At CARE, we combine decades of experience with a dedication to innovation. We are proud of the work culture we have fostered at the Center, as we not only recruit the best and brightest, but also team members who are loyal, fun, and truly seek to serve our partners.
Director of CARE since 2010, Pam Gillam is perhaps best understood through the lens of those she leads. When compiling biographies of those who work at CARE, every individual praised the strong workplace culture and Pam’s leadership. This foundation of internal cohesion allows those at CARE to do their work to the best of their abilities.
Pam’s approach to CARE’s collaborators is both empathetic and intuitive. “What is it you want to know?” she asks. “We will use our expertise to get you the answer.” It is important to Pam that CARE doesn’t just provide a simple report. “We will engage them at every step in the process and at every stage of the decision making.” Moreover, Pam’s dedication to the cause and to integrity is clear. “The spirit of collaboration is built on trust,” she says. “We’re not about power and control or fame.”
As director, it is important to Pam that every collaborator is assigned to the right team. “We spend a lot of time making sure we have the right mix of talents and skills for every project.” The team approach works well for both clients and research associates, providing a deep well of ability to draw from.
Pam came to CARE as a graduate student and was mentored by Dave Murday. CARE proved to be an excellent fit, and she has excelled within the center for over twenty years. In her ten plus years as director, she has placed an emphasis on making CARE not just a workplace, but a family. Lasagna cook offs, homemade ice cream to celebrate birthdays, and staff meetings that are actually fun to attend help to create a strong bond that benefits both CARE staff and clients.
While there is no shortage of seriousness when it comes to the aim of the work done at CARE, the office maintains its sense of humor. New employees take a Care Bear Personality Test, and their Care Bear avatar is then hung on their office door. Unsurprisingly, the office has an overabundance of Harmony Bears.
When not at work, Pam is busy being a mom to teenagers and enjoys entertaining at home. She likes to read, exercise, and is very active in her church.
Kelli is one of CARE’s greatest assets. When asked how many years she has worked with CARE, she pauses, unsure, and says, “It’s been a looong time.” In fact, she began her work at CARE in January of 2014, after an extensive career in health education. Though officially retired, Kelli continues to work part-time at CARE and as an adjunct instructor at the Arnold School of Public Health.
Kelli finds that her dual roles inform and strengthen one another. Her real-world work with CARE betters her as an educator, and her work as an educator keeps her abreast of evolving best practices. It also serves another purpose for CARE—Kelli serves as the de facto recruiter, serving as a mentor to many students who come to work for CARE. “I am passionate about training the next generation of public health professionals,” she says.
When Kelli retired from the Health Services Policy and Management department at USC, she was thrilled to continue on at CARE. “It is such a great place to work, so heck no I’m not giving up my association with CARE!” she enthuses. “It is a group of greatly talented consultants who have banded together, and you have all the resources of the university at your disposal. I really like our approach of team staffing, so our collaborators are well taken care of.”
Kelli is proud of the reputation CARE has earned. “We are trusted to do high quality work—without micromanaging.” That high quality work has been streamlined over the years into reports that are consumable for CARE’s collaborators and delivered in a timely manner, empowering positive changes. “We are working with people who are making decisions quickly,” she says, “and we aim to get them the information they need as they need it.”
“We get called back for a second, third, fourth, fifth evaluation, which I think shows you how much our collaborators value our work. I call us evaluation plus because we offer as much as possible.”
While Kelli is at the heart of CARE and the Master of Public Health Program in Columbia, she lives “in the middle of nowhere” on 14 acres, with 7 dogs, a cat, and 24 chickens Though she’s been a knitter for decades, she recently took up crochet and is enjoying the challenge of learning a new skill. In the cooler months you can find her kayaking on the Intercoastal Waterway near Holden Beach, NC. Kelli earned her PhD in Health Promotion and Education from the University of South Carolina in 2011. She previously earned her Master of Science in Community Health Education from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and her BS in Health Science from the Arizona State University.
A South Carolina native, Lesley Leake has a passion for her home state. Knowing she wanted to be of service, she began her professional life in clinical research at MUSC. “Helping people was my ultimate goal,” she says, and while there were aspects of her work she enjoyed, something was missing. At CARE, Lesley found work that combined her skills with data analysis with her desire to help others.
Lesley began working at CARE as a graduate assistant while earning her MPH in Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior at USC. She moved to Research Associate upon receiving her MPH in 2017. Her work with CARE has only deepened her appreciation for South Carolina and its way of life, particularly for the rural spaces.
She describes CARE as possessing an excellent mix of veterans and younger researchers. “The veterans demonstrate how to be. They are great role models for how to provide quality services. There’s excellent leadership here,” she says. “It’s definitely unique.”
Lesley has quickly become one of CARE’s greatest assets. Her areas of focus include healthy eating, active living, and childhood obesity, as well as youth suicide, teen pregnancy prevention, and social determinants of health.
Recently, Lesley started doctoral studies in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at USC. In addition to her work at CARE and PhD studies, Lesley is a yoga instructor who enjoys rock climbing, camping and traveling.
Mark has been with CARE since 2015 and has developed affinity for working on large, complex projects with a multitude of players. This data heavy work is “never boring,” he says. “All these projects demand a more nuanced method of evaluation. We’re making sense out of what’s messy.”
Mark received his MPH from the University of Connecticut and went on to earn his PhD in Medical Anthropology from UConn as well. “It is satisfying to take those skills and apply them to the real world and make a difference. I’m taking what I’ve learned and turning into something directly actionable. My job is to determine for my clients what will best benefit them.”
Away from the office, Mark describes himself as a “car enthusiast,” with a special affection for Saabs and Mustangs. A lack of garage space prevents the collection from growing, but one gets the feeling he may find a way around that one day.
In addition, he paints, with acrylics as his medium of choice. “I paint because my father painted,” he says. The tradition continues, as he and his wife take their 8-year-old son to art museums, which the whole family enjoys.
A Research Associate at CARE since 2019, Maria McClam received her PhD in Environmental Health Sciences at the Arnold School of Public Health at USC in 2022. She earned her MS in the same field of study from USC in 2018. Maria’s research intersects community health and the environment, with an emphasis on women’s health. She applies quantitative and qualitative methodology to help community partners easily understand data and display the impact of their programs. Her current projects are focused on evaluating maternal and child health home visiting programs, partnerships to support pregnant and parenting teens, environmental health garden-based experiential learning projects, and community-based health promotion interventions. She also has expertise in environmental contaminants, water quality, women’s reproductive health, and infertility.
“It is really rewarding that our work here has a purpose,” she says. Maria spends a lot of time on the qualitative side, speaking with participants in various programs. This work at CARE “also keeps me humble, as I hear stories that let me know how fortunate I am.” These experiences are motivating as well. “When our information is correctly utilized it has a very important impact.”
An avid world traveler, Maria has visited over 20 countries. She and her husband keep a map of the world with pins in the places they have visited. They have a Rhodesian Ridgeback named Sophie, who accompanies Maria on weekend adventures in the great outdoors. In addition to her work at CARE, she has spent time teaching yoga and enjoys Pilates and barre.
A mother of two teenagers, Nazratun Monalisa’s career in public health was inspired by her desire to do “something good for the children.” She began her work in her native Bangladesh, where she was a part of a large project sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to improve the health of children aged 5 and under.
Monalisa was also co-principal investigator of another large effort addressing childhood obesity in Bangladesh from the chronic disease center funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Monalisa came to the University of South Carolina in 2014 to pursue her PhD in Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior, and upon graduating came to work at CARE in 2020. Her objective has remained the same. “My research interest is prevention of diseases through healthy behaviors, particularly among children and adolescents,” she says. She is co-principal investigators of three projects at CARE, including evaluation services for Personal Responsibility Education Program and Sexual Risk Avoidance Education focusing on prevention of adolescents’ risky behaviors and teen pregnancy. She also worked on U.S. children's food choice during her PhD program. “If we can empower them and teach them better behaviors, the benefits will last a lifetime,” she explains.
Her efforts have not gone unnoticed, as she was selected as an Emerging Leader in Nutrition Science Finalist by the American Society for Nutrition. She has also been recognized with an Emerging Scholar in Childhood Obesity award by the University of South Carolina.
Monalisa is quick to sing the praises of CARE. “I love to be here,” she says, “we have great collaboration and excellent communication, and I must mention that we have a very strong leader. Pam is an outstanding director.”
When not at work, Monalisa enjoys traveling with her family. The mountains of Tennessee are a frequent destination, but beaches, big cities, deserts, and adventurous road trips have also been a part of the family’s journeys. She stays connected to the rich culture of Bangladesh through music, dance, and the reciting of poetry.
An invaluable asset to the CARE team, Dave Murday is a veteran of not just CARE, but of South Carolina Public Health in general.
Prior to joining USC in 1995, he spent 10 years as Director of Research for the Joint Legislative Health Care Planning and Oversight Committee. Dave was then Director of the ASPH Center for Health Services and Policy Research, CARE’s predecessor, retiring from that post in 2009.
Retirement didn’t quite stick, and he found himself Director of the Evaluation and Quality Improvement core for the SC Clinical and Translational Research Institute at the Medical University of South Carolina. Dave retired again in 2015.
Dave once again struggled to truly retire, continuing on at CARE as a Research Associate. Until he wins his war against working, Dave will remain an incredible resource for all those at CARE and for the clients who are fortunate enough to benefit from his experience, expertise, and his passion. “The whole point of doing this kind of research is to make a difference,” he says.
When not at work, Dave enjoys seeing the world. He has traveled down the Rhine, Rhône, and Danube rivers, visited the West Indies, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico, and explored England and Norway.
Nobody does more to make sure the trains run on time at CARE than Jenesha Nance. “My specialty in work is project coordination and time management,” she says. “I love to plan, no matter how stressful it can be. I enjoy staying organized and coordinating things, so I can try my hardest to make our initiatives successful.”
Jenesha has worked in research since 2016. She discovered CARE while working toward her MPH at USC, moving from a graduate assistantship to a full-time Research Associate when she graduated in 2020. Her special focus is on social determinants of health, where she coordinates a statewide effort toward improving the lives of South Carolinians. She also works on evaluating the FIRST FIIRRE initiative, an effort to help hire and retain diverse faculty at the University.
Jenesha loves the work culture at CARE. “I enjoy talking with all my coworkers. I also enjoy that everyone comes from different walks of life, making CARE a diverse environment. I get to see new perspectives every day!”
Outside of work, Jenesha loves to read, write, and cook. “I love making extravagant food from scratch and challenging myself. I also volunteer for Mutual Aid Midlands to help people access resources.” A devoted wife and aunt, Jenesha also enjoys spending time with her niece and nephew.
Holly Pope has a long history with USC, having worked for the university while receiving her master’s in Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior in 2003 and her doctorate in 2010. Holly remained with the Arnold School of Public Health, working as a qualitative researcher focusing on the mental health benefits of social capital and also using public health approaches to improve food systems.
Holly came to CARE in January of 2022, drawn to the impact that the center has on the community. “CARE uses rigorous research and evaluation methods that stakeholders can utilize to address complex health issues, especially among vulnerable populations,” she says. It is the “vulnerable populations” part of that equation that hits Holly’s heart. Born and raised in Gaffney, her desire to “be a part of the solution” arose in high school, where “I saw health disparities, particularly along racial lines, and I thought, ‘There has got to be something that can be done.’” At CARE, Holly makes the most of the opportunity to make a difference. “I enjoy being part of a team that gives community partners a space for innovative ideas and helps organizations and communities strategize to reach their vision.”
When she is not at work, Holly is the mother of two little kids, “so that is mostly what I do,” she says. She loves to hike, ride her bike, and go to the lake, saying, “I am at my happiest when I am outside.”
Shannon Porto is a Project Assistant, working as a member of the Business Management team at CARE. Shannon describes her role as catch-all, taking care of invoicing, reimbursements, purchasing, and a multitude of other detail-oriented jobs that she excels at managing.
Shannon has been a part of CARE since 2008. She describes her job as “making sure everything runs smoothly for our researchers.”
Part of her job is being familiar with the frequently complex university system and helping CARE researchers navigate that system. She is quick to praise the collaborative nature of CARE. “Everybody really comes together to make things happen,” she says. Shannon is in the perfect position to contribute to the team, as she is task-oriented, efficient, and precise.
When she is not at CARE, Shannon says she loves to be at home with her husband. They have two dogs, a cat, and six hermit crabs. She has a passion for gardening and wildlife, cultivating a green space that feeds the birds, animals, and pollinators with native species of plants. Shannon also enjoys puzzles, Star Wars, Star Trek, Superheroes and playing board games with her husband.
Catrina Plyler is CARE’s Business Manager and the one who keeps all the trains running on time. With an accounting background, Plyler is a wizard with a spreadsheet, and is credited with exceptional organizational skills. She is also a jack of all trades, also taking care of the Center’s human resources, payroll, and general office management. Catrina is also known throughout CARE as a tireless cheerleader for the entire team.
Hired on at the beginning of the 2020 pandemic, Catrina had an unusual introduction to working at CARE. However, it didn’t take long for her to declare the Center a wonderful place to work. “It’s amazing here,” she says. “We have phenomenal people who do great work for our communities. I love it when the office is full and buzzing with energy. I’m just blessed to be in this position.”
Catrina is a true Gamecock through and through, having attended USC and having worked in the accounting department of the Greek Village prior to coming to CARE. She is also a devoted member of her sorority Kappa Alpha Theta, having held many offices, including president and currently treasurer.
When she is not at work, Catrina likes to spend time with her family. She has known her husband since they were eight years old and calls him her best friend—even though he is a Clemson fan. They have a daughter and son together.
A veteran of the CARE team, Lauren earned her MPH and PhD in Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior from the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health. She began her work at CARE as a grad student and continued on after receiving her doctorate in 2013.
Lauren’s research expertise is in program evaluation, with a specific focus on community health development, health systems transformation, and use of qualitative methods. She prides herself on building collaborative relationships with evaluation partners. Lauren cites the importance of the one-on-one attention she gives clients, while taking the time needed to truly understand their work and goals.
“I just enjoy talking to people and hearing their perspective,” she says. “Everybody sees and experiences our world differently. When you listen to all of the perspectives and think about how they fit together to create solutions or demonstrate an impact, that can really move things forward.”
Her current research is focused on evaluating maternal and child health home visiting programs, partnerships to support pregnant and parenting teens, healthcare networks for uninsured individuals, and community-based health promotion interventions. In addition to her dedication to tried-and-true relationship building, Lauren keeps an eye toward innovation. For example, she cites “Ripple Effect Mapping” as an interactive research methodology. Not only does it produce important data, but it can also enhance the sense of partnership among participants.
When asked about the CARE team, she says, “Family is the word that comes to mind. We show up for each other and truly care about one another’s success—both personally and professionally.”
At home, Lauren enjoys time with her husband and two daughters, reading books, and spending time outside.