One step leads to another

Michael Kutner and Donna Brogan

Michael Kutner and Donna Brogan "grew up together" after joining Emory in 1971.

by Pam Auchmutey

Biostatistician Donna Brogan endows the lecture named in her honor



Table of Contents


Public Health Magazine


Donna Brogan didn't plan to earn a doctorate in statistics, teach at a major university, found a women's caucus to advance equality in her profession, or chair the biostatistics department in the RSPH. Each step led to another as she sought a way to work in a field once outside the prescribed role for women.

"I followed my interest in mathematics, no matter what," says Brogan, an internationally recognized sample survey expert who taught at Emory for 33 years.

Retired since 2004, Brogan continues to think of ways to advance the professional development of biostatistics students and faculty in the RSPH. Instead of contributing annually to the school as in years past, she chose to endow the annual Donna J. Brogan Lecture in Biostatistics, established by department faculty, staff, students, and friends in 2006 to honor her contributions to biostatistics and women's issues. Brogan's gift ensures that the lecture continues.

"The lecture was an appropriate way to honor Donna," says Michael Kutner, Rollins professor and chair of the Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics. "We raised enough money to support the first two lectures. Donna came to me to ask how to make the lectures go on indefinitely. She supported the lecture as a way to thank the department after her retirement."


Colleagues describe Brogan as an accomplished "rabble-rouser" with numerous honors, including the Unsung Heroine Award from the Emory Women's Center, alumni awards from her alma maters, and an award from the American Statistical Association (ASA) for advancing women in the field.

The daughter of a Baltimore auto worker, Brogan was the first in her family to attend college, earning a mathematics degree in 1960. A few years later, when she turned down a secretarial position in the statistics department at Iowa State, the program offered her a slot in its PhD program. She became the first person in the department to win a coveted university fellowship.

Her professional and societal views widened considerably at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she taught biostatistics, participated in a women's consciousness-raising group, and formed a women's caucus with the American Statistical Association to advocate for greater opportunities for female students and colleagues.

In 1971, she joined the Department of Biometry at the Emory School of Medicine and became only the fourth woman to be promoted to full professor in that school. When the department moved to the RSPH in 1990, Brogan was the only female full professor for several years and served as the school's first female department chair during the early 1990s. "We grew up together as faculty members," says Kutner, who joined the biometry department the same year as Brogan and served as RSPH biostatistics chair before her.

During her tenure as chair, Brogan hired several female faculty members to increase the representation of women in the department. In growing the department, she helped broaden its research base to help gain national visibility in biostatistics methodology.

"She gave qualified recruits a chance—male or female. There were no double standards," says Professor Amita Manatunga, whom Brogan hired in 1994. "She served the faculty. She had a gift for encouraging them and stating their strengths and shortcomings in a positive way."

Brogan's mentoring seed was planted early when an elementary school teacher tutored her in junior high and high school mathematics. "This guy stayed after school with me every day the whole year I was in 6th grade," Brogan says. "I often think about that."

She also thinks about her father, grandfather, and others like them who spent their lives working at jobs they hated. "I wanted to do something that I enjoyed," says Brogan. "Education was the vehicle for doing that."

By endowing the Donna J. Brogan Lecture in Biostatistics, she is helping faculty and students at the RSPH and across Emory deepen their knowledge. Annual lectures to date have included nationally known biostatisticians in tobacco (Scott Zeger from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health), cancer (Mitch Gail from the National Cancer Institute), and genetics (Nan Laird from Harvard School of Public Health). Guest lecturers take away something as well. "It gives them an opportunity to learn and spread the word about the department and the school," says Brogan.

" 'Endowed' goes on forever," she adds. "I knew that the donor base for the lecture would need a boost over time. And I'm very grateful to my department, the school, and the university for spending my career here." 

name change