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Public health grads urged to develop skills beyond science as leaders and advocates

The 108 graduates of the School of Public Health’s Class of 2008 have their work cut out for them: defeating the AIDS virus, reducing obesity and eliminating health care disparities—to name just a few of the tasks cited by Dean Paul D. Cleary, Ph.D. And they’ll face one more challenge, said Commencement speaker Georges C. Benjamin, M.D., director of the American Public Health Association: “Nobody’s going to know what you do,” he told the graduates gathered in Battell Chapel on May 26.

Benjamin offered an analogy: Two people rescue a drowning person who drifts by their picnic spot. The next day they save two more people; and as the numbers steadily increase, they establish an elaborate rescue system using boats, ambulances and helicopters. When the rescuers finally address the cause of the problem—a curve in an upstream road—and solve it with a guardrail and speed limit, the flow of victims ends.

To achieve this sort of prevention, Benjamin told the graduates they’d need skills as leaders, administrators and advocates and good relationships with policy-makers. “Science is necessary but not sufficient,” Cleary said, noting that students on the medical campus are pressing New Haven officials to improve traffic safety at nearby intersections. In April a medical student was killed (see related story, "Celebration, loss and an exhortation to dream."); in October 2006 a public health student was seriously injured. Both were struck by cars.

Public health awards

This year’s excellence in teaching award went to Annette M. Molinaro, Ph.D., assistant professor of public health (biostatistics). “If you can generate enthusiasm for core biostatistics, you are some teacher,” Cleary quipped.

Sharing the Dean’s Prize for Outstanding M.P.H. Thesis were Rupak Datta, Ling-I Hsu, Diane Martinez and Stephanie Smith. The Henry J. (Sam) Chauncey Jr. Inspiration Award went to Heather McPheron, and Ashley Fields won the Cortlandt Van Rensselaer Creed Award. Student speaker Rebecca Boulos offered warm memories of her classmates.