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"Human Capital" Tops Campaign Priorities

By Susan Muaddi Darraj

At the heart of every public health triumph is an individual. Scientific giants like E.V. McCollum, Abel Wolman, and Anna Baetjer have developed solutions to the world’s most pressing health problems.

It was no surprise, therefore, when the School announced its new $500 million fund-raising campaign that investment in the School’s “human capital” was the top priority. The campaign seeks to provide a major infusion to the Faculty Innovation Fund that encourages breakthrough research, and to endow new scholarship programs that will attract the world’s best students. The School’s effort, part of the University-wide $2 billion campaign dubbed “Johns Hopkins: Knowledge for the World,” was launched with a gala held on the Homewood campus on May 4.

Currently, researchers at the School are often unable to pursue truly innovative directions because they must bring in 75 to 80 percent of their own salaries through outside grants and other support, notes Dean Alfred Sommer, MD, MHS ’73. Most faculty funding comes from federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control. “These funds support activities that are more or less proven to be headed in an accepted direction,” Sommer explains. “What they don’t support are right-hand turns in the road—the paradigm shifts—because nobody else has tried it.” However, it is these high-risk, high-reward directions that can ultimately make the difference in public health.

Thus the School seeks to add $50 million to its Faculty Innovation Fund, which was established in 1991 to offer faculty stable support early in their careers so that they can pursue their own research on the very edge of scientific discovery. Take, for example, the work of Karl Broman, assistant professor of Biostatistics. With support from the Fund, Broman, PhD, has developed innovative methods for studying how diseases and other traits are passed from one generation to the next.

Student support is the other major focus of the campaign. Though the School has numerous endowed student support funds that provide partial scholarships, with a student body of just over 2,000, the School falls woefully short of the ultimate goal of helping to support every student.

Ameena Batada is one of the lucky ones. A DrPH candidate, she seeks out every opportunity to apply her academic course work to the health needs of vulnerable children in East Baltimore. This year Batada was awarded the John and Alice Chenoweth-Pate Fellowship Award, enabling her to continue her field work and take classes.

“We are at an enormous disadvantage in recruiting the best students, who become discouraged because we cannot provide financial assistance,” says Sommer. The student body at the School is unique—many students are from other countries, are older, and have young families to support, so they are hard-pressed to take time off to pursue a public health degree. “We often miss out on people who should be the future of public health,” explains Sommer.

In October 2001, the School’s leadership created a new policy that allocated 10 percent of all new endowment gifts to the School to fund graduate education. One of the most innovative goals for this campaign is a $50 million to $75 million scholarship program modeled after the Rhodes Scholars program. The aim: to recruit the best students from around the world who can ultimately be trained to become part of an informed cadre of distinguished public health leaders. After graduation, they will return to their own countries, equipped with the tools of public health, to tackle health issues around the world.

In a further effort to aid students, plans are in place to radically revise the DrPH program to make it more accessible (via the Web and through brief, periodic residence at the School) to full-time professionals who cannot leave their jobs to seek the degree.

Another major campaign goal is raising $15 million for the School’s ongoing work in bioterrorism and public health preparedness. The School’s efforts have already provided expertise, insight, and discoveries that are helping to protect the nation’s health.