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Four stand-out leaders honored with Advancement of Women award

Four women were honored March 4 at the Campus Y with the University Award for the Advancement of Women.

The awards, created in 2006, honor individuals who have mentored or supported women on campus, elevated the status of women or improved campus policies for them, promoted women’s recruitment and retention or promoted professional development for women.

“Today we have an opportunity to reflect on our community’s journey towards gender equity—where we have been, the progress we are making, where we are going and those people who are helping to get us there,” Chancellor Carol L. Folt said. “Our four award recipients today are stand-out leaders who have taken steps to break down gender barriers and promote the development of women on campus—and beyond.”

This year’s honorees are Sheila Kannappan, associate professor and the associate chair for diversity in the physics and astronomy department; Jackie Overton, training specialist in transportation and parking; Mary Rebecca Shen, second-year medical student at the School of Medicine; and Leslie Morales, a senior majoring in psychology, with a minor in Latina/o studies.

The four winners – one faculty member, one staff member, one undergraduate and one graduate student or postdoctoral scholar are eligible – receive a monetary award ($5,000 for faculty and staff winners, $2,500 for the undergraduate and graduate student winners).

Kannappan provides hands-on experience for graduate students through the Computational Astronomy and Physics Research Experiences for Undergraduates program she has led since 2011. As faculty adviser to the undergraduate Women in Physics club since 2013, Kannappan has provided valuable mentorship for women students. At the graduate level, she led a diversity-focused overhaul of recruiting, admissions and retention in 2013-15, including coordinating a new first-year advising plan beginning in 2014.

Before joining Carolina, Kannappan was a 9th grade teacher in the North Carolina public schools (1991-93) through Teach For America. She earned her master’s degree in the history of science and her doctorate in physics from Harvard in 2001. She completed two postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Texas at Austin (2001-07).

At Carolina, Kannappan is the principal investigator of the RESOLVE (REsolved Spectroscopy Of a Local VolumE) Survey, which aims to provide the first comprehensive census of gas, stars and dark matter in a cosmologically significant volume of the nearby universe.

Overton serves on the board of the Association for Women Faculty and Professionals and the steering committee of the Carolina Black Caucus. As the first African American to chair the Employee Forum (2010-13), she advocated for housekeepers experiencing sexual harassment and was instrumental in improving their workplace conditions. She spoke eloquently on behalf of staff at two University Days.

Overton, who hails from Hertford, has been part of the Tar Heel family as both a student and an employee. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in African American studies, a master’s degree in education and counseling, and a graduate certificate in nonprofit leadership. She has been named a Chapel Hilll-Carrboro Home Town Hero twice (2013, 2015) and earned a list of campus honors: Order of the Old Well, UNC Star Heels Award (2001, 2006, 2012), UNC Unsung Hero Award (2010), C. Knox Massey Award (2012) and the inaugural Kay Hovious Outstanding Forum Delegate Award (2013).

Shen served as president of Carolina’s student chapter of the Association of Women Surgeons, where she created professional and personal development opportunities for women on both the undergraduate and medical campuses. She has also served as vice president of education development for the School of Medicine’s student government, where she helped establish a leadership curriculum to teach professionalism and teamwork to medical students.

Shen graduated with highest honors from the Gillings School of Global Public Health with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and earned a master’s degree in nutrition from Columbia University. She has received several awards, including the Society of Thoracic Surgeons Looking to the Future Scholarship and the Gillings Fund for Innovation award.  Her current interests lie in the impact of nutrition on surgical outcomes and improving health outcomes for low-income patients.

Morales is a first-generation college student who participated during high school in the Scholars’ Latino Initiative (SLI), a Tar Heel program designed to help students and families navigate the educational system and pursue higher education. At Carolina, she joined SLI as a mentor and college prep academic coordinator, and she is now co-director of the program.

Through her SLI connections, Morales learned about a medical internship at The Family Doctor, a local medical practice that helped spark her interest in the career of nursing. She now works at the practice as a medical assistant and is also a research assistant at the School of Nursing. Leslie aspires to go to the nursing school and learn how to educate the community, more specifically the Latino community, about how to improve their health and well-being.

When she is not busy giving vaccines or working for SLI, Morales may be found volunteering for the Compass Center for Women and Families, translating documents into Spanish for clients. She also participates in events with her sorority, Lambda Pi Chi Inc.