UNC professor Alice Ammerman accepted the Thomas Jefferson Award with a "Hamilton: An American Musical" inspired rap at Friday's Faculty Council meeting.
The Thomas Jefferson Award has been granted to one faculty member each year since 1961. The selection is made based on nominations by fellow faculty to the "member of the academic community who through personal influence and performance of duty in teaching, writing, and scholarship has best exemplified the ideals and objectives of Thomas Jefferson,” according to the award description.
Ammerman, professor in the Department of Nutrition in the Gillings School of Public Health and the School of Medicine, said the award holds more complexity now than in previous years.
“It's complicated because with all that's going on now with Thomas Jefferson's reputation, but at the same time he did amazing things for our country, and so I don't think we can ignore that,” Ammerman said.
Among past recipients, Ammerman most respects former Chancellor William Aycock, Gene Nichol and Joseph Templeton.
“What's most meaningful to me is seeing the ones who have gone before me and got the award," she said. "They are people that I respect, and I value the work they've done so I feel very humbled and honored in that regard to be now among the recipients."
For Ammerman’s own colleagues, the award selection came as no surprise.
“Alice has the capacity, in her quiet way, to focus and motivate those around her to strive for excellence, with a clear and constant focus on improving the health of the population, especially for those living in under-resourced settings,” said Nutrition Professor Elizabeth Mayer-Davis as she presented the award. “She is courageous and determined, not afraid to stand up for what is important.”
In addition to teaching a nutrition and policy seminar, and a public health entrepreneurship course, Ammerman conducts research on health disparity and chronic disease prevention while working with low-income, minority patients.
Beverly Garcia works under Ammerman as the managing director of research at the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. She said Ammerman co-led an initiative this fall that promoted local healthy foods in order to provide a healthier environment in the way people live and work.
“She challenges the University community to think about how we can be a healthier place for all people,” Garcia said.
Ammerman was honored to accept the award and did so in her own creative way. She added humor to her rap, mentioning the history of mac and cheese and Thomas Jefferson. To finish up, she made a statement about speaking out as new political issues arise.
“Ole TJ said rebellion is a good thing now and then. Speaking out, embracing difference, hearing all, I say amen. On HB 2 and Dreamers, we Tar Heels took a stand. Carolina Conversations are now organized and planned,” Ammerman said. “Proud that UNC’s a place where social justice is no sham. We can figure out together what the heck to do with Sam.”
Ammerman’s future as a professor is thought to be bright by her peers. No matter what lies ahead, Ammerman said North Carolina will remain home.
“I'm really committed to North Carolina," Ammerman said. "I think we are facing some challenging times, and part of the solution is to see what we can do to make things better, so I always enjoy my interactions with students. I've had a lot of students over the years and I'm happy to see them develop, and I've continued to collaborate with quite a few of them, which I really value and appreciate.”
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