Public health expert to address Wingate graduates

By Luanne Williams

May graduates at Wingate University, as well as those from 2020 whose commencement has been delayed by Covid, will get a word of encouragement from a pandemic expert as part of their send-off. Dr. Mandy K. Cohen, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, will be the speaker as Wingate salutes the accomplishments of more than 650 graduates over a three-day period beginning May 14.

Cohen, whose friendly face and calm demeanor have been a staple during Gov. Roy Cooper’s frequent, televised Covid briefings, has served as the state’s top health official since January 2017. She oversees some 17,000 employees and an annual budget of $20 million and has led the state’s response to the pandemic while continuing to head up DHHS efforts to improve early-childhood outcomes, combat the opioid crisis and ensure equitable access to health resources.

“It will be an amazing privilege for our graduates to hear from a public health professional who has played and continues to play such an important role in keeping us safe and healthy,” said Wingate University President Rhett Brown. “I believe the University can attribute much of our success in managing our Covid cases to the clear information we've regularly received from her. As a nationally recognized leader at DHHS, her experiences and life lessons are not only timely but will be invaluable to our graduates.”

The choice for Cohen as a Commencement speaker is especially appropriate as more than 100 of those crossing the stage this May are headed into healthcare. Also, the University is scheduled to begin offering a new Master of Public Health degree in August, pending approval from accrediting bodies. In addition to her work at DHHS, Cohen is an adjunct professor in health policy and management at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

An internal medicine physician who earned her medical degree from Yale and her master’s in public health from Harvard, Cohen served on the federal level as chief of staff at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services before taking the helm at NC DHHS. In 2019, Modern Healthcare named her one of the Top 25 Women Leaders in Healthcare. And in September of last year, she was awarded the Leadership in Public Health Practice Award from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health for her “strong leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic response, including her use of data and ability to communicate calmly and with empathy, compassion, and transparency.”

Under Cohen’s leadership in 2019, North Carolina implemented the first-in-the-nation statewide coordinated care network. A private-public partnership, NCCARE360 not only helps connect residents to community resources, but tracks the outcome of that connection. The network has been a key feature of the state’s Covid response.

Cohen’s address to Wingate graduates will be prerecorded and provided to members of the Class of 2021 before their on-campus, socially distanced Commencement exercises. On the morning of May 14, the University will present graduate degrees. On May 15, Wingate will host a morning ceremony for College of Arts and Sciences graduates and an afternoon ceremony for Nursing, School of Business and College of Professional Studies graduates. Then on May 16, graduates who completed their degrees in 2020 are invited to come back to campus for their own bit of Pomp and Circumstance. Because of ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, none of the ceremonies will be open to the public. Instead, graduates will be allowed two guests, and a limited number of Wingate faculty and staff members will attend to represent each academic department.

For more details, see our Commencement page.

March 22, 2021