On Saturday, West Virginia University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hills football programs will meet in Charlottes Bank of America Stadium for an exciting match-up in the 2008 Meineke Car Care Bowl.

And while the Mountaineers and Tar Heels are well-known for athletic accomplishments, off the field their faculty, students and staff are improving the lives of people in their home states. One of many areas of academic success that both universities share is research, service and health care that helps citizens who live in rural areas of West Virginia and North Carolina.

Through their nationally recognized rural health education training programs, WVU and UNC -Chapel Hill are producing high-quality, caring doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists and a host of other professionals who are serving their communities.

Our schools of medicine were recognized among the top 10 for excellence in rural medicine by U.S. News&World Report magazine. And our rural health research centers were among only six programs selected nationally for new research grants by the Office of Rural Health Policy at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

WVU was the only new university to be chosen, while the North Carolina Rural Health Research and Policy Analysis Center based in UNC s Cecil B. Sheps Center for Health Services Research is one of the oldest of its kind in the country.

Although the centers are concentrating on very different research areas, they share the same mission: to help create healthier environments for people and to provide better access to medical care in underserved areas. Led by outstanding faculty and investigators, our centers are exploring new research and are providing those who serve rural communities, as well as policymakers, with the latest information on the health-care needs of those populations.

With its grant, WVU s West Virginia Rural Health Research Center will examine the impact of environmental hazards on the health and economies of rural communities. Previous research on environmental risks has focused on urban settings. But people in rural settings face potential hazards from many sources, such as pesticides and fertilizer runoff in agricultural areas and industrial environmental hazards, including those from the mining and timber industries.

The UNC centers focus continues to be on federal health insurance programsMedicare and Medicaidand their impact on rural providers and residents. Researchers are examining issues such as Medicare hospital reimbursement policy, Medicare Part D, Medicaid program design, Medicaid enrollment and access for both Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. The centers policy analysis and research agenda also includes emergency medical services and access to care.

Education is another major focus for both campuses. The West Virginia Rural Health Education Partnerships aim to achieve greater retention of West Virginia-trained health science graduates in underserved areas through partnerships of communities, higher education, health care providers and government. Recently, WVU announced plans for reducing breast cancer in the states most at-risk counties. Bonnies Bus, a mobile mammography unit, will visit West Virginia counties that have high rates of death from breast cancer.

UNC recently launched a pilot cancer outreach programfunded by the North Carolina General Assemblys University Cancer Research Fundthat includes services such as community-based nurse navigators, who help patients to make the best decisions possible regarding the diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care for their disease.

Both of our campuses also use Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) programs to help meet our stateshealth and health work-force needs by providing educational programs in partnership with academic institutions, health-care agencies and other organizations committed to improving the health of West Virginians and North Carolinians.

Health leaders in both states also have joined forces to improve the physical and mental well-being of rural veterans. The WVU -led West Virginia Returning Soldiers Survey, funded by the West Virginia Legislature, and the North Carolina Citizen Soldier Program both work with their statesrespective AHECs.

As the health-care needs of rural populations change, our faculty and programs are at the forefront, leading the way in service and research. Although our football programs are on opposite sides at this years Meineke Car Care Bowl, were on the same team when it comes to seeking and delivering solutions to meet the health-care needs of communities in West Virginia, North Carolina and beyond.

C. Peter Magrath is interim president of West Virginia University; Holden Thorp is chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.