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Melissa Lam-McCarthy is a Master of Public Health student who is focused on health outcomes by way of food justice, supply chains, and access to food for people who live in both urban and rural communities.


Dumfries, Virginia, is where I have lived the longest amount of time. I also consider Honolulu, Hawaii and Bangkok, Thailand as hometowns because my parents are from there, and I have the most extended family in those places.

Melissa Lam-McCarthy standing in a field of sunflowers
Melissa Lam-McCarthy

Area of Study:

Master of Public Health nutrition concentration.

What motivates you?

I am encouraged and inspired by my family, friends, and mentors. They keep me going every day. I am also thankful for the lessons I learn while caring for my four beehives, cat and garden. I am motivated by the people I have met in rural and urban communities and the experiences I’ve had while living abroad and around in the United States. Food can connect individuals and communities, but it is also an indicator of inequity. I became increasingly aware of the complex role of nutrition in public health. I recognize the impact that shifts in food supply, crop shortages, crop failures, and climate change and now the pandemic have on workers in the food industry and those with low resources and less access. Nutrition is not just about what’s on the plate; it’s about food justice, supply chains, and choice. Health is a human right for all. I am motivated to collaborate with others and find creative solutions to these complex problems.

Why UNC-Chapel Hill?

I visited UNC-Chapel Hill for the first time in 2007 for the Gillings School of Global Public Health open house after I returned from teaching English in Japan. My journey took me to work in global health in Washington, D.C. and then the culinary field after graduating with a culinary arts degree in New York City. I moved to Chapel Hill to be a food producer while preparing to apply to the Master of Public Health (MPH) program at UNC-Chapel Hill. Later, I accepted a position at a global health project at UNC-Chapel Hill. Through this work and my volunteer work, I met with various faculty, staff, and community members. They asked me good questions and helped shape my graduate school decisions. Meeting with them and working in global health at UNC-Chapel Hill confirmed that Carolina is the best place for me to pursue my MPH. I thrive in the collegial and collaborative environment. I will continue to engage in conversations with my classmates and my professors – to contribute what I know and to acquire new knowledge and perspectives. I will gain a world class education because the Gillings School of Global Public Health is the number one public school of public health by U.S. News & World Report and the nutrition department is the best in the United States. I plan to focus on community nutrition research activities and food/nutrition policy. After receiving my Master of Public Health from UNC-Chapel Hill, I look forward to serving local and global communities in program leadership to improve food systems and impact nutrition outcomes.

How have you built community at UNC-Chapel Hill?

As I began my graduate studies during the COVID-19 pandemic, I have built my community outside of normal circumstances by mostly virtual platforms through Zoom, GroupMe, WhatsApp, etc. and often one person at a time. I am grateful to have friends from the assigned teams in my first year of classes and we have encouraged each other. I learned to adapt and be flexible outside of my comfort zone. I went to virtual gatherings and participated in scavenger hunts, trivia and various breakout rooms to meet new people. I am very thankful to DSS for all their initiatives to be connected and stay connected. As a person who loves connecting food with community, it was difficult to not be able to share meals with people. DSS continues to provide the space to pick up a lunch, chat with them and others and feel uplifted for the rest of my day.

Describe DSS in five words!

Awesome, supportive, energetic, fun and essential
*Lam-McCarthy also identifies with the Initiative for Minority Excellence program.
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