Every year, one faculty member from across the UNC System's 17 institutions is chosen by the UNC Board of Governors for the O. Max Gardner Award.
Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, chairperson of UNC’s Department of Psychiatry and director of the UNC Center for Women’s Mood Disorders, was named the 2020 recipient.
The O. Max Gardner Award recognizes a faculty member who, during the academic year, has “made the greatest contribution to the welfare of the human race.” Meltzer-Brody is the 24th faculty member from UNC-Chapel Hill to receive the award.
Meltzer-Brody’s work has focused on mental health in women, particularly during the perinatal period, as well as the mental health of health care workers.
Meltzer-Brody said she last heard about the award in early January, when she was informed she’d been nominated from UNC.
“Frankly, I thought that is an enormous honor and I really just never expected at all that it would go any further,” she said.
According to the Office of Faculty Governance's website, UNC’s Honorary Degrees and Special Awards Committee chooses one nominee from the University, and the chancellor then submits the committee’s recommendation to the Board of Governors' committee on the award and the Office of the President.
Meltzer-Brody said she was humbled to receive the award particularly during a pandemic, when many people have contributed “amazing work.”
“As a woman in academic medicine, it is very meaningful to try and advance other women and promote women’s issues. That’s a big focus of my career.” Meltzer-Brody said.
For Meltzer-Brody, this award is more than a personal accomplishment. She said receiving the award is an acknowledgment that the UNC System values work focused on women’s mental health.
In a press release, UNC System interim President Bill Roper said Meltzer-Brody’s work and decades of achievement have left a "profound impact on society."
“Dr. Meltzer-Brody’s body of work and commitment to the wellbeing of North Carolinians absolutely exemplify the spirit of the O. Max Gardner Award,” Roper wrote.
Meltzer-Brody is the co-investigator of Mom Genes Fight PPD, a research app that will be one of the largest studies of postpartum depression.
“The experience for women of giving birth is just so universal and it’s such a privilege to be able to try and intervene at that vulnerable time,” Meltzer-Brody said. “For me, that's always been an inspiration to me, to take what we learn here and make a difference not locally, but globally.”
She has also worked on efforts to combat mental health issues in healthcare workers. In 2012, she founded a program known as Taking Care of Our Own, a service that provides support to workers in the UNC Healthcare System.
Dr. Nadia Charguia, director of Taking Care of Our Own, complimented Meltzer-Brody’s work ethic and cooperative attitude.
“She approaches her days, her world, with eyes absolutely wide open and a can-do and will-do attitude,” Charguia said. “There is not a challenge that exists that I don’t think she would have such great ingenuity in how to address, and she is such an effective speaker and leader and she’s so passionate. She exudes passion in all that she does and it is incredibly infective.”
Meltzer-Brody also described the importance of lifting up others in her field.
“As department chair now, really promoting and advancing my faculty and looking at groups that traditionally have a harder road — women are one of those groups, there are many others too — it is a real privilege and pleasure to try and promote women's issues,” Meltzer-Brody said.
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