Keeping Current: Alumni Summit Presents Learning Opportunities
This year’s Alumni Summit gave attendees the chance to reconnect with old classmates and stay up to date on how the School is engaging with a variety of pressing public health concerns. Two distinguished alumni were honored with awards.
Alumni arrived on campus in the early afternoon of September 14 for departmental open houses—a new feature this year. Later at the Vagelos Education Center, Dean Linda P. Fried welcomed the group back to campus and introduced Carlos Cuevas, MPH ’12, president of the Alumni Board.
“This is a day to come back and share your memories and hear about all the great things happening at the School,” said Cuevas. He noted that $195,000 raised on Columbia Giving Day in 2017 created scholarships for 34 public health students, demonstrating “the strength and unity of alumni at our School.” This year’s Columbia Giving Day takes place on October 24.
“Many of us were students here for only two years, but we are alumni for much longer,” Cuevas continued, pitching attendees on the value of staying connected to the School. “Public health is constantly evolving. I often hear from alumni, ‘So what is Mailman doing today on all these pressing issues, public health crises, and current events?’”
Answers to these questions were readily available. Alumni Summit attendees looking for insights on topical issues could choose from four faculty lectures in Vagelos Education Center classrooms: Charles Branas, chair of Epidemiology, presented on his research into preventing gun violence; Markus Hilpert, associate professor of Environmental Health Sciences, introduced his drone for studying air pollution; Terry McGovern, chair of Population and Family Health, spoke on the health dimensions of federal immigration policy; and Michael Sparer, chair of Health Policy and Management, detailed the implications of the upcoming midterm elections on the Affordable Care Act.
A Keynote Address by Julie Kornfeld, Vice Dean for Education, highlighted the School’s interest in opening up new avenues and audiences for learning, including for mid-career professionals. “The world is changing so rapidly, people want to re-engage,” she said. “They want to come to our School to add skills, add knowledge, and contribute in meaningful ways. How can we do that in ways that engage you, our alumni? … We need your input and your partnership.”
Each year, the Columbia Mailman Alumni Board recognizes two distinguished alumni who are making a difference in the field of public health, selected from more than 12,000 alumni worldwide. In 2018, several future alumni—first and second-year masters students—joined current alumni, faculty, and staff, at the awards ceremony.
The recipient of the 2018 Allan Rosenfield Alumni Award for Excellence, the School’s highest alumni honor, M. Monica Sweeney, MPH ’92, is vice dean for global engagement and clinical professor of Health Policy and Management in the School of Public Health at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. For many years, she served as assistant commissioner for the Bureau of HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control in the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, where she led the city’s prevention and control efforts.
In presenting the award, Dean Fried said Sweeney brought “passion and fire” to her work, launching HIV testing programs and expanding the city’s condom campaign. “I met her at an alumni event just like this one,” Fried recalled. “She was wearing this gorgeous red corsage composed of red condoms. … She had a statement to make to get everyone understanding what this was going to take. As a public health leader, she walks the walk at every moment.”
In her acceptance speech, Sweeney thanked family members and colleagues, including Ulysses Kilgore, CEO of the Bedford Stuyvesant Family Health Center, where Sweeney once served as director and vice president for medical affairs. Sweeney said Kilgore encourage her to study public health. “He said, ‘You have to go to Columbia. I learned so much there, I’m going to get my MPH, and you should too,’” she recounted.” The advice was sound. “I have benefitted so much from going to the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health.”
The recipient of the 2018 Outstanding Recent Alumni Award, James M. Noble, MS ’08, associate professor of Neurology at the Columbia Irving Medical Center, sees patients with a range of issues, from dementia to sports-related concussion care. Noble is president of Arts & Minds, a nonprofit that promotes well-being for dementia patients through museum-based activities and has worked with Olajide Williams, MS ‘04, to develop the research arm of his Harlem-based outreach program, Hip Hop Public Health.
“I’m always thinking about numbers,” said Noble, a habit he links to his studies in Epidemiology. Among the stats he shared: There are 40 million youth participating in sports at high risk for concussion, and 6 million Americans with Alzheimer’s Disease. “In a given afternoon, I see between six and ten patients affected by neurological disease. I always think of the one who is right in front of me and how I can help them out, whether through the care I deliver to them or the bigger projects that have an impact beyond the office walls.”