In Your Words - Advocating for Public Health


Meet three O∆K members advocating for public health.

Terrence Kungel, MBA

Terry Kungel currently serves on O∆K’s Foundation Board of Trustees and is the chairman and CEO of the Maine Coalition to Fight Prostate Cancer.  In this role, he assists six prostate cancer network groups serving 250-500 active prostate cancer patients in Maine. Prior to his current position, Terry was the co-founder and CEO of a biotech company.  He spent much of his career developing and managing new high tech companies. Terry is an initiate of the Purdue University Circle and a graduate of the Harvard Business School.


John Robitscher, MPH

John Robitscher is an initiate of the Emory University Circle and a current member of the O∆K Foundation Board of Trustee. John is the CEO of the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors. In this role, John, along with the volunteer leadership, provides direction and leadership to achieve NACDD’s mission to improve the health of the public by strengthening state-based leadership and expertise for chronic disease prevention and control.


 Gene Siegal, M.D, Ph.D.

Dr. Gene Siegal is a member of O∆K’s National Advisory Council and was initiated into the University of Louisville Circle during medical school. Gene is the Robert W. Mowry Endowed Professor of Pathology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), and since the summer of 2015, he has served as the Interim Chair of its Department of Pathology. Gene's clinical research interests have centered on studies of bone tumors and related conditions, a field in which he is a recognized world authority.


What do you see as the top public health challenges for U.S. and why?

TK – Healthcare continues to generate much debate and partisan wrangling; while I am not optimistic about fixing “the system” each of us have huge opportunities to make our own changes. Obesity, smoking, and lack of exercise are main issues each of us can do something about every day.

JR – First, we must more actively address the social determinants of health that result in needless suffering and $102 billion annual indirect medical costs. Second, we must view health and mental wellbeing as more than just the absence of disease but as opportunities for people to achieve their potential. Third, climate change and the extreme weather events it causes must be abated to prevent thousands, if not millions, of unnecessary injuries, sickness, and deaths.

GS – First, we must understand why there is such diversity in health care outcomes among our citizens. We know access and economic challenges account for part of the answer, but not all. For example, African American women with breast cancer die at a greater rate because they often have types of invasive breast cancer. The tumor cells are different than those found in Caucasian women, which makes them unresponsive to many conventional therapies. Second, we need bipartisan support and compromise to create a health care system available to all Americans irrespective of financial means. Last, a long-term unwavering commitment by Congress and the President for research is the key to finding the cure for many diseases.


What can we do, as a society, to collectively assure the conditions in which people can be healthy? 

TK – We need positive incentives for good behavior and penalties for bad behavior. Cigarette prices should cover all the downstream societal costs for health care. Why can’t YMCA membership costs be covered for anyone actively using them to get healthier? Why can’t the food industry be penalized for excess salt, fat, and sugar?

JR – Educate yourself about the social determinants of health, mental health, and well-being. Reach out to members of Congress to let them you know you care about these issues and that want to see positive change. You also can choose to adopt a healthier lifestyle and find ways to protect the environment in your daily habits. Walking or biking to school or work, for example, is a great way to help protect the environment and improve your health.

GS – We need to demand that our leaders commit to fund research in all its forms by lobbying our representatives and funding candidates who support these positions. We need to educate ourselves on issues surrounding health and science.


Why are you an advocate for health?  What would you like members of Omicron Delta Kappa to know about this concern?

TK – My paternal grandfather and father both died from prostate cancer, and I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of this disease. As a family member with 50+ years of lived experience, I have seen the enormous toll of this disease. Unfortunately, too many men are not taking ownership for their health by avoiding testing for a range of medical conditions, which are manageable if caught early and generally fatal if caught late.

JR – I have spent more than 30 years working in public health. People are living longer, but preventable chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers are giving us a poorer quality of life and shorter lifespan.

I’m an advocate for chronic disease prevention and control because I want to help reduce people's risk factors for these painful and potentially fatal diseases. And we can do so by promoting physical activity, improving access to healthy, affordable foods, and expanding science-based ways to kick the tobacco habit.

GS – I serve on the public policy boards of two professional societies committees which advocate for research support and attempt to mold legislation favorable for expanded health and science support. I also travel to Washington to urge Congress to support research. I’ve spent my life not only creating new scientific knowledge, but training the next several generations of physician scientists as a professor. No one escapes this life without personally suffering from the ravages of disease, either personally or in family members and friends. Everyone needs to be involved, and I encourage the entire O∆K family to join me in this pursuit.





Monica Pearson Breaking Boundaries

Monica Pearson, renowned Atlanta journalist, discusses her career, leadership, and health challenges

When Monica Pearson first stepped into the offices of WSB-TV Atlanta in 1975, there were few women behind evening news desks across the country. While she didn’t explicitly set out to change that reality, an unwavering dedication to excellence and overcoming obstacles led her to become one of Atlanta’s most prominent leaders. Among other accomplishments, Monica became the first woman and the first minority individual to anchor the daily 6 p.m. news.

She remembered her early days and said, “Failure meant closing the door for others. So, I wasn’t willing to allow that to happen. Although I made mistakes, I tried to honor those that were trailblazers before me and to be a trailblazer for others.”

By the time she landed at WSB-TV, Monica had worked in a few other industries. She explained, “I had to be a bank clerk because women were not allowed to be tellers. Can you imagine? So, I worked hard.” She was then selected to attend Columbia University’s summer program for minority groups at the Graduate School of Journalism. Following graduate school, she worked as a reporter for five years.

“I knew I wanted to work in television, but I needed a degree. I was writing speeches, but I was not allowed to present the speeches. I knew that I wouldn’t be happy having men take credit for my work. So I found a way to go back to school. I looked at the national trend and saw that television was opening to women and people of color.”

She graduated with an English degree from the University of Louisville and later earned a master’s degree from University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications. Monica was initiated into the Emory University Circle of Omicron Delta Kappa in 1995.

The thing that strikes you the most when talking with Monica is a straight-forward, no-nonsense approach to life and work—a skill that seems sculpted from years of finding the truth in her stories. She has a genuine warmth and sincerity which cuts through to the simple realities of a topic in conversation.

She explains the challenges in her career: “I have always been honest with myself. When in doubt, I ask myself, ‘Why do you think you’re not cut out for this? What is holding you back?’ The answer may hurt your feelings. But, it is usually something you can fix. It may be that you’re still dressing like you’re in college. Or, that you’re writing for a newspaper, but now you’re in television. Growth is about constructive not destructive criticism. You must ask yourself ‘How can I get good at what I’m doing?’”

This desire to consistently improve her work has earned her 33 local and regional Emmys for reporting, anchoring, and Closeups—her segment of intimate interviews with national leaders. She has interviewed leaders from Dolly Parton to Hank Williams, Jr. and from Georgia Congressman John Lewis (who changed his presidential support from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama during her interview with him) to Oprah.

Adding to the Emmys are awards like the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame, Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, the Georgia Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame, the Presidential Vanguard award by her sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, and countless others.


Maintaining a positive image for more than 30 years in the spotlight is no small feat. As a leader in the community and a public figure, how does Monica handle the world of social media, fake news, and celebrity personas?

She said simply, "Authenticity—to be real—is the only way to truly connect with people. My unique background made me stand out. I embraced what made me different.”

She goes on, “If you are a leader, you cannot always be a part of the pack. You have to know your strengths and be careful who you listen to about your weaknesses. If someone is not telling you how to do something better, it’s not worth listening to.”

Separating yourself from the pack can be an intimidating endeavor especially with the abundance of anonymous and often cruel online comments, or the tendency to reduce full stories to soundbites and click bait hiding a situation’s or person’s complexities. Cal Newport, Georgetown University professor argues in the New York Times that social media can damage one’s career ultimately by undermining the ability to concentrate and the ability to produce work that truly matters.

Monica, who maintains an active social media presence, shares her viewpoint on these platforms. She says, “Social media helps you extend your friends. It’s about sharing who you are and promoting the things that you are invested in. Also, I do not tolerate unkindness. I will block people in a minute if they share inappropriate comments or behavior.”

Even before people in Atlanta were following her, she had long-established the force that is Monica Pearson. Much of her drive and identity was developed under the watchful eye of her mother, Hattie Edmondson. Monica describes her as a “character” and a woman with a saying for everything. Her mother was the first person in her family to graduate from high school, and Monica is the first in her family to graduate from college.

Monica recalls, “I called the [sayings] Hattie-isms. She said, ‘Don’t make excuses— make work and all work is good work as long as it is honest work.’ ‘It doesn’t matter where you come from. God gives you everything that you need.’” Her favorite, however, is, “It’s what you do with what you have that makes you what you are.”

The ever-engaging journalist, Monica laughs and says, “did you notice it’s not who you are, but what you are.”

What she means is that you can be a good person on the inside, but if you don’t get to work developing your strengths and sticking to your commitments, you cannot achieve your dreams. Who you are might never change, but what you are? That is what one can develop.

Monica is heavily invested in the Atlanta community, and her service is endless. She has served on the board of Meals on Wheels Atlanta and Go Red for Women as well as supported organizations across the city, including the Girls Scouts, the YMCA, The Sisters of Promise of Susan G. Komen, and The Metropolitan United Way of Atlanta. William Finch Elementary School, where Monica has given books to children and volunteered for many years, named a corner of their library after her.

As passionate as she was about her career, she considers community involvement more important than her job. She has strived to define herself by what she does away from work.

When asked how she determines how to devote her time considering the many needs in society, she said, “There are so many demands on your time. I chose how to be involved in my community based on two things: first, I always volunteered for something that I was passionate about. Second, I choose community organizations that would allow me to meet other community leaders.

“I first started volunteering by reading to first grade students in elementary school with a project called Kids Connection. I spent an hour a week volunteering and working with the kids. This also allowed me to be a role model in the community. As you try to build a career and be involved in your community, pick organizations that you are passionate about and set aside a reasonable amount of time for them.”


The television industry does not quite have the reputation for being the friendliest or easiest industry to work in, but Monica was strict about setting expectations in the office. She says, “Only allow people to see good things from you. People will pull you into all kinds of things. Stay focused and only engage in issues about your work that matter.”

Her biggest lesson about leadership over the years? Recognize the leaders around you. Real leadership is about developing the talents within your network.

“You have to take responsibility for your decisions good or bad,” she says. “A leader is able to say, ‘I was wrong. I made a bad decision and here is what I learned.’ I always think good leaders give credit where credit is due. They also have a sense of ethics that they live by no matter what.”

Monica adds, “I know that I had a moral responsibility to do the right thing in my work. If it gives you a feeling in the pit of your stomach, you shouldn’t do it.”

She faced new challenges later in life and survived both breast and liver cancer. In 1998 when she received her breast cancer diagnosis, she, in typical Monica fashion, did two things: first, she refused to let the disease define her. She plowed through recovery and came out the other side. Second, she became involved in the support community and encouraged all women to get screened.

She said, “I think it’s really important to have a network—a community family that is separate from your work family. You need to be able to share challenges and successes with people who care about you outside of your office.”

In 2015, her doctors found liver cancer during a routine checkup. She had surgery, and more than 50% of her liver was removed. She told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time, “I don’t want flowers. You can pray for me. Prayer is always welcome. But the best thing people can do is go to the doctor and get checked. If it can happen to me, it can happen to you. Don't be afraid.”

In 2014, she launched The Monica Pearson Show—a two-hour radio show of interviews and historical profiles. She also hosts A Seat at the Table, the first Georgia Public Broadcasting television show that gives voice to African-American women from their diverse experiences and perspectives. You can be sure that Monica will continue telling important stories and serving the Atlanta community in countless ways for years to come.

2017 Day of Service Review

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O∆K member Melissa Cancio led Florida International University's Roarthon, a 17-hour student-run dance marathon. The event raised $96,000 for the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals program, an organization dedicated to saving and improving the lives of children by raising funds for 170 children's hospitals throughout North America.

Melissa said, "To be a leader, we need to show the reason behind what we do and share with those around us so they are aware and desire to do the same. A leader is well rounded, takes initiative but also allows for individuals in their team to develop and share their thoughts, and is always willing to give their time and efforts to service."



Fontbonne University Circle members, along with faculty, staff, and alumni, added new garden beds and helped refurbish a community garden in Brentwood, Mo. Gateway Greening, a local nonprofit, in partnership with a local church, created and planted the garden to supply fresh vegetables and strengthen the community.



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Juniata College students partnering with their local community to help plant 250 trees in honor of town's anniversary.







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Stephen F. Austin State University Circle members worked with 8th graders in a group called Leaders of Tomorrow. As part of the largest day of service in Nacogdoches, Texas, they helped a historic village spruce up their ground and prepare for their annual community Easter egg hunt.





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University of Kentucky Circle members made sandwiches for families at The Ronald McDonald House in Lexington, Ky.






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The University of Richmond Circle worked with the James River Parks system to clean up Huguenot Park in North Chesterfield, Va.







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Wagner College Circle members collected cans for donation to local hunger relief efforts.



MTSU - Leadersship Day


The Middle Tennessee State University Circle held True Blue Leadership Day. Students heard from Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Jeff Bivins, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn, Lindy Boots, human resources manager with an area firm, and other leaders about careers, job interview tips, writing a professional resume, and how to leverage a competitive advantage in a job hunt.







University of North Carolina Wilmington students value the upkeep of their beaches, and picked up trash on the beach.

How a Stroke Taught Lessons in Leadership

On May 8, 2016, I had a stroke. I was 40 years old, recently married, and working in a very good job. It was Mother’s Day, and needless to say, spending Sunday and a good part of the next week in the ICU was not exactly what I had in mind. That day, I became one of the more than seven million stroke survivors in the U.S. However, in the course of my medical emergency and continuing recovery, I’ve been reminded of several leadership lessons as this experience changed my life and perspective.

Friday the 13th was just the beginning

Around 6:30 p.m. on that Sunday, I experienced a spontaneous carotid artery dissection that led to an ischemic cerebrovascular accident, commonly called a stroke. At the time my stroke took place, I was unaware of the diagnosis and severity. My wife had called 911 as she recognized the signs, and I was taken to the hospital where surgery was performed to restore blood flow to my brain.

While I spent the next 72 hours in the ICU following this emergency surgery that saved my life, I was discharged from the hospital later in the week on Friday the 13th. Little did I realize that leaving the hospital was just the beginning of my recovery. I immediately entered intensive, outpatient rehabilitation including physical, occupational, speech, and cognitive therapy. Each day, I had to work to strengthen and regain skills that were impacted by the stroke. For me, this included overcoming paralysis in my upper left arm and hand; improving attention and memory; working on balance, motor control, and endurance; and preparing to return to work. I completed outpatient rehabilitation over the course of six months and returned to full-time work within nine months.

During my rehabilitation and ongoing recovery, I have played an increasingly more active role in leading for myself. Not only have I focused on the physical exercise, but I have increased my knowledge of the latest practices and advancements in stroke recovery through self-education online and reading. I have also become active in advocating for increased funding for stroke prevention and recovery as well as an advocate to help educate others about the warning signs, causes, and treatment of strokes.

Your network is your net worth

Many times, the expression, “Your network is your net worth” is used to describe how social capital can be used to build connections to enhance professional success and acquire wealth. In the course of my experience with my stroke, I came to realize how truly valuable one’s network could be.

I have been extremely fortunate to have had a network of supporters during my recovery. Certainly, the support from my family could be expected, but I was amazed to experience the amazing level of support provided by others whom I had developed truly authentic relationships with through the years. With today’s technology (emails, Facebook, alumni networks, etc.), the news of my stroke was shared very quickly and equally as fast, we received offers of support. Not only were local neighbors and friends able to provide prepared meals, but friends from hundreds of miles away were able to coordinate food deliveries. The overwhelming generosity of co-workers, former colleagues, business clients, community leaders, college and MBA classmates, fellow O∆K members, and SAE fraternity brothers was incredible. Aside from meals, support was given to help transport me to doctor and therapy appointments, provide my wife time to focus on herself (i.e., exercise, retail therapy), and just allowing me time to reconnect with friends and rest.

Our extended network has also helped provide us specialized guidance on medical care and understanding medical jargon as well as referrals to top therapeutic specialists. In particular, we were fortunate to have two trusted emergency physician resources to counsel us – one being the husband of a local nonprofit executive I knew professionally and the other being the best man in our wedding.

Another instance that we were fortunate to benefit from via my network was in locating top occupational and cognitive therapists. The spouse of one of my wife’s colleagues happened to be a pediatric speech-language pathologist, and she connected us with a former professor for suggestions. Somewhat surprisingly, we learned that her professor had started the nonprofit Stroke Comeback Center (just 10 minutes from our home!), and she introduced me to several of the leading therapists in the area. Without question, the introduction to those therapists has been directly responsible for a significant part of my stroke recovery.

My net worth continues to be revealed through this experience, and I am thankful.

Empathetic, resilient, servant leadership

Throughout my leadership journey, I have tried to embrace the John Wesley quote: “Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can.” In experiencing my stroke and subsequent recovery, I have been fortunate that all of my efforts to make a positive difference provided me with an authentic community of supporters. As a leader, I always recognized that to accomplish your goals, you need to assemble the best team possible with the right skills and expertise. This health experience has only reinforced that a great leader doesn’t always have to have all of the answers as long as that person is open to ideas and perspectives of those on the broader team.

And while I have generally subscribed to the idea of servant leadership throughout my education and career, my experience as a patient has also reinforced this notion of leadership as well as a deeper appreciation that leaders need to acknowledge their own vulnerability. Often, most people classify leadership based on a traditional viewpoint of increasingly more authoritative titles or position of responsibility; however, I think the concept of a patient as a servant leader reinforces the need for great leaders to exemplify empathy, listening, gratitude, awareness of priorities, and building community. My experience as a patient has also reminded me that leadership of one’s self and situational leadership are equally important aspects of leadership that we often fail to reflect on.

This experience has undoubtedly changed me and reinforced my perspectives on leadership – notably in two ways. First, I am more empathetic. I have a deeper understanding and appreciation that every individual has his or her own challenges to face on a daily basis. Some of these tribulations may be physical, some are mental, and some are emotional – and these issues may be directly impacting the person, a family member, or a close friend. As a leader, we should always practice empathy for our fellow man and remind ourselves of our obligation to serve others. Second, I have become much more resilient as a leader through this experience. I have come to acknowledge that I won’t always have control of a situation and that my biggest growth will come through times of hardship. A resilient leader who can learn from his or her past experiences will be better prepared and a more effective in future situations. It’s often easier to give up or do what has been done before you, but the resilient leader will be able to accept his or her vulnerabilities and be motivated to move forward time and time again.

Act FAST and show compassion

Recently, I was asked, “What do you want your peers to know about helping a friend or colleague with a serious illness?” The biggest help that I believe someone can offer is to listen without judgment. We often struggle for the right words to say to comfort someone who has had a serious illness, but comfort and compassion can be easily shown by being present, attentive, and listening. Also, I encourage everyone to recognize the warning signs of a stroke and remember the acronym FAST by paying attention to a person’s face, arms, and speech, and remembering to act quickly and in time to prevent further damage. Lastly, find what fills you with purpose and happiness, and enjoy every day to its fullest as tomorrow is not always guaranteed.

Cliff Yee is a 1995 initiate of the Epsilon Circle at the University of Richmond where he was president of the circle. He is currently the Managing Director for Corporate Social Responsibility Consulting with Raffa in Washington, D.C. Cliff served as Omicron Delta Kappa’s National Treasurer from 2010-12.

ODK Bracketology 2018

It’s that time of year when many of us become instant experts on assist-to-turnover ratio, defensive efficiency, and a beautiful screen and roll. The art of the perfect bracket will have many of us consulting expert analysis and dusting off our statistics textbooks to figure out which 12-seed will win this year. Look no further – I have the only methodology you’ll need to win the family pool! Back again is the return of O∆K Bracketology.

If you aren’t familiar with annual O∆K tradition, here are the rules:

1. If one school has a circle and then other does not, the school with the circle wins.

2. If both schools have a circle, the circle with the oldest circle wins.

3. If neither school has a circle, the higher seed wins.

You can see the official O∆K bracket below. It has Davidson College, with its circle established in 1917, defeating the University of Alabama, with its circle established in 1924, in the national championship.

Now, I’m a proud graduate of Davidson College. I spent four wonderful years there as an undergraduate, and it is where I met my wife Joanne who is an alumna and former shooting guard for the Wildcats. Davidson is also where I was initiated into Omicron Delta Kappa – a tradition I hope our four children will continue when they become Wildcats one day.

There are lots of colleges and universities with circles in tournament. At this time, I hope many will remember those collegiate members who are participating in this annual American ritual as players, managers, trainers, cheerleaders, musicians, and fans. Leading can be fun too, and we celebrate not only those involved with the men’s NCAA Division I tournament, but those participating in the women’s DI (go Coach Dawn Staley and the Lady Gamecocks of the University of South Carolina – my graduate alma mater) tournament as well as those connected to the DII and DIII, NIT, and NAIA championships.

May your favorite team be successful, but right now, the Clifford family is cheering, “All Hail, O Davidson!” #CatsAreWild