Peter Noel, M.Ed., Program Manager II in the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, Student Affairs, isn’t only the person medical students turn to when encountering challenges with their medical education, he’s also a long-time advocate of social justice and equity. Part of his current mission is to ensure that students at the UAB School of Medicine know that the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, Student Affairs, exists to serve the entire student body. “We are creating an environment that is supportive of our students of color,” he says, “but is also in the best interest of all of our students.”

Noel is soft-spoken and projects an air of calm competence. With a storied history in nonprofit work, most recently with Peter NoelGoodwill Industries of Denver and the Colorado I Have A Dream Foundation (CIHAD), Noel brings a wealth of experience to working with students of a variety of ages and life situations to the table.

Born and raised in Denver, Noel pursued both his Bachelor’s degree  and Master’s in Education at the University of Pennsylvania – which is where he met his wife, Gillian. Gillian Noel, M.D., MSCS, works as an Assistant Professor in Pediatrics at UAB. The couple shares a passion for helping the underserved and reaching out to those most in need of social support. In recounting this, Noel offers a self-effacing smile. “She’s definitely Batman, and I’m Robin,” he says.

But Noel carries his own impressive credentials and experience, as well as a family legacy of pursuing civil rights. His grandfather, Edmond F. Noel, graduated from Meharry Medical College and became the first black physician in Colorado to gain surgical privileges on a hospital staff. His grandmother, Rachel B. Noel, was the first black woman in Colorado elected to state office and in 1968 introduced what was known as the “Noel Resolution.” This resolution was a Denver School Board initiative to integrate the Denver public schools through bussing. In 1973, it became part of the Supreme Court “Keyes” case, and Denver became the first city West of the Mississippi to integrate their schools through bussing. 

From his first job working at a summer school up to the present, Noel carried on his family’s legacy of reaching out to those on society’s margins. Between 2004 and 2014, he worked for CIHAD, which specialized in long-term dropout prevention. Their model consisted of raising private funds to “adopt” an entire third grade class at an “at-risk” elementary school, and seeing each of those third grade students through to high school graduation. The intention is to interrupt the cycle of poverty.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Noel says. “The beauty of it is that you can celebrate small successes while not getting beaten down by the inevitable challenges or bumps in the road you’re going to face.” He developed a true rapport with each of the kids, who were termed “Dreamers,” and their families, becoming not only their advocate, but also a tutor and a mentor. His phone number never changed throughout those ten years, and he was available whether one of his students was facing the challenge of finding their first job or an unanticipated teen pregnancy.

After seeing an entire third grade class all the way through their 10-year journey to graduation, Noel was ready for a change – although, he mentions, “I still stay in contact with a number of my students.” There is no doubt, he says, that CIHAD played an instrumental role in helping motivated students graduate from high school and go to a 4-year college.

Noel moved on to Goodwill Industries of Denver, where he managed a community outreach program targeted at local youth. Goodwill placed facilitators in schools, where they would work with school counselors to assist them in preparing students for post-secondary education. Noel managed roughly 14 of these facilitators at any given time. Their largest contract with Denver public schools involved a district-wide internship and job shadowing program.

While Noel was on the front lines of helping at-risk and underserved youth, his wife was completing medical school, residency, and two fellowship. Noel describes Gillian as a champion of tackling difficult issues such as cultural competency, implicit bias, and health disparities. The couple would often discuss these concepts at home and Dr. Noel would encourage her husband to consider working in diversity and inclusion in higher education.

The opportunity presented itself when Dr. Gillian Noel accepted a position at UAB as an Assistant Professor. The UAB School of Medicine Office for Diversity and Inclusion, Student Affairs, was seeking someone to manage programming within the office, and it was obvious to the hiring committee that Peter Noel was an ideal fit.

“I think that both the School of Medicine and the medical student body are ready for the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, Student Affairs, to be a thriving office,” Noel says. “From Dean Vickers to Dr. Fouad to Dr. Hoesley to Dr. Young, diversity and inclusion are values that the School of Medicine is committed to, and there are many opportunities for growth.”

He looks forward to a time when all students feel that the richness of their experiences and insights are valued and respected. “Part of our job is to make sure that we’re here to help everyone – so come on in!” he says. He also emphasizes that this is a time of renewal, rebranding, and re-evaluation for the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, Student Affairs.

“There can’t be growth without growing pains,” he says. “If you have growth without growing pains, it’s probably not going to be long-lasting or meaningful.”