The school is the only school of public health in D.C. and is recognized as one of the top public health graduate programs in the country.
By Kristen Mitchell
When Richard Riegelman lived in a residence hall at the George Washington University in 1970, he explored the city daily during his walk from the Foggy Bottom Campus to his job as an intern on Capitol Hill.
It was during those walks, Dr. Riegelman recalled, that he first realized there was no school of public health in the nation’s capital. He hoped that one day GW would start a public health school of its own and that maybe he could be part of it.
Dr. Riegelman returned to GW in 1976 to complete his residency in internal medicine and joined the faculty two years later. In 1997 he became the founding dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health.
At the Milken Institute School of Public Health 20th anniversary celebration on Wednesday, Dr. Riegelman, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics and a leader in the public health field, said it had been a pleasure to see the school grow over the last two decades.
“This beautiful building on Washington Circle has fulfilled the dream I had in 1970 of being a part of the school of public health in the nation’s capital where the school could play an essential role in the health of the community, the nation and the world,” he said.
A lot has changed since 1997. The student body has grown drastically— from 600 graduating students in 1997 compared to 2,200 this year. The school expanded to create undergraduate programs and tripled the number of affiliated research centers.
The school opened a new building at 950 New Hampshire Ave. NW in 2014 and was renamed the Milken Institute School of Public Health when GW received a historic gift from Milken Institute, the Sumner M. Redstone Charitable Foundation and the Milken Family Foundation.
The building received a top 10 award from the American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment (COTE) earlier this year for its sustainable design. Public Health faculty also occupy research space on the seventh floor of Science and Engineering Hall, which opened in 2015.
Dean Lynn Goldman said the school would not be what it is today without the vision, generosity and perseverance of GW leaders who understood the need to create a world-class public health academic institution. Dr. Goldman joined the school in 2010 as its third dean.
“I am so proud of all we have accomplished,” Dr. Goldman said. “Our students are some of the best and brightest, and they come here from around the world. They come here to study and learn and then fan out across the globe where they will become leaders, researchers, educators and practitioners, all having an impact on the health of populations everywhere.”
George Washington President Steven Knapp said he believes the Milken Institute School of Public Health embodies the “Making History” slogan behind the $1 billion philanthropic campaign launched in 2011.
“There is no field more inherently interdisciplinary than public health, which uniquely combines life sciences, the social sciences and policy research and brings them to bear on some of the most pressing problems facing our communities, our nation and the world,” Dr. Knapp said.
Dr. Goldman thanked Nelson Carbonell, chair of the GW Board of Trustees, for his continued support of the school. He was instrumental in building SEH and the public health building and is committed to the school’s growing research, she said.
The Nelson A. and Michele Carbonell Family Foundation also funded the Carbonell Family Professor in Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders through a $2.5 million gift to advance autism research. Kevin Pelphrey, director of the GW Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Institute and a renowned autism researcher, was named to the position and installed in October.
Mr. Carbonell, B.S. ’85, said he has had the opportunity to spend time with many public health faculty over the years at a dinner he hosts for GW affiliates during the annual Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles. This year he brought his son, Dylan, who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in 1996 and is learning how to do animation at a vocational program on the West Coast. He said this year’s dinner reminded him of why public health matters.
“I want to thank everyone for what you do for the world, for what you do for the country, for what you do for GW and even closer to my heart, what you do for my son Dylan,” Mr. Carbonell said. “He’s a beneficiary of the kind of work that gets done in places like this, and it’s inspiring for all of us.”