Cynthia Fair: Groundbreaking researcher

The professor of human service studies was awarded the 2015 Distinguished Scholar Award for her wealth of research on changes in the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

As a former social worker at the National Institutes of Health, Cynthia Fair was very familiar with HIV/AIDS and its impact on children.

Since that time in the early 1990s, Fair, a professor of human service studies at Elon since 1999, has focused the bulk of her academic research on the changes in the HIV/AIDS epidemic over the past 20 years.

“My scholarship is a tool that has allowed me to share the experiences of a marginalized population to whom I am deeply committed with practitioners and researchers in the field in hopes of enhancing their quality of life as well as students,” Fair says.

Her research has resulted in 46 papers and book chapters published in well-respected academic publications. She has made 30 presentations at national and international conferences. In addition, those interested in increasing their education or improving the quality of life of young people living with HIV have sought Fair’s expertise.

“Her continuous groundbreaking and stigma-reducing research has greatly contributed to the way the larger HIV/AIDS social and behavioral science fields view the psychosocial development for this often misunderstood and vulnerable population,” a colleague says.

As the drugs developed to treat HIV improved, the impact the disease had on families evolved and Fair’s extensive research reflects that. She has examined the stigma experienced by HIV-infected women and their uninfected family members as well as healthy HIV disclosure procedures.

“The health care transition literature is still in its infancy,” says a physician from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Research that seeks to develop indicators and care practices to successful transitions is extremely valuable as we strive to develop models of care that will promote the overall wellbeing of youth with chronic conditions as they move into young adulthood.”

More recent work focuses on HIV-positive adolescents who are reaching adulthood and the challenges they face with dating, relationships and family planning.

“She has begun groundbreaking work in this area, which has the potential to define important ways to help youth at this most critical phase in their lives,” says a colleague from the Children’s National Medical Center.

Fair continues to extend her academic work and is currently collaborating with researchers in California to better understand the experiences of Hispanic adolescents living with HIV.

“Knowing her as well as I do, I can attest that her scholarship is driven by a genuine curiosity and her love for her field,” says an Elon colleague. “As is obvious from her CV, I believe, scholarship is not something she does because it is expected of her. She does it because that is who she is. The quality of everything she does—teaching, scholarship and service to the institution—are exemplary.”

Beyond the field of HIV, Fair has engaged in scholarship focused on different aspects of experiential education. She has examined programs where children engage in service learning and then write about the experience. “Without reflection service learning is simply service yet little research has explored reflection tools with young children, and I have greatly enjoyed this line of inquiry,” Fair says.

Fair also has helped her Elon students extensively with their undergraduate research. “I am forever indebted to Cindy’s mentorship,” says a former student. “She taught me how to ask good questions and to channel passion into productivity. Without her patience, enthusiasm, and skillfulness as a mentor, I would not be where I am today as a researcher.”

Over the years, Fair has integrated her research into her classes, including childbirth and introduction to public health. In addition, human service studies and public health studies seminars focus on HIV/AIDS.

“I fully embrace Elon’s teacher-scholar model and believe that I’m a better scholar because I teach, and I’m a better teacher because of my scholarship,” she says. “It’s been a great pleasure and privilege to integrate Elon students into my scholarship, as well as foray into new areas based on student interest.”

Fair received a bachelor’s degree from Davidson College and master’s degrees in social work and public health as well as a doctorate in public health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She teaches several courses that she developed, including childbirth, human service studies research methods and human service studies and public health studies senior seminars.

Fair is the 16th recipient of the Distinguished Scholar Award, which recognizes a faculty member whose research has earned peer commendation and respect, and who has made significant contributions to his or her field of study.