Accelerating Students’ Impact on Global Public Health

Written by UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health

The impact of climate change may evoke images of extreme weather, wildfires and floods, but for those without stable housing or sanitation infrastructure, even small increases in average rainfall and temperature can have disastrous consequences.

As classmates at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, Michol Dawson, BSPH, MBA, and David Amuda, MBA, seized the opportunity to study and visit other countries as part of UNC Kenan-Flagler’s global immersion program. Their love for travel continued as their friendship grew into more: they got engaged on vacation in Hawaii, got married in 2008 and moved to David’s home state of California.

And over the 21-plus years since they first met, they visited all six inhabited continents. When they weren’t crisscrossing the globe, Michol (pronounced Mitchell) cared for patients in the Sleep Disorders Center at Providence St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, California. She worked there for 10 years and eventually became supervisor after quitting her corporate job to further her education and pursue her passion for health care.

“I’m convinced that in a former life she was a travel agent — she loved looking up destinations, always did a ton of research and acquired knowledge about a place to the level that she was practically a local,” said David, adding that Michol’s natural affinity for research led her to minor in information and library sciences while at UNC. “Whether it was Machu Picchu or the Australian outback, we did a lot of wonderful things together. And, in retrospect, I’m so glad we did, because tomorrow is not promised.”

“During that first week without her, I thought a lot about her unfulfilled work. I wanted to pay it forward to help those in the future pursue their dreams — particularly in public health — like she had the opportunity to do.”
— David Amuda, MBA

Michol unexpectedly passed away in May 2022, barely two weeks after her 45th birthday. Even amid his shock and grief, David drew inspiration from his beloved wife. “During that first week without her, I thought a lot about her unfulfilled work. I wanted to pay it forward to help those in the future pursue their dreams — particularly in public health — like she had the opportunity to do.”

David and Michol made it a tradition to donate annually to Carolina as a way to stay connected to the school and to reflect on their experiences there. But David and his father-in-law, Harold Dawson, wanting to make a more lasting impact, decided to establish a new endowment fund at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health in Michol’s memory: The Michol Anne Dawson Student Acceleration Fund.

They decided the fund should support student practice in global health after learning that several students traveled to some of the same countries — particularly in Africa — that David and Michol had loved to explore.

“I found out there was a student working in Tanzania and immediately thought that Michol would love to be associated with that work,” David said. “That was the spark.”

Tanzania held a special place in their hearts, as Michol had organized a safari trip in 2017 to Tanzania and Kenya for Harold, David and herself. “We saw all the animals you could see in the Serengeti,” said Harold, reminiscing about lions feeding on cape buffalo just 10 feet from their vehicle and about being cautioned by a Masai guide not to get too close to an elephant and her calf. “I had always wanted to go on safari — to be immersed in nature and get a better understanding of the animals. It was really something.”

It was just like Michol to plan a trip that would mean a lot to her father. Her thoughtfulness and compassion for others were well-known to her family, friends and colleagues. “She was always taking care of people, listening to their problems and trying to help,” Harold said. “That was just her personality, and that guided her to move in the direction she ultimately moved in with her career. She cared about helping people.”

The Michol Anne Dawson Student Acceleration Fund supports research, travel, practice and dissertation projects — or other needs that allow students to apply knowledge beyond the classroom. Preference is given to work focused on global public health issues that affect African countries and/or North Carolina. Donate online: go.unc.edu/MicholAnneDawson

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