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Rachel Panama

Rachel Willis, Associate Professor in the Department of American Studies at UNC Chapel Hill, is utilizing her fellowship term to examine strategic recommendations for a more effective surface transportation strategy. To do so, her project explores how we might measure and minimize the environmental consequences of participation in the global economy as it relates to transportation with respect to water quality and access.

Willis has also examined factors affecting access to work in the American economy through collaborative engaged scholarship. With grants from the Russell Sage and Rockefeller Foundations and the Upjohn Institute, her focus on manufacturing workers resulted in Kids at Work: The Value of Employer-Sponsored On-Site Child Care Centers, coauthored with Connelly and DeGraff. In addition they have published “If You Build It, They Will Come: Parental Use of On-Site Child Care Centers” in Population Research and Policy Review and “The Value of Employer-Sponsored Child Care to Employees,” in Industrial Relations. Their published work on the textile industry includes “The Future of Jobs in the Hosiery Industry” in Low-Wage America: How Employers are Reshaping Opportunity in the Workplace. Willis and Connelly have also published “Keeping Good Job Opportunities in the Community” at the CPWO and Willis has published “Voices of Mill Workers: As Jobs Cross Borders and Border-Crossers Take Jobs” in The American South in a Global World. Earning the inaugural Bryan Award in 2000 for her 1990’s research on the Smart Start Childcare Legislation, she was also honored in 2002 by the Regional Transportation Authority for her decade plus policy work as an appointed transportation official and with THINK Transit. Her research on disability access to higher education is at With numerous grants and fellowships, Campus Compact honored Willis with the 2007 Sigmon Award. A 2007 Kauffman Entrepreneurial Fellow at the IAH, Willis was a GSK Transportation Policy Fellow at IEI in 2009 and now investigates global access to work.

Experiential learning via both service-learning and field study are at the core of nearly every course developed by Willis. From the team-taught capstone course and field lab on “The Role of the University in American Life” to two distinct first year seminars on “Access to Higher Education” and “Navigating America”, Willis creates a dynamic curriculum that builds upon on and off-campus research. Upper division seminars on “Service Learning in America” and “Documenting Communities” require her students to engage in community research and service. Willis contributes to teaching outside the classroom including serving as the first faculty advisor for APPLES and as part of the Carolina Center for Public Service Committees that developed both the Public Service Scholar Program and the Faculty Engaged Scholars Program. In the first class of BRIDGES, she served on the board and developed the Curriculum for Academic Institutions. She has served as a faculty mentor for MURAP, as an Advisor for Honors and the Hmong Students Association of Carolina. In 2009 she was a lead scholar for the NC Humanities Council for the Teacher’s Institute.

In 2010, Willis was honored with the UNC Board of Governors Excellence in Teaching Award. Additional teaching honors include the William Friday Award and two Student Undergraduate Teaching Awards. In 1994 and 2000 she was a Chapman Fellow at the IAH and holds numerous other teaching honors from the University, Economics, and Student Affairs. From 2006 through 2011, she held the Bowman and Gordon Gray Professorship for Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching.