been the most exciting. I look forward to seeing what our small but mighty team has in store.”

Ben: “I applaud IGHID’s recent efforts to bring investigators together from different geographic locations and programs. Given UNC’s global footprint, I think this type of networking really brings added value and potentiates our impact and reach. I was pleased to see the high level of engagement at the recent Global Health Symposium (held on February 16). There are several other initiatives planned for Spring 2024 as well, both in the U.S. and abroad, and I look forward to those as well.”

Is there a particular achievement (professional or personal) that has been most gratifying to you?

Dzidzai: “I was selected to serve as a student speaker at my undergraduate Global Studies Commencement. During my speech, I shared my mother’s immigration journey and had the opportunity to laud her as one of my heroes and inspirations. She is easily the most generous person, loves helping people, and I believe that helped cultivate my interest in global health. It meant so much to me, and I like to think it was one of my best Mother’s Day gifts to her.”

Marla: “During my time at the Office of Rural Health I helped develop the Community Health Worker curriculum that is now found in the N.C. Community College system. I am one of four authors and master trainers in the state who are qualified to teach this curriculum.” 

What is the best advice you’ve ever received? 

Kristin:  “I listened to a podcaster a few years ago who introduced a way to think about approaching a task that you’ve never done before. The idea is that when we begin a first time task, we should recalibrate our expectations. This sounds like a simple idea but when applied to the various administrative tasks needed to manage the training programs, it’s not always obvious when we’re facing a task that’s never been done before.  Whenever I’m having a particularly difficult time, I try to take a step back and determine whether this is something I’ve done before and can do on my own, or if it’s the first time, and will I need more information or support to complete the task efficiently.”

Dzidzai: “Be free in what you want.”

Marla: “Network with everyone, you never know where you’ll end up.”

Ben: “Keep the long game in mind. Major achievements don’t happen overnight, but require forward thinking, consistent effort, occasional redirection, and a little bit of luck.”

What hobbies do you enjoy?

Kristin: “Knitting, listening to podcasts, reading, and spending time with my husband and my dog.”

Marla: “I enjoy reading and spending time with my husband and dog at the beach.”

Do you have a favorite quote or life motto?

Kristin: “I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Dzidzai: “Finish the race and complete the task.” (Acts 20:24)

What was the last book you read?

Kristin:Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.”

Dzidzai:The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis Collins

Marla:  “What To Do When You’re Having Two: The Twins Survival Guide by Natalie Diaz

Ben:  “Two collections of short stories, although I’m only partway through each: First Person Singular by Haruki Murakami and Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang.”

The Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases (IGHID) attracts people who are driven to make big change. From principal investigators and grant managers to regulatory specialists and study coordinators, everyone has an important role to play in what we do around the world. We are pleased to highlight colleagues who proudly serve IGHID.