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Their interests range from neurodegenerative diseases to eating disorders to race, class and gender to playing and teaching jazz saxophone. Meet six of Carolina’s newest faculty members.

Clockwise from top left: Tanya Garcia, Tressie McMillan Cottom, Y. Sekou Bermiss, Grace Wu, Rahsaan Barber, Daniel Hurd.
Clockwise from top left: Tanya Garcia, Tressie McMillan Cottom, Y. Sekou Bermiss, Grace Wu, Rahsaan Barber, Daniel Hurd.

Rahsaan Barber
Assistant Professor
Music Department, the College of Arts & Sciences

A versatile performer with a studious approach to music, Barber’s proven teaching style and focus on jazz saxophone will help shape Carolina’s student musicians.

“My journey with UNC started ten years ago in 2010,” Barber said. “My first visit was as a guest performer with the UNC Jazz Festival, led by the great Jim Ketch, ‘captain of the ship’ in the UNC jazz program for over 40 years, who retired last year. I was immediately struck by the students’ level of musicianship, the faculty’s great level of instruction and the area’s culture.”

Barber performed and taught at three other Jazz Festivals and collaborated with other UNC system schools. “I couldn’t be more excited to join such a great school and academic network,” he said.

Prior to arriving at Carolina, Barber was an assistant professor of saxophone at Tennessee State University beginning in 2013. In his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, Barber found his first appointment at Belmont University at age 25. He was promoted to full-time instructor for his last three years there.

Barber has taught an array of courses, including improvisation, classical and commercial ensembles and performance seminars.

Since earning a master’s degree in jazz performance from the Manhattan School of Music in 2005, Barber has followed a path of musical excellence in performance, composition, education and entrepreneurship. He records and performs in an ever-expanding range of musical styles, including jazz, blues, funk, classical, fusion, soul, Latin and world music.

Barber’s performances include time onstage with the Temptations, Delfeayo Marsalis, the Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Duffy Jackson, Winard Harper, Kirk Franklin and the Wooten Brothers. He has performed on many of the world’s most prestigious stages for music, including The Ryman, The Village Vanguard, Birdland, Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center and the Montreux Jazz Festival.

Barber leads his instrumental band Everyday Magic and co-leads Latin-jazz septet El Movimiento, and is creator, bandleader, songwriter and producer for hip-hop, soul band The Megaphones. He has built a reputation as a standout jazz producer on his record label Jazz Music City. The label launched with the release of Everyday Magic, an album featuring Barber’s quintet that was an Editor’s Pick by DownBeat Magazine.

Besides teaching, Barber is completing work toward a doctor of musical arts degree in classical saxophone performance at the University of Memphis. He has presented master classes at educational institutions, including Michigan State University, Belmont University, Lipscomb University, the Nashville Jazz Workshop, Tennessee State University, University of Louisville, University of Memphis and Carolina.

“I draw much inspiration and joy from my work as an educator and mentor to some of the most creative and impressive young minds entering the field of music today, and from my partnerships with amazing musicians and collaborators,” Barber said.

Y. Sekou Bermiss
Associate Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship
Kenan-Flagler Business School

Bermiss arrives at Carolina from the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin, where he taught in the department of management from 2009-2020.

His research is at the intersection of organization theory and strategy, focusing on how organizations and markets socially construct value.

“Much of my current research looks at the strategic value of human capital to organizations,” Bermiss said. “While corporate leaders regularly state ‘their people are their most important asset,’ there is much left to understand about how to best attract and retain talented employees and exactly how employees provide value to the central goals of the firm.”

Bermiss looks at such dynamics for Fortune 50 companies as well as entrepreneurial start-ups. One of his courses is called People Analytics, which teaches students how to apply statistical research methods to improve the way firms manage employees.

“Most great achievements in society are done through collective action, but leaders often struggle with getting the right people together and keeping them together,” Bermiss said. “I believe a data-driven approach to solving these problems can have a positive effect on organizations across the spectrum: for-profit, non-profit, educational, religious, military, etc. In turn, I get a good deal of personal satisfaction knowing that I can, in some small way, help to make great things happen in society.”

Bermiss earned a Ph.D. and master’s degree in management and organizations from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He received a degree in chemical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

He is a research fellow at the Filene Research Institute, an independent, consumer-finance think tank dedicated to scientific and thoughtful analysis about issues affecting consumer financial wellness, the future of credit unions and cooperative finance.

His research has been published in the Academy of Management Journal, Administrative Science Quarterly, Organization Science, Strategic Management Journal and Research in Organizational Behavior. Harvard Business Review, the Wall Street Journal and National Public Radio have reported on his research. Before entering academia, Bermiss worked for Deloitte Consulting.

Bermiss calls his arrival in Chapel Hill “a bit of a homecoming” as his wife’s family is from North Carolina and his mother’s family is from South Carolina. And, it’s a perfect fit with Carolina. “UNC and Kenan-Flagler are known as great schools with brilliant scholars. It wasn’t until I visited, however, that I got a sense of the collegiality and community here.  Both were very appealing to me,” he said.

Tanya Garcia
Associate Professor
Biostatistics Department, Gillings School of Global Public Health

Garcia comes to Carolina from Texas A&M University with an interdisciplinary research agenda that includes national and international collaborations with neuroscientists and biologists, high-impact learning opportunities for students and service work that promotes a future of diverse biostatisticians.

“I was attracted to the cutting-edge research at UNC-Chapel Hill, including work in neurodegenerative diseases and imaging, and the opportunities to work with fun and intelligent researchers and students,” Garcia said.

Her research innovates new statistical methods that solve important neuroscience and biomedical problems and advances the underlying theory of those methods. Her work has contributed to prediction models, model selection for high-dimensional data, regression models with measurement error and mean-covariance modeling for longitudinal data.

Garcia said that her research group aims to enter new frontiers in designing robust, reliable and simple yet powerful disease progression models for neurodegenerative diseases. “Our vision is developing and translating promising statistical methods and models into clinical applications,” she said.

Garcia’s focus on extracting maximum information from large, highly correlated data structures has led to scientific discoveries in neurodegenerative diseases and the gut microbiome. Her teaching integrates research with interactive projects that promote critical thinking.

As a principal investigator, she has attracted over $900,000 in funding grants from the NIH National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the Huntington’s Disease Society of America. Publishing in the Journal of the American Statistical Association, Annals of Applied Statistics, and Bioinformatics, Garcia’s research is cited worldwide. She has earned competitive awards, including the 2017-2018 NINDS Mentoring Institute for Neuroscience Diversity Scholars Fellowship; a fully funded, visiting scholar invitation to the University of Sydney in 2012; and the 2011 American Statistical Association Gertrude M. Cox Award (awarded to two of 1,200 applicants in North America).

“I am most excited about training young researchers in biostatistics to play with different ideas and experiment with trying different approaches, even if the end result isn’t what we initially desired,” Garcia said. “This brings me personal and professional satisfaction because I enjoy seeing young researchers grow in their creativity and confidence to pursue difficult challenges.”

Daniel Hurd
Chair and Adjunct Professor
Military Science Department, the College of Arts & Sciences

After tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, earning a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University and years of leading soldiers, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Hurd joins Carolina’s faculty.

Hurd, who was born in Chapel Hill, will also lead the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps and commission new officers. “We recruit young scholars, athletes and leaders and educate and train them on the role of the Army, specific tasks and missions they will have in the Army, and the responsibilities of being an officer and representing your country and its values,” Hurd said.

Hurd spent more than 40 months deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. His awards and decorations include the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Combat and Expert Infantryman’s Badges, Senior Parachutist Badge, Air Assault Badge and the Ranger Tab.

In 2014, Hurd attended Harvard as a Downing Scholar from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. After earning a master’s degree, he returned to Fort Benning and served as operations officer and executive officer for the Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade as the unit normalized gender integration of Ranger School. In his most recent assignment, Hurd served as faculty in the department of social sciences at the U.S. Military Academy and taught courses on international relations, European politics and homeland security.

Hurd joined the 3rd Battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment in Fort Benning, Georgia, in 2010 and served as assistant operations officer and the Alpha Company commander. He then moved to the Regimental Special Troops Battalion and assumed command of the Regimental Selection and Training Company, where he managed assessment, selection and training for the 75th Ranger Regiment.

Hurd graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 2003 with a bachelor of science in civil engineering and was commissioned as an infantry officer. After infantry officer basic course and ranger school, he served as a rifle platoon leader, company executive officer and company commander in 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, in the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York.

“Throughout my career, I’ve felt the most fulfilled watching the growth and development of young men and women with whom I have served,” Hurd said. “Mentorship takes a special role in the Army, and watching folks you mentored reach new heights, conquer challenges and achieve their goals is special. I’m looking forward to seeing the same growth and personal development in the cadets in our ROTC program.

“Serving in the Army has allowed my family to live all over the United States. My children have experienced vibrant life in Boston, picked peaches in Georgia and woken up to idyllic mornings in the Hudson River Valley. When the opportunity to work at Carolina and help develop young men and women into future leaders of character for the U.S. Army came up, my family was thrilled for a new adventure, a fulfilling mission and a return to Chapel Hill.

Tressie McMillan Cottom
Associate Professor
School of Information and Library Science

An author, sociologist and National Book Award finalist, McMillan Cottom joins the School of Information and Library Science as associate professor. She also will be a senior researcher with the Center for Information, Technology and Public Life.

McMillan Cottom said that she thinks about how digital technologies have transformed the public good and social institutions, especially as they relate to race, class and gender inequality. “Right now, I’m studying how African American women piece together economic security through their activity on social media platforms like Instagram,” she said. “Part of my work is to connect the dots between things people might consider disparate or not relevant to their daily lives. Connecting those dots in academic discourse and public life brings me a great deal of personal and professional satisfaction.

“I derive a lot of joy from engaging in these ideas with colleagues and students, and I am thrilled to be able to sit down soon ─ as soon as it is feasible! ─ with the UNC student body to talk about these far-ranging issues and what they mean for society and public life today.”

A faculty affiliate at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, McMillan Cottom comes to Carolina from Virginia Commonwealth University.

“Carolina is a beacon in the popular imagination for good reason,” she said. “It is not only one of the most intellectually stimulating communities I’ve had experience with, it is also a beautiful place to think, to live and to build a life.”

McMillan Cottom earned a doctorate from Emory University’s Laney Graduate School in sociology in 2015. Her dissertation research formed the foundation for her first book, “Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy” (The New Press 2016).

With hundreds of thousands of readers amassed over years of writing and publishing, McMillan Cottom’s columns have appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Dissent Magazine. She has appeared on Amanpour & Co., MSNBC, The Daily Show and National Public Radio, and testified before U.S. Senate Subcommittees on student loan debt. She is an influential voice on Twitter and co-host of Hear to Slay, a Black feminist podcast with writer Roxane Gay.

McMillan Cottom’s most recent book, THICK: and Other Essays (The New Press 2019), centers on Black women’s intellectual tradition. THICK won the Brooklyn Public Library’s 2019 Literary Prize and was shortlisted for the 2019 National Book Award in nonfiction.

Grace Wu
Assistant Professor
School of Nursing

Wu, who earned a doctoral degree from Carolina’s School of Nursing in 2018, strengthens her bond with a place where she said, “I felt my voice heard, my ideals never rejected, and faculty were always willing to guide me with patience and wisdom.”

Wu’s research interests include stress associated with weight stigma and eating disorders. She has studied hair cortisol as a biomarker of chronic stress as a link between weight-stigma stress and the biological response of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis activity at UNC’s Biobehavioral Laboratory. She also researches associations between weight stigma and binge-eating behaviors.

Her postdoctoral research focuses on biological predictors of eating disorders with a specialization in roles of stress and appetite hormones in mechanisms of disorders. Wu also is receiving training at the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders and is learning how to develop interventions through a School of Nursing grant.

Wu said that the school’s inclusive environment makes it a unique and attractive environment. “During my Ph.D. training, I saw that the faculty was using inclusive teaching strategies to teach, mentor and support students,” she said. “In that environment, I was able to develop the program of my research with joy and thrive as a nurse scientist. I observed the same teaching strategies and attitudes across campus when I took classes at other schools.”

Wu said that she’s thrived through Carolina’s opportunities for research collaborations across and beyond campus. “I worked with Duke University’s department of biochemistry for my dissertation study,” she said. “When I focused my postdoctoral training on eating disorders, faculty at the Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders trained me as their postdoctoral fellow. They collaborated with me on numerous research projects, even though I had no previous background in clinical psychiatry.”

She also saw nursing faculty working with researchers across campus, and the team science inspired her.

Wu’s research emerged from treating a patient with obesity who shared her suicidal thoughts. “She suffered deeply from weight-stigma experiences like being bullied about her weight and binge eating. I dedicated my efforts to prove that words can hurt — weight stigma can have negative influences on physical and psychological health outcomes, including eating disorders. My work proves that the issues of weight stigma and binge-eating exist, no matter where you live.”

“It’s a real joy to hear people suffering from weight stigma and binge-eating tell me that my research makes a difference in their lives by raising awareness of these issues,” Wu said.

Wu earned a BSN at Central Taiwan University of Science and Technology, an MSN at Kaohsiung Medical University in Taiwan, and was a registered nurse for 12 years and a lecturer in evidence-based practice for seven years. She has published six papers as a first author and has delivered ten research presentations at international scientific conferences.

Carolina is also special to Wu because her husband proposed to her at the Old Well in 2016.

Story by The Well

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