Advancement and
Alumni Engagement
Emory Alumni Awards 2022

Celebrating the 2022 Emory Alumni Awards

The Emory Alumni Awards are an opportunity to reflect on the everyday champions, luminary leaders, and change-makers who call Emory home. This year, we’re honoring five alumni whose stories of triumph and trailblazing serve as an inspiration to us all. 

    Jean O’Connor has spent more than two decades as a public health leader ensuring communities are healthy—and stay that way. She previously worked for the State of Georgia as the chief policy officer and chronic disease prevention director. In that role, she oversaw $30 million in statewide grants and programs related to risk factors for chronic disease, health equity, the state’s health improvement planning process, and partnership across sectors. She also worked at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 10 years as a health scientist and was the acting associate director for policy for the Center for Preparedness and Response.

    She has taught at the Rollins School of Public Health since 2003 and the doctoral program at the University of Georgia since 2017. While working and teaching, she earned her Doctor of Public Health in 2009 from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. O’Connor has always been deeply committed to public service. She is currently a Principal at Abt Associates, an engine for social impact that provides health-related research and technical assistance for governments She’s the past-president of the U.S. National Association of Chronic Disease Prevention Directors and serves on several nonprofit boards, including Heluna Health. In 2018, she was named to the Fulbright Specialist Roster for global health and law. The same verve O’Connor has committed to public service has kept her involved with Emory. While attending Emory, she volunteered extensively for Emory EMS and she has continued to contribute to many committees, organizations, and groups during the last 25 years.

    Judge Clarence Cooper is accustomed to carving a path where there is none. He came to Emory University School of Law in 1965 and was among the first full-time African American students to graduate from the program. Cooper began a career in law during the Civil Rights Movement. This turbulent time of desegregation and denial of voting rights fueled Cooper in his ascent as a lawyer.

    Throughout his early career, he was the first and only Black person in many of the offices he serviced. He served as the assistant district attorney for the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office for five years. Later, he was appointed to Atlanta’s Fulton County Superior Court, where he presided over the Wayne Williams/Atlanta Child Murder case. Cooper is currently a senior judge on the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. He is a pioneer for African Americans in the field of law, and his legacy is one that all people can live by.

    Lisa M. Carlson has spent the last three decades dedicating her life to public health and Emory University. She first came to Emory in 1992 as a first-generation college student and Woodruff Scholar. The effortless sense of community she found as a student has kept her rooted to the university. Carlson carries dual roles at Emory as an affiliated instructor at Rollins School of Public Health and executive administrator of research administration at the Emory School of Medicine. She has inspired hundreds of students to think critically about today’s public health issues while championing public health on the national level.

    Carlson has served as president of the American Public Health Association and made history as the youngest president to be elected to the Georgia Public Health Association. She has made it her mission to serve Emory in a multitude of ways, from committees and boards to fundraising and individual giving. She was instrumental in the Seating the Future Campaign, which invited donors to invest in plaques for the auditorium seats in Claudia Nance Rollins Building. The campaign inspired 134 donors to give $33,500 in funding for the Rollins School of Public Health. 

    Gulshan Harjee’s life oftentimes has felt like a series of tests. She grew up in a small village in Tanzania with limited access to health care. In high school, she contracted malaria that nearly killed her. As nationalism began to sweep through East Africa, she decided to flee her home country. Later in her life, she suffered the unimaginable loss of her husband to a mass shooting. And when there seemed to be a respite from these unending tests, Harjee learned she had cancer, which she would inevitably beat.

    While Harjee’s life has been one of struggle, it has also been one of resilience, tenderness, and an unrelenting wish to return the kindnesses she has received during hard times. Her crowning jewel in that mission is the Clarkston Community Health Center. She co-founded this free clinic, which serves the immigrant, refugee, uninsured, and under-insured population of Clarkston and metro Atlanta. The clinic has encountered more than 10,000 patients with a staff of only one part-time coordinator. The clinic is currently serving 5,900 patients on an annual basis. Harjee has made that possible by giving medical, nursing, and public health students from Emory and several other Georgia universities opportunities to train and become better, more empathetic practitioners. 

    Trish Miller was 19 years old when she dove headfirst into 12-foot-deep water. It was spring break, and after a 15-minute swim lesson from friends, she mustered the courage to take the leap. Adrenaline soaring, her body crashed into the water. It was a frantic few moments before Miller realized that she had no idea how to float or tread water. Luckily, her friends sprang into action and saved her life. She went on to learn that experiences like hers were far too common. In fact, drowning deaths are the second-leading cause of death in children 0–17. For Black children, the rates are even higher than for their Hispanic and white counterparts.

    Faced with her own experience and alarming statistics, Miller knew what she had to do. In 2017, she founded SwemKids. The school-based water safety and swimming instruction program transports elementary and middle school students to local pools as part of their school’s curriculum. The organization aims to break two large barriers for Black children learning to swim: access and affordability. Miller is shining a light on the racial disparities and health inequities that have persisted for generations. With each lesson given at SwemKids, she is envisioning a new way for Black communities to approach swimming.