A year in the life…of the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health

1/1/11: Now that’s an interesting number! New year, new hopes and new opportunities!

In spite of a very difficult economy, our faculty members had continued success competing for grants and contracts. Between 1/1/2010 and 12/21/2010, they were awarded $161,294,655 in grants and contracts, up from $139,232,526 for the same period in 2009. That’s really good news! Of course, the point of these awards is to make discoveries and then apply them in ways that improve the public’s health. As a public university, we have a responsibility to make a difference, especially in North Carolina. We are doing that.

Reports from NIH and other agencies suggest that 2011 may be more difficult than 2010—a sobering reality. Our fundraising is up, thanks to excellent work by our External Affairs group and truly wonderful donors. That’s good news! Fundraising dollars help us remain an innovation leader and support our fabulous students.

We’re one of the very top schools of public health. Yet, we have absorbed traumatic budget cuts over the last year, losing over $1M in permanent budget from the state, more than many other peer school of public health. We expect similar permanent cuts in 2011. We have made serious cuts that preserve our core mission but are straining many parts of the School. We will persevere in spite of these cuts, but they take a cumulative toll, especially on our employees, who are working harder and harder and falling further and further behind. It is painful that our employees haven’t had raises in a few years. Times are bad, but it would be a great loss to North Carolinians if UNC-Chapel Hill is diminished. I am so impressed by the dedication of faculty and staff members in our School. Over the past year, many of us have spent more time than we ever could have imagined trying to preserve jobs, quality and services. And we are going to keep doing that!

Still, we regard signs of recovery with hope and cautious optimism.  We appreciate the talented, smart and dedicated leadership of Chancellor Thorp and Provost Bruce Carney. We will miss the exuberant Erskine Bowles, who is departing as president of the UNC system, but look forward to working with incoming president, Thomas Ross, JD.

I’ve summarized highlights from 2010 below (FYI, for a fuller list, please check out our website; our Communications team does a great job of summarizing news and accomplishments.), with one big caveat. In 2010, faculty, staff and students published hundreds of papers, received millions in grants, provided thousands of hours of service to North Carolina and beyond, and educated our more than 1,700 students. This will be another very challenging year, but we have a lot going for us. That includes our faculty, staff, students and  friends. We are especially grateful to our many donors who have supported us over the years, especially in the last year, and are grateful to our External Affairs staff for their efforts in fundraising. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but we’re ready.

Best wishes for a healthy, safe and happy 2011!

*Below, “SPH” refers to our School, the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. The following abbreviations also are used: BIOS (Biostatistics), EPI (Epidemiology), ESE (Environmental Sciences and Engineering), HBHE (Health Behavior and Health Education), HPM (Health Policy and Management), MCH (Maternal and Child Health), NUTR (Nutrition), PHMP (Public Health Leadership Program), NCIPH (North Carolina Institute for Public Health), and CPHS (Carolina Public Health Solutions).


  • A new smoking ban for most bars and restaurants became effective. Leah Devlin, DDS, MPH, Gillings Visiting Professor, was a leader in the effort, and so were many others. While N.C. is a tobacco-growing state, our legislation has been progressive for the public’s health. So far, support for the ban continues to grow.
  • George Pink, PhD, professor HPM, and senior research fellow, Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, was named Humana Distinguished Professor. George works with rural hospitals to improve their financial indicators and performance, and he’s a superb teacher – valuable research, excellence in teaching, the Carolina Way. We celebrated the professorship at our fall World of Difference dinner.
  • In an American Journal of Preventive Medicine article, Kelly Evenson, PhD, research professor EPI, and colleagues showed that residential density and the presence of retail activity are associated with more frequent walking. This is a great public health message: the presence of businesses encourages walking. People who walk are healthier.
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation expanded their programs at UNC with a focus on reversing childhood obesity. Nash and Edgecombe counties are receiving community grants, along with other counties across the U.S. Sarah Strunk, MHA, leads the extraordinary UNC effort.
  • We launched a new global health certificate, targeted especially for practitioners. Peggy Bentley, PhD, associate dean for global health and professor NUTR, continues to get accolades for her work in globalizing our curriculum.


  • Alice Ammerman, DrPH, professor NUTR and director of the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, was appointed to a new N.C. Sustainable Local Food Advisory Council. With her Gillings Innovation Laboratory, Alice has become a major figure in sustainable foods. Alice is an amazing citizen!
  • Asserting that no woman should die from cervical cancer, Noel Brewer, PhD, associate professor HBHE, and Jennifer S. Smith, PhD, research associate professor EPI, are leading a multi-state initiative to prevent – or even eradicate – cervical cancer. The Cervical Cancer-Free NC Initiative is a multi-year project to prevent the disease through vaccination against human papillomavirus (HPV) and effective screening for cervical cancer. Initial funding is through a $1.5 million educational grant from GlaxoSmithKline. At a February project launch, Governor Beverly Perdue spoke about the initiative’s importance.
  • We were saddened by the death of Jessie Satia, PhD, associate professor EPI and NUTR and special assistant to the dean for diversity. We got to know her parents Benedict and Philomena and her sisters, A.T. and Aké and brother-in-law Darren.


  • Dan Ariely, PhD, James B. Duke Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and author of best-selling books, spoke to a packed audience at our School. Dan’s focus is behavioral economics, and he’s done fascinating work to show how making desired health behaviors defaults can increase their frequency.
  • Peggye Dilworth-Anderson, PhD, professor HPM, and associate director of Aging and Diversity and interim co-director, UNC Institute on Aging, received the 2010 Ronald and Nancy Reagan Research Institute award for her contributions to research on Alzheimer’s disease. She was in her presidential year for The Gerontological Society of America. There’s still way too little attention to issues of aging in public health, including by our School.
  • Three May 2010 graduates received Fulbright awards. Jacqueline S. Knee, MSPH, and Bachelor of Science in Public Health graduates Melissa Asmar and Erin Shigekawa joined more than 1,500 U.S. citizens traveling abroad for the 2010-2011 academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.
  • Barry Popkin, PhD, Carla Smith Chamblee Distinguished Professor of Nutrition, is often in the news. In a March article in Archives of Internal Medicine, he and colleagues showed that when fast food prices fell, consumption, weight and diabetes risks rose. As Popkin said, policies, such as increased taxes on high-fat, high-calorie fast foods, might help to control the rise in obesity. This is similar to the role of tobacco taxes and tobacco consumption. Barry is working with governments in Mexico and other countries to test policy approaches to controlling obesity.
  • More on obesity…In the Journal of Immunology, March 2010, Melinda Beck, PhD, professor NUTR and doctoral candidate Eric Karlsson found that obese mice are unable to develop protective influenza-specific memory T cells. Beck and Karlsson hypothesized that obese individuals are probably at high risk for infection. Their data may help to explain higher death rates among the obese during the last H1N1 pandemic. Vaccine doses for obese people may be insufficient or there may be other factors that increase their susceptibility to serious infection.
  • And more…Carmen Samuel-Hodge, PhD, research assistant professor NUTR, reported in Obesity that low-income, overweight women lost more weight in a program that included health screening tests and coaching from a trained interventionist. One of our great challenges as a society is to figure out how to scale up obesity programs to reach the millions of people who need help, especially low-income persons.
  • Lack of physical activity is a problem for pregnant women, according to Kelly Evenson, PhD, research professor EPI, in Preventive Medicine. Fewer than 1 in 4 women get enough physical activity during pregnancy.
  • Meghan Slining, PhD, research assistant professor NUTR, and a recent alumna, in work published recently online in The Journal of Pediatrics, found that overweight babies had slower motor development than normal-weight babies. The downsides of extra weight start early.
  • Amanda Holliday, MS, RD, clinical assistant professor NUTR, was named Outstanding Dietetic Educator of the year by the Durham-Chapel Hill Dietetic Association and the N.C. Dietetic Association.
  • The North Carolina Institute for Public Health’s N.C. Center for Public Health Preparedness launched SHARP (Spatial Health Assessment and Research Program), to assist agencies with data collection and spatial analysis projects. We continue to provide hands-on, useful kinds of training and tools for front-line public health practitioners.
  • Robert Meyer, PhD, adjunct professor MCH, received the National Birth Defects Prevention Network’s 2009 Godfrey P. Oakley Jr. Award.
  • Natural hazards and disaster expert Rick Luettich, ScD, professor Marine Sciences and ESE, received a Science and Technology Impact Award from the Department of Homeland Security to recognize his contributions to solving real-world problems.
  • Also in March, Mark Sobsey, PhD, Kenan Distinguished Professor ESE, was selected to participate in a NASA LAUNCH event that brought 10 innovators together at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Mark is an innovative scientist who is making a difference all over the world.


  • Jim Marks, MD, MPH, senior vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, spoke about the future of public health, with a lot of emphasis on policy initiatives.
  • SPH students earned four of 16 Impact Awards, presented by UNC’s Graduate School. The awards went to: Jennifer Marie Gierisch, PhD, who completed a doctorate in HBHE; Maiysha D. Jones, an ESE doctoral candidate; recent graduate Kathryn Remmes Martin, PhD, HBHE, and Stephen D. Richardson, an ESE doctoral candidate. I am really proud that these students (and some now alumni) were cited for their real-world contributions to North Carolinians. (I was on Jennifer’s dissertation committee.)
  • Two of our doctoral candidates, Stephen Richardson, ESE, and Natalie The, NUTR, received the first Gillings Dissertation Awards.
  • Our Biostatistics (BIOS) department was ranked 4th highest in the nation and tied for 10th overall among doctoral programs in statistics, according to U.S. News & World Report.
  • Sendhilnathan “Hari” Ramalingam, a junior majoring in biostatistics and biology, was one of three UNC students selected for  2010 Goldwater Scholarships, one of the nation’s most prestigious awards.
  • Researchers from UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke University and N.C. State University have teamed up to find ways to design clinical trials for cancer treatments, effectively getting better and more personalized new therapies to cancer patients sooner.  “Statistical Methods for Cancer Clinical Trials” is one of the largest grants awarded by the National Cancer Institute. The project is led by three principal investigators – Michael R. Kosorok, PhD, professor and chair BIOS; Marie Davidian, PhD, William Neal Reynolds Professor of Statistics and director of the Center for Quantitative Sciences in Biomedicine at N.C. State; and Stephen L. George, PhD, biostatistics professor at Duke. While we may compete in sports arenas, we collaborate on matters of life and death.
  • We funded four new Gillings Innovation Laboratories (GILs). Eric Donaldson, PhD, research assistant professor EPI; Rebecca Fry, PhD, assistant professor ESE; Suzanne Maman, PhD, assistant professor HBHE and Jill Stewart, PhD, assistant professor ESE, are leading the new GILs.
  • James A. Swenberg, DVM, PhD, Kenan Distinguished Professor ESE and director, Curriculum in Toxicology, and Richard Brostrom, MD, MSPH, medical director of the Division of Public Health for the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), and medical director of CNMI’s programs in tuberculosis control, public health bioterrorism preparedness and tobacco control, received our School’s highest awards for faculty and alumni. Swenberg, recipient of the Bernard G. Greenberg Alumni Endowment Award for excellence in teaching, research and service, and Brostrom, selected for the Harriet Hylton Barr Distinguished Alumnus Award for achievements and contributions to the field of public health, were honored at the School’s annual Fred T. Foard Jr. Memorial Lecture. Jeanne Lambrew, PhD, alumna HPM and director of the DHHS’ Office of Health Reform, gave the Fred T. Foard Lecture. She kept the audience riveted as she spoke about the process of creating health care reform legislation. We’re really proud of Jeanne.




  • I’m proud of the way Bill Gentry (director, Certificate Programs, and lecturer, HPM) from our School, mobilized people across UNC-Chapel Hill and beyond to talk about potential consequences of the Gulf oil spill for N.C. The public health, veterinary and preparedness communities were well-represented along with experts from other fields. Bill created an excellent agenda, with smart, informed speakers who gave us a good picture of the issues and what we might do. Joe Tullos, owner Gulf Rim Cafe in Hillsborough, N.C., formerly of the Gulf coast, gave us a glimpse of how the disaster affected people he knows in Louisiana.
  • Marc Prensky, writer and lecturer on learning and education, spoke about millennial students and how we should educate and engage with them. He had lots of excellent, practical suggestions and was a fascinating speaker.
  • We celebrated more than Independence Day this holiday weekend.
  • On July 2, I announced the School’s reaccreditation by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) for seven years, the maximum period of renewal.
  • Faculty member Cathy Melvin, PhD, and alumnus Joseph Lee, MPH, CPH, were leaders in providing data used in “Smoking Out a Deadly Threat: Tobacco Use in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Community,” recently published by the American Lung Association (ALA).  The research also was covered in a blog by Cable News Network’s medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta, MD.
  • Dorothy Cilenti, DrPH, deputy director of the N.C. Institute for Public Health, was appointed chair of the North Carolina Healthy Start Foundation‘s board of directors.
  • A new study provides the first national data on the effectiveness of dental referrals by physicians. Heather Beil, MPH, doctoral student, and Gary Rozier, DDS, professor HPM and director of UNC School of Dentistry’s Dental Public Health and Residency Training Program, published their data in Pediatrics. Gary has been a leader in finding novel ways to disseminate best practices in pediatric preventive dental care.
  • Prenatal diets lacking choline – an essential nutrient found in all cell membranes – result in fewer blood vessels in the brains of developing fetuses, according to a mouse study by UNC Nutrition Research Institute (NRI) scientists in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  According to NRI director Steven Zeisel, MD, PhD, most pregnant women in the United States have diets that are choline-deficient; only 14 percent of expecting mothers in the U.S. get the right amount of choline.


  • Chris Perry, MA, assistant director of communications, develops and maintains the School’s website. Perry was selected as winner of the 2010 Staff Excellence Award, a schoolwide honor that acknowledges outstanding work, as measured by excellent attitude, leadership and initiative.



  • We kicked off a new effort to plan for the year 2020; we call it SPH2020.
  • Carolyn Halpern, PhD, associate professor MCH and fellow at UNC’s Carolina Population Center, received the 2010 Loretta P. Lacey Maternal and Child Health Academic Leadership Award from the national Association of Teachers of Maternal and Child Health. The award recognizes proven leadership skills and the potential for future career development. Loretta Lacey and I were colleagues until her untimely death. I was touched that one of our faculty got an award in her honor.
  • Whether they see themselves as “tough guys,” or just self-reliant, men are less likely than women to seek routine, preventive medical care, such as blood pressure and cholesterol screenings. A new study published in Journal of General Internal Medicine, led by Wizdom Powell Hammond, PhD, assistant professor HBHE, suggests that the main reason African-American men delay getting health care is because they do not trust the health care system.
  • Rebecca Fry, PhD, assistant professor ESE, won two prestigious awards recognizing her potential to advance science and make substantial contributions throughout her career. Fry received the Outstanding New Environmental Scientist (ONES) Award from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) of the National Institutes of Health, and she was named a PopTech Science and Public Leadership Fellow.
  • Herbert B. Peterson, MD, Kenan Distinguished Professor and chair MCH, received the 2010 Allan Rosenfield Award for Lifetime Contributions to International Family Planning.
  • We received a $4.6 million award from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to establish a Preparedness and Emergency Response Learning Center. Under the five-year cooperative agreement, the center will meet the training needs of workers involved with public health preparedness and response in four states – North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. Pia MacDonald, PhD, research associate professor EPI and director of the N.C. Center for Public Health Preparedness, is the project’s principal investigator.
  • The Southeast Public Health Training Center (SPHTC), part of the NCIPH, received a $3.2 million grant for their efforts.  The five-year grant supports the SPHTC’s work in both North Carolina and West Virginia. I’m very proud of the hands-on training and support we provide to public health practitioners.
  • UNC scientists received a five-year, $2.2 million grant to study how factors such as pregnancy and obesity may promote susceptibility to an aggressive subtype of breast cancer that is more prevalent in young African-American women. The grant is funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). Melissa Troester, PhD, assistant professor EPI, and Liza Makowski, PhD, assistant professor NUTR, are the principal investigators.
  • June Stevens, RD, PhD, AICR Distinguished Professor and chair, NUTR, is principal investigator of the coordinating unit for a new $49.5 million research effort, funded by NIH, to examine ways to curtail the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic.


  • Bryce Reeve, PhD, associate professor HPM, was elected president of the International Society for Quality of Life Research. This is one of many examples of our leadership in so many different fields. Bryce came to us recently from the NIH; he grew up in Chapel Hill.
  • Vangee Foshee, PhD, received a $1.2M award from CDC to study prevention of adolescent dating violence.
  • EPI alumna, and principal and vice chancellor at McGill University in Canada, Heather Munroe-Blum, OC, OQ, PhD, FRSC, gave the 2010 University Day address. It was great. I particularly liked her comments about the university. She  said “I am enormously proud to be a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill because I believe that great public universities are a most profound force for good in our world…Today we are being asked to examine how we can all do more to make our world a safer, more equitable, healthier and more prosperous place. We are being challenged to do good, better.”
  • Jamie Bartram, PhD, recently recruited professor of the practice ESE and director of The Water Institute at UNC (TWI), had a couple big months. First, he was part of a series of papers in Public Library of Science Medicine (PLOS) that drew attention to the devastating disease burden associated with poor water and sanitation, an avoidable burden. Jamie kicked off the inaugural conference hosted by TWI with more than 400 people from 50 countries. I only got to attend part of the meeting, but it was impressive. He was also elected to the National Science Foundation’s International Council of Public Health Consultants. Bartram and Peggy Bentley, PhD, associate dean global health and professor NUTR, were awarded a new grant from NIH called “Water Wisdom: Developing Local-global Capacities in Managing Water.”


  • EPI alumnus and adjunct professor William (Bill) Jenkins, PhD, gave one of the keynotes at the annual APHA meeting. From all accounts, it was a great success.
  • Janet Place, MPH, director of the NCIPH’s Southeast Public Health Training Center, received the Theodore R. Ervin Award for Outstanding Service at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting.
  • Cheryll Lesneski, DrPH, clinical professor PHLP, was among a small group of leaders who wrote the landmark document, Priority Areas for Improvement of Quality in Public Health, released at the APHA meeting.
  • Still more about obesity…in Journal of the American Medical Association, Penny Gordon-Larsen, PhD, associate professor NUTR, and colleagues The, Suchindran, Popkin and North, found that obese adolescents are 16 times more likely to become severely obese by age 30 than their healthy-weight or overweight peers. It is so important to intervene with children and adolescents to prevent overweight and obesity.
  • Marci Campbell, PhD, professor NUTR, received a LIVESTRONG Community Engagement Award from the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Marci is truly amazing in terms of the breadth, depth and quantity of her research.
  • We were thrilled that Jessica Y. Lee, PhD, DDS, was one of a small group of people named as recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. Jessica is associate professor in the schools of public health and dentistry with a focus on important issues of access to dental care.
  • Our students continue to rack up awards. Yingqi Zhao, BIOS doctoral student, won the Statistics in Epidemiology Young Investigator Award from the American Statistical Association.
  • We named Anna Maria Siega-Riz, PhD, professor EPI and NUTR, associate dean for academic affairs, succeeding Peggy Leatt, PhD, chair HPM, who did an excellent job. Siega-Riz is an accomplished teacher and researcher with great commitment to education.
  • Edward Baker, Jr., MD, research professor HPM and director of the NCIPH, was reappointed to N.C.’s Public Health Study Commission.
  • Dennis Gillings, PhD, CBE, CEO Quintiles, received the University’s Davie Award, the Board of Trustee’s highest honor—for his service to UNC and the world.
  • Gates Foundation awarded a grant to Steven Meshnick, MD, PhD, as part of their Grand Challenges Explorations. Steve’s was one of only 67 funded out of 2400 proposals. He and colleague Carla Hand, MD, PhD, research assistant professor EPI, will develop a process to enclose vaccine samples within miniature polymers that resemble lymph nodes. Their goal is to make vaccines more available and affordable in the developing world.
  • Bert Peterson, MD, Kenan Distinguished Professor and chair MCH, was selected as an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare. Bert is recognized worldwide for his many contributions to improving women’s health.
  • Two of our department chairs, Michael Kosorok, PhD (BIOS) and June Stevens, RD, PhD (NUTR), were reappointed for five more years. Each has done an outstanding job and led departments that have grown in stature under their leadership.
  • Our nutrition department received top rankings in the recent National Science Foundation rankings.
  • Jonathan Oberlander, PhD, professor HPM and social medicine, continues to be a knowledge beacon about health reform. He weighed in on the legal battles regarding health reform in the Nov. 17 online edition of New England Journal of Medicine.
  • We published the fall issue of Carolina Public Health magazine, an especially strong issue with great stories about what our faculty, staff and students are doing to control obesity. Thanks to Communications director Ramona DuBose, Linda Kastleman, MA and Chris Perry, MA, especially.


  • The year is winding down, but the accolades are still coming.
  • BIOS student William K. “Keith” Funkhouser, III was selected as a Phillips Ambassador for study in Singapore. He’s one of only eight UNC undergrads selected for this program.
  • HBHE professor Ed Fisher, PhD, was awarded a $5M grant from Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation to test how combinations of peer support and community outreach coupled with high-quality, patient-centered primary care, can improve health outcomes and quality of life for low-income Hispanic adults with diabetes.
  • ESE professor William Gray, PhD, was selected to present the 2010 Langbein Lecture at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting.
  • Anna Schenck, PhD, director PHLP, now leads the scientific advisory committee for United Healthcare Foundation’s rankings of health by state. Check out the 2010 rankings: unfortunately, N.C. is 35th, improved a little over last year. But we have far to go to become the healthiest state.
  • Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute director and professor of the practice, Miriam Labbok, MD, was named a Women’s Center Faculty Scholar.
  • Congratulations to Kathy Barboriak, PhD, assistant dean for information technology, and Cheryl Gerringer, business manager HBHE, for completing the University Leadership Education and Development Program.
  • ChildFund International became the first sponsor of a Commissioned Innovation Lab (CIL) at the SPH. Led by Peggy Bentley, PhD, professor NUTR and associate dean for global health, the CIL will develop and test an evidence-based program to improve the lives of vulnerable children. CILs are companions to our Gillings Innovations Labs, another way we are pushing forward innovation in public health.
  • Bert Peterson, MD, hosted a global meeting of experts in a variety of fields related to maternal health. The group is preparing a themed Lancet issue that will discuss ways to scale efforts to achieve Millennium Development Goals in this domain. We were thrilled to have Richard Horton, MD, editor of the Lancet, among the experts. I’d never met him before although I greatly admire the journal. Horton is a fascinating, charismatic man.
  • Nearly 160 of our students graduated at winter commencement.
  • Julie MacMillan, MPH, interim senior associate dean and managing director CPHS, Joan Gillings, Mike Aitken, PhD, professor and chair ESE and I visited Tom Butler’s farm to take a look at Mike’s Gillings Innovation Lab. Mike and his colleagues, working closely with farm owner Tom Butler, are trying to remove methane from hog waste and turn it into energy (see CPHS’ webpages for a more thorough explanation). In true Carolina can-do fashion, they purchased a used circus trailer on eBay and made it a working laboratory. It was fascinating to talk with hog farm owner Butler and his son Will and to meet John McNeill, who is running day-to-day logistics on the van. While hog farms are critical to the N.C. economy, we must make them safer. Tom Butler is a hog farmer who is trying to do the right thing. He is very enthusiastic about the project and the fact that UNC is doing something that benefits people in N.C. To the right is a picture from our visit. It’s the kind of experience that makes me really feel good about being dean.
Heavy snow began Christmas evening; soon, several inches of snow covered everything. This picture is from our backyard taken the next morning.


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