Carmen Samuel-Hodge, research assistant professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, recently won a University Award for the Advancement of Women. Awards are presented each year to a faculty member, a staff member and a student or scholar who has elevated the status of women on campus in sustainable ways.
“I had an interest in nutrition from early on,” Samuel-Hodge said from North Carolina.
She grew up in Coral Bay, a place she still calls home, and Samuel-Hodge said she learned early on about the importance of things like fresh vegetables because her father, Willis Samuel, grew all the family’s vegetables.
The family also had a focus on sewing and crafts learned from her mother, Doris Samuel. Samuel-Hodge said she still likes to sew and do crafts, and others in her family also got the bug. Her brother is acclaimed wood turner Avelino Samuel and her sister is artist Karen Samuel.
After an elementary education at Guy Benjamin and Julius E. Sprauve Schools on St. John, Samuel-Hodge headed across Pillsbury Sound to what was then called Nazareth High School in Red Hook, St. Thomas. It now goes by the name of Ivanna Eudora Kean High School.
From there, she was off to George Washington University in Washington, D.C., to get a bachelor’s degree in biology and then to the University of Maryland in College Park to get a master’s degree in nutrition.
She returned to the territory and worked in the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program before heading to the University of North Carolina.
“I came here to work on a doctorate and never left,” she said.
Laughing, she said that part of the school’s appeal was that it had married student housing. She and husband Michael Hodge, who hails from St. Thomas, have two children. Megan is 26 and Michael is 18.
Samuel-Hodge holds both master’s and doctorate degrees in public health nutrition from the school, and in 2003, joined the faculty.
Her focus is on research into changing behaviors in people who have Type 2 diabetes and with weight management issues.
With age 58 coming soon, she said she plans to continue working another seven or eight years. However, she said, she makes a bigger effort to get “home” more often to see her family since they’re all getting older.
Samuel-Hodge said she doesn’t have much free time but when she does she likes to run to clear her head.
As for her award from UNC, Samuel-Hodge was recognized in the faculty category for her continued commitment to the academic mentoring of women, specifically women of color pursuing doctoral degrees.
“Carmen has a real heart for the well-being of women in the community and here at UNC-Chapel Hill, whether faculty or students,” said Beth Mayer-Davis, chairwoman of the nutrition department. “She cares deeply about both the professional and personal aspects of the lives of women and their families, and this is greatly appreciated.”
More than 10 years ago, Samuel-Hodge founded the Sistah-Docs group, a network that provides opportunities for women of color to engage each other in meaningful ways. The group now has more than 60 members, over half of whom have obtained doctoral degrees.
“There is an important story around how the group started,” Samuel-Hodge said. “In 2002, Dr. Shiriki Kumanyika of the University of Pennsylvania brought together 11 researchers to form the African American Collaborative Obesity Research Network. That group was where I experienced firsthand the amazing personal and professional benefits of networking with like-minded researchers.”
“Some years later, Dr. Kumanyika contacted me and asked me to provide support for an African-American postdoctoral student in her first year at UNC,” Samuel-Hodge added. “I reached out. She was joined by another, and another, until we are where we are today. So really, all of this stems from a request from a great human being and researcher, and my response to give back and share a precious gift.”
Samuel-Hodge has a very personal approach to mentoring. Twice each year, she hosts a gathering to foster social and emotional support among group members. These events also have led to professional collaborations and personal development opportunities for attendees.
On a weekly basis, Samuel-Hodge holds accountability meetings with group members on Google Hangout. Participants report on their academic progress and share feedback with each other. Many Sistah-Doc members have practiced their dissertation defense presentations in this supportive environment and called the experience “a vital step” on the path to scholarly success.
In a group nomination letter, members of the Sistah-Docs group commented on the ways Samuel-Hodge has supported their work and affected their lives.
“Carmen is a mentor extraordinaire,” wrote one member. “She makes time to mentor students who aren’t even from her own department. This type of service has no gain other than personal fulfillment in supporting women.”