Abraham Lilienfeld Award Acceptance Speech, October 31, 2016
I am profoundly grateful - to whoever so graciously proposed me for the Abraham Lilienfeld Award - and to the Epidemiology Section Leadership for selecting me. Thanks also to all of you for coming to share this very special occasion.
This award is a signature destination for me on a journey that began at least 44 years ago, when I hitched a ride to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill - and on the strength of having met his sister, asked Tom Randolph if I could camp out on the floor of his freshman dorm room. =p
During the following week, I saw an announcement about a course on human sexuality that Takey Crist was teaching at the school of public health. My visit to that course led ultimately to my enrollment in the Health Education master’s program, thanks to Louis Nidorf.
My first semester in Health Education I took a required introductory epidemiology course taught by the legendary John Cassel. Bert Kaplan, who taught my lab section in that course, and Godfrey Hochbaum enabled me to enter and succeed in my epidemiology doctoral program, postdoctoral fellowship, and junior faculty years. Bert also gave me the privilege of meeting Abe Lilienfeld, in 1984.
My first semester in public health brought two other pillars of my career and life success - meeting my wife Marion and my brother’s recommendation that I learn the practice of Transcendental Meditation, which enabled me to appreciate her and many other treasures in my life more fully.
I have had the great fortune to learn from and even teach with several past Abraham Lilienfeld Awardees: David Kleinbaum, Michel Ibrahim, Sherman James, and Bill Jenkins, and other epidemiology heros, including Abdel Omran, Al Tyroler, Barbara Hulka, Carl Shy, Ed Wagner, Gerardo Heiss, David Strogatz, Charlie Poole, and many others I can’t name here.
I’m also greatly indebted to our student services managers, including Joyce Allen and Nancy Colvin, co-instructors Michel Ibrahim, Barbara Hulka, Joellen Schildkraut, and Wayne Rosamond, guest lecturers (including Tim Wilcosky, Carl Shy, David Savitz, Cecil Sheps, David Weber, Celia Hybels, and others), and the five epidemiology chairs who have enabled and facilitated my teaching in the classroom and online during nearly 40 years, providing over 200 teaching assistants to help teach over 400 epidemiology majors and over 6,000 other students.
Among my most exciting research projects was a self-help smoking cessation study in collaboration with the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, and with Tracy Orleans, Victor Strecher, and others. I realized that I was not the right person to be leading a study like that, and that the field desperately needed more researchers from underrepresented groups. That realization led me to work with colleagues on the Minority Affairs Committee of the American College of Epidemiology, the UNC Minority Student Caucus, and colleagues on the UNC Minority Health Project to amplify the voices of epidemiologists and other professionals from underrepresented groups.
Among my most rewarding accomplishments was recording Bill Jenkin’s interview with past Lilienfeld awardee and today’s Wade Hampton Frost Lecturer, Sherman James, in which Sherman relates the story of his journey to our field.
For me this award is a wonderful recognition of my life’s work in teaching introductory epidemiology as a teaching assistant and then faculty member to undergraduates and graduate and professional students many of whom went on to became - and in some cases were already - faculty, clinicians, and public health professionals. It is their knowledge, support, inspiration, motivation, intelligence, appreciation, and consciousness that I have depended upon.
One piece of advice - be nice to students. They will be your colleagues and your peers.