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May 13, 1999

GSPH observes 50th by honoring 51 contributors to public health

GSPH observes 50th by honoring 51 contributors to public health

In celebration of its 50th anniversary, Pitt's Gradu- ate School of Public Health (GSPH) honored 51 individuals associated with the school who have made a significant contribution to public health over the past half century. The honorees were recognized at the GSPH convocation events and alumni dinner May 1 and 2.

"We have an incredible list of distinguished people whose work has changed public health practices over the course of 50 years," said Herbert S. Rosenkranz, interim dean of GSPH and professor and chair of the department of environmental and occupational h ealth. "The honored individuals reflect research in many fields, including health care policy, cardiovascular and cancer epidemiology, biostatistics, injury prevention and control, community health and laboratory studies in genetics, toxicology and immuno logy."

The 51 individuals were selected from 147 nominations made by GSPH alumni, students, faculty and staff, and they include living and deceased alumni, faculty and friends of GSPH. Since there was a tie, 51 people were included.

"We wanted to select people who reflected exemplary efforts in public health and who were affiliated with the GSPH," said Michael D. Shankle, president of the GSPH Alumni Society who spearheaded the year-long "50-at-50" campaign.

The public health school also bestowed its first Distinguished Service Award in Public Health on former city councilman Abraham L. Wolk. The award, sponsored by the Delta Omega National Honor Society, Omicron Chapter, was presented posthumously to Wolk's family.

Wolk was honored for legislative lobbying efforts to improve the quality of the air, to promote a safer work environment and to establish new health department programs. He also was cited for his role in the establishment and direction GSPH.

According to "Pitt: The Story of the University of Pittsburgh 1787-1987" by Robert C. Alberts, the roots of GSPH go back to discussions by members of the A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust on how to improve life in Pittsburgh.

In August 1946, Paul Mellon, representing the trust, sent a confidential letter to six prominent Pittsburghers, including then Pitt Chancellor Rufus H. Fitzgerald, asking them to suggest "the most urgent and long-range needs of Pittsburgh," which the phil anthropic organization might help fund.

Although the six respondents replied independently and the suggestions varied, all of them listed as a pressing need public and occupational health services.

As a result, the charitable trust voted in early 1948 to endow a new school of public health, eventually committing $13.6 million to establishing the school.

Fitzgerald appointed a dean's nominating committee, which recommended Thomas Parran, retiring three-term surgeon general of the U.S. Public Health Service, as the inaugural dean. In September 1948, the chancellor called a special Board of Trustees meeting , announcing the $13.6 Mellon trust proposal and the selection of Parran as the school's first dean.

In the years since its founding, GSPH investigators have developed statistical tools to evaluate the interaction of multiple risk factors contributing to diseases such as atherosclerosis and diabetes. The school also is home to the country's second-oldest program to train genetic counselors.

More recently, researchers have made advances in women's health, including landmark studies on the treatment and prevention of breast cancer, and in infectious diseases, including broad-based programs to better understand and treat HIV infection. –Peter Hart

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