Room to Grow

The commitment of the Rollins family and many others gives rise to a new era in public health at Emory

By Pam Auchmutey

Just over a century ago, O. Wayne ­Rollins was born in a simple two-bedroom house in rural Northwest Georgia.

His mother, Claudia Nance Rollins, impressed upon him and his younger brother, John, that they could achieve anything through honesty, integrity, and hard work. Long after the brothers founded several companies and became Emory benefactors, they continued to heed their mother's advice.

"Giving to a living institution that goes on and affects people's lives—to me that's the best," Wayne once said. "That's the highest kind of giving when you invest in people."

His words ring especially true today, given the commitment of nearly 150,000 alumni, faculty, staff, students, friends, foundations, and others to Campaign Emory. When the seven-year campaign ended in late 2012, they had given a historic $1.69 billion to the university, including a record $170.7 million to the Rollins School of Public Health. The family of Wayne and Grace Crum Rollins played a key role in the RSPH campaign with a $50 million lead gift to construct a second building for teaching and research.

Open since 2010, the Claudia Nance ­Rollins (CNR) Building more than doubles the size of the school and re-emphasizes the Rollins family's commitment to improving public health worldwide.

"The Claudia Nance Rollins Building signifies the importance of public health at Emory and our vision of the future for public health in the United States and throughout the world," says RSPH Dean James Curran. "It is also a tangible example of support for our vision by committed donors and a symbol of shared optimism and belief in our mission."

Gifts made to Rollins during Campaign Emory have transformed the school. A major commitment from the Hubert Foundation led to the naming of the Hubert Department of Global Health, the endowment of two faculty chairs, and increased student support for global field research. Eugene Gangarosa, professor emeritus, and his wife, Rose, funded two faculty chairs to strengthen the Center for Global Safe Water at Emory. Grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are funding the center's work to reduce waterborne diseases in Ghana, expanding the William H. Foege Fellowships in Global Health, and reducing tobacco use in China through a partnership led by the Emory Global Health Institute.

In the CNR Building, the Lawrence P. and Ann Estes Klamon Room honors their leadership as RSPH co-chairs for Campaign Emory and celebrates their support of the first endowed chair at Emory named for a sitting dean. Curran and future deans will be known as the James W. Curran Dean of Public Health.

Donors also are funding new scholarships to support expanded enrollment made possible by the school's physical growth. Alumni have played a major role in this effort, including ­Elizabeth Camp 83MPH, who is creating a scholarship for nurses seeking an MPH degree, which represents the largest gift from a Rollins graduate.

The CNR Building personifies the commitment of the Rollins family, who share Wayne Rollins' belief in improving the lives of people around the world. Claudia Nance Rollins instilled in him a strong belief in service to others. He came to serve as an Emory trustee and, together with his family, provided major gifts to Candler School of Theology and Emory School of Medicine.

After Emory established the School of Public Health in 1990, Rollins agreed that a building to house it was needed. Following his death in 1991, his wife Grace and their sons Randall and Gary, who also came to serve as Emory trustees, provided a major gift to construct a 10-story building. Prior to the opening of the Grace Crum Rollins Building in late 1994, Emory named the school for the Rollins family to honor their generosity to the university.

Like Rollins himself, the RSPH rose from humble beginnings to be ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the No. 6 school of public health in the nation. Since 1975, the school has evolved from a community health program with 16 students, based in a small house on Clifton Road, into a spacious two-building complex with more than 1,100 MPH and PhD students. Both buildings are linked by a glass bridge.

"The Rollins family created the footprint and the facility that allowed us to grow into one of the nation's top schools of public health," says Curran.

A unified community

With the school's expansion, the RSPH has become a desirable destination for people in and outside of Emory. On any given day, Rollins hosts one or more special events, many of them in the 250-seat Rollins Auditorium and the Lawrence P. and Ann Estes Klamon Room, which offers a view of the Atlanta skyline from the top floor of CNR. Students and faculty heading to classes on the first floor pass by rotating exhibitions of poster art on mental health, obesity, and other public health topics. The Rollins Auditorium accommodates large classes and major events such as the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Awards, hosted alternately by the RSPH and Goizeuta Business School; the 50th anniversary celebration of the Peace Corps; and training sessions for new officers with the CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service.

The Rollins Café in the GCR Building draws students, faculty, and staff from RSPH and along the Clifton Corridor. Groups from Emory and the Atlanta community hold events and meetings in the refurbished Rita Anne Rollins Room on the eighth floor of GCR.

Prior to the opening of the CNR Building, faculty, staff, and students were spread across nine locations. Now they are housed in one complex that includes expanded space and greatly enhanced IT capabilities for classrooms, administrative and faculty offices, laboratories, distance learning,admission and student services, and career services.

"We're much more of a community," says Dean Surbey, executive associate dean for administration and finance. "When the school was located in just one building, departments were siloed on different floors. Now people leave their offices for all kinds of reasons. They have to cross the bridge to teach, go to a lecture in the auditorium, or see people in other departments. Students have space of their own. They're everywhere."

Living public health 24/7

Students have access to both buildings all day and night. They attend class, hold poster sessions on the bridge, meet in small rooms equipped with smart technology to collaborate on projects, work at the laboratory bench or in the computer lab, and study quietly in the GCR Reading Room. Increasingly, students seek out Rollins to become leaders in public health.

In fall 2011, the school welcomed 530 new MPH students—its largest entering class ever. In 2012, the RSPH ranked first nationally in the number of applications to an MPH program, based on data collected by the Association of Schools of Public Health. It also received the most applications in epidemiology and global health.

The school's facilities and reputation make Prudence Goss a popular figure at recruitment fairs, where prospective students often crowd her booth. She annually attends 10 or more exhibitions held locally and around the country.

"Telling the story of our growth directly impacts students' interest in Rollins," says Goss, director of recruitment and student life. "Knowing that we have one of the largest infrastructures in the country—that encourages students to visualize that next step and see themselves at Rollins."

The school's proximity to CDC and the Rollins Earn and Learn program, which pairs students with Atlanta-area employers, figure prominently in students' decision to apply. "We tell them, ‘You're going to be making significant contributions to public health before you even enter the field,' " says Goss.

Stacey Mason, a second-year student majoring in health education, met Goss two years ago during a local health career fair. The school's facilities and the prospect of gaining hands-on experience in HIV prevention impressed her. She has worked with researchers Hannah Cooper and Ralph DiClemente on two different studies. "I'm learning how people in public health can close the gap in health disparities and get people into the type of care they need," says Mason, who majored in English at Spelman College in Atlanta.

Aiden Varan is a U.S. citizen who grew up in New Zealand, studied genetics in Australia, and volunteered as a sexual health peer educator in Uganda. He learned about Rollins from a high school classmate who received his MPH in the United States. Rollins' reputation in global health epidemiology and infectious disease piqued Varan's interest in the school. Stan Foster, his global health mentor, and Anne Spaulding, his epidemiology mentor, provided valuable guidance. Thanks to Spaulding, Varan helped evaluate hepatitis C rates in U.S. prisons and worked with prison staff in Haiti to develop a bilingual tool for gathering and entering data on HIV, TB, and anemia.

"Even with a large student body, there's a strong sense of unified community at Rollins," says Varan. "The school has incredible facilities that house public health experts across disciplines. It has a built environment that creates a rich and engaging place to study."

Seeing the possibilities

Before the CNR Building opened in July 2010, Dana Barr could see the potential it held for growing laboratory science. As director of the pesticide laboratory at CDC, where she worked for 22 years, she often collaborated with Emory researchers to perform exposure assessments for their studies. A desire to develop her own studies, coupled with Rollins' need for laboratory support to expand research in the Department of Environmental Health, made Barr's decision to join Rollins as a research professor an easy one. She is one of 100-plus faculty members recruited to Rollins in recent years.

In addition to developing her own studies, Barr collaborates on several projects, including one led by toxicologist Michael Caudle—another new faculty member—to measure levels of brominated flame-retardants (BFRs) in the brain. Caudle believes BFRs may be associated with the development of Parkinson's disease.

"The faculty here work well together," says Barr. "We don't distinguish our labs from one another, which promotes a collaborative attitude and teaches students how to interact with others when they leave here."

The Department of Epidemiology has added a number of faculty and students since Rollins Professor Viola Vaccarino became chair three years ago. MPH and PhD enrollment increased steadily in 2010 and 2011.

"The school's facilities are a plus in our recruitment efforts," says Vaccarino. "We would not be able to accommodate new faculty and more students without the new building."

Recruitment of junior faculty has broadened her department's expertise in areas such as molecular epidemiology. Jennifer Mullé established a laboratory to study the genetic variants that contribute to schizophrenia. She measures these variants in DNA from saliva and blood and then analyzes the data using high-powered hardware and software. Rollins' lab and IT capabilities make it possible for Mullé to process and store ever-growing volumes of scientific data.

"We're moving toward more precise biological measures of the effect of environmental exposures on human genes," says Mullé. "As we do that, we need a place to measure these effects. Having that infrastructure in a school of public health is the future. It's forward thinking."

Mullé is among a cadre of faculty who serve as Rollins assistant professors. These professorships provide time and support that junior faculty need to launch their research careers.

"The Rollins assistant professorships help us recruit and retain the best people to build our research portfolio," says Lance Waller, Rollins Professor and chair of the Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics. His department includes one current and two former Rollins assistant professors, who were promoted to associate professor. "They are a great investment and show a commitment that junior faculty are part of the school and its reputation."

Endowed professorships make it possible for established faculty to grow their research. Rollins Professor Ruth Berkelman continues to lead the Center for Public Health Preparedness and Research, established following 9/11. Michael Windle, Rollins Professor and chair of the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Health Education, recently received an NIH Research Scientist Award, a first for the RSPH and one of five at Emory. The grant will extend his research on alcohol abuse and alcohol disorders across the lifespan, an area he has studied for 23 years.

As Gary Miller, associate dean for research points out, the growth of the school brings new challenges. The school has 264 regular faculty members, and the large number makes it more difficult for faculty to know what other colleagues are doing. Their observation gave rise to the Public Health Sciences Grand Rounds, a monthly lecture series held in the Rollins Auditorium for faculty, staff, students, and the public. Lectures are videotaped and available on the school's website.

"It's been a very good way of fostering interaction among different programs in the school," says Miller.

Growth in the number of faculty has generated greater scientific momentum. Research funding now totals $73.9 million and meets one of the school's strategic goals. Laboratory space in the new building makes it possible for the school to secure more center grants, such as an $8 million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to establish the Southeastern Center for Air Pollution and Epidemiology in partnership with Georgia Tech. This fall, the third cohort of PhD students will enroll in the doctoral program in environmental health sciences. Today, 147 PhD students are training at Rollins—just shy of its strategic goal of 150 students. The three floors of laboratory space in the CNR Building have opened up new training opportunities for MPH and PhD students studying epidemiology, environmental health, global health, and infectious disease.

"We're still recruiting faculty to do more laboratory-based research," says Miller. "We built a substantial amount of laboratory space and currently lease a portion of it that we're not ready to occupy to the School of Medicine. This allows us to continue the growth of our laboratory research enterprise over the next several years."

Moving forward

With growth comes new aspirations. By surpassing its Campaign Emory goal of $150 million, the RSPH carries momentum and energy into its future work. Funding priorities for 2013 include support for students, faculty, and programs. Curran has set a long-term goal of raising $100 million for endowment to support new and ongoing initiatives. Current endowment stands at more than $56 million.

"Growing endowment is our highest priority," says Curran. "As someone once said, the sign of the most civilized society is when old men and women plant seeds for trees under whose leaves they will never draw shade. That's the principle behind endowment—to ensure that future generations can be trained to work in the field and make discoveries that best benefit public health and the world." 


Rollins by the Numbers

Enrollment: 1,188 students / Includes 960 MPH students, 147 PhD students, and 25 postdoctoral fellows

    Faculty: 264 / Includes 100+ new tenure and tenure-track faculty

    Research funding:  $73.9 million in 2012

    Space: 300,000 square feet

    Classrooms: 20+

    Campaign Emory goal: $150 million

    Campaign Emory total: $170.7 million


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