DHHS secretary, professor tapped as commencement speakers

By: For the Daily Journal

PEMBROKE — Mandy Cohen, secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and UNCP English professor Dr. Richard Vela will serve as keynote speakers for UNC Pembroke’s winter 2017 Commencement.

Vela will speak at the graduate student ceremony at 7 p.m. on Dec. 8 at Givens Performing Arts Center. All guests should be seated no later than 6:45 p.m.

Cohen will deliver the commencement address at the undergraduate ceremony at 10 a.m. on Dec. 9 at the English E. Jones Center. Guests should be seated no later than 9:45 a.m.

UNCP Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings will confer approximately 515 degrees, including 446 undergraduate degrees and 69 degrees at the graduate level.

Since her appointment in January, Cohen and her team have worked tirelessly to improve the health safety and well-being of North Carolinians. DHHS is a cabinet-level agency with approximately 16,000 employees and an annual budget of $20 billion. Among her top priorities are combating the opioid crisis, building a strong, efficient Medicaid program, and improving early childhood education.

Cohen is an internal medicine physician and has experience leading complex health organizations. Before coming to the state Department of Health and Human Services, she was the chief operating officer and chief of staff at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

She brings a deep understanding of health care to the state and has been responsible for implementing policies for Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Federal Marketplace.

A graduate of Cornell University, Cohen received her medical degree from Yale School of Medicine, a Master’s in Public Health from the Harvard School of Public Health and trained in Internal Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Cohen is married to Sam Cohen, a health care regulatory lawyer. The couple has two daughters, ages 3 and 5.

A scholar in Shakespeare and Early Modern British Literature, Vela has taught in the English, Theatre, and Foreign Languages Department since 1971.

He is Area Chair for Shakespeare on Film and Television for the National Popular Culture Association of America, for which he recruits and organizes panels and reviews proposals.

Dr. Vela has been recognized for his book, “Shakespeare into Film,” and for his work with the 2002 National Endowment for the Humanities Institute, “Shakespeare’s Theaters: Inside and Out.” He studied Shakespeare’s staging for three weeks at the Blackfriars Theatre in Staunton, Virginia, and two weeks at the New Globe Theatre in London, England.

He frequently writes on Shakespeare, film, and the literary and filmic connections between Mexico and the United States.

At UNCP, Vela has served in many key leadership roles, including chair of the 2016 Provost Search Committee. He was also a member of the 2015 Chancellor Search Committee, the 2015 Dean of Arts and Sciences Search Committee, the 125th Anniversary Committee in 2012, and chaired the Dial Building Committee in 2003.

He served as the university’s first director of Advisement and Retention in the 1980s. Vela has received numerous awards, including the UNC Board of Governors Award for Teaching Excellence, Adolph Dial Faculty Award for Scholarship and Creativity, and the UNCP Outstanding Teacher Award.

He was awarded the Ford Foundation Fellowship and the Danforth Foundation Fellowship.

Dr. Vela holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from the University of Dallas, and a Ph.D. in English from UNC Chapel Hill.

Vela has published 38 poems and made more than 120 scholarly presentations on Shakespeare, film, Early Modern literature, contemporary and Latino literature.

A native of Del Rio, Texas, Vela delivered the commencement address at UNCP in 2000.



For the Daily Journal