Trustees Appoint Dr. Kenneth Olden Founding and Acting Dean of Proposed School for Public Health

September 23, 2008 | The University

The Board of Trustees of The City University of New York has appointed Dr. Kenneth Olden as Founding and Acting Dean of the proposed new CUNY School of Public Health to be sited at Hunter College.

The appointment was made at the recommendation of Chancellor Matthew Goldstein and Hunter College President Jennifer J. Raab.

Dr. Kenneth Olden

Dr. Olden headed the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program, both part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), from 1991 to 2005. He was the first African-American to become Director of one of the 18 Institutes of the NIH, and has also recently served as Yerby Visiting Professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Chancellor Goldstein stated: “Dr. Olden is a distinguished scientific leader and cancer researcher who displayed an unwavering commitment to public health as Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program. He brings an impressive combination of national and indeed international experience and service to the country to this vitally important and new initiative.”

President Raab said: “Under Dr. Olden’s leadership CUNY and Hunter College will be well positioned to establish a world-class School of Public Health given our strong master’s and Ph.D. programs in the field, combined with the University’s great strengths in the natural and social sciences that underlie the public health field.”

Dr. Olden earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at Knoxville College, a master’s in genetics at the University of Michigan, and a doctorate in cell biology and biochemistry at Temple University. Before conducting research at the National Cancer Institute, he did postdoctoral work and taught at the Harvard Medical School, all the while running a dormitory at Radcliffe College with his wife for four years. From 1979 to 1991, Dr. Olden worked at Howard University in several roles, ultimately as director of the Howard University Cancer Center and Chairman of the Department of Oncology. In 1991, he became director of NIEHS and the National Toxicology Program, with a concurrent scientific post as chief of the Metastasis Section of the NIEHS Environmental Carcinogenesis Program.

Dr. Olden stated: “The goal of CUNY’s School of Public Health is to train interdisciplinary urban public health researchers and practitioners capable of working across all levels of analysis, disciplines, and social sectors — such as health, education, the environment, and criminal justice — to address complex urban public health problems.” He said the school will produce graduates “with the skills and knowledge to help eliminate the serious disparities in urban health care facing the poor, minorities and immigrants, while also preparing future faculty and addressing staffing shortages in the public health workforce that will accompany the aging of Baby Boomers.” Dr. Olden noted that, “by virtue of its location at the City University, the School will attract students who live and work in the very urban communities it is designed to serve.”

In October 2006, Chancellor Matthew Goldstein announced plans to open a School of Public Health at Hunter College by 2010 that will be the only such program in the nation focusing on urban public health. The school, which will offer community-based public health doctoral and master’s degrees, will also be the first public school of public health in New York City.

By 2030 nearly two-thirds of the world’s 8.1 billion people are expected to be city dwellers. Many of the most serious health problems of our time, including HIV infection, drug addiction, forms of interpersonal violence, and more serious variants of chronic diseases like asthma and diabetes, have emerged first in cities. The proposed CUNY School of Public Health will focus on developing new ways to control health problems in urban populations while training practitioners to implement these solutions in New York City and other urban centers.

In his new post, Dr. Olden will head a School that will draw upon four CUNY colleges with particular strengths in the public health field, and featuring a collaborative model in accordance with Chancellor Goldstein’s mission of am integrated university. The campuses are: Brooklyn, Hunter and Lehman Colleges, which are already home to master’s degree programs in this area; and the Graduate Center, which along with Hunter, currently houses the Doctor of Public Health degree programs. The school is in formation, and will be fully established when it is accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH), which we expect to occur during 2010–2011.

It is anticipated that additional CUNY colleges, institutes and programs that focus on urban public health issues may, by mutual agreement, develop formal collaborations in the future with the School of Public Health.

The proposed CUNY School of Public Health will offer the Master of Public Health or Master of Science degree program tracks in the five core areas of public health: epidemiology, biostatistics, social and behavioral sciences, health care administration and policy, and environmental health sciences; and the Doctor of Public Health (DPH) degree programs in four of these core areas. The MPH degrees will be offered on the Hunter, Brooklyn and Lehman College campuses, while the Doctor of Public Health (DPH) degree programs will be offered jointly by Hunter College and the Graduate Center with support from other CUNY colleges

As head of NIEHS, Dr. Olden began conducting town meetings with everyday citizens around the country and built relationships with patient advocacy groups such as the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition. Elizabeth Sword, the Coalition’s executive director, said: “Early on, he had made a commitment to raising children’s environmental health on the radar screen and putting some muscle and research dollars behind it.”

Dr. Olden describes his early life as the source of much of his success, noting that in the small southern town of Parrottsville, Tennessee it was poverty as much as race that limited both Black and White residents’ lives. “Most of the qualities that have made me a success are the direct consequence of growing up where I grew up. The things that really count for leadership I learned as a kid and I didn’t forget them.” He remembers the epiphany that inspired him to pursue scientific research, which occurred when he was a senior at Knoxville College. As a participant in an inter-university research program at the University of Tennessee he visited a laboratory for the first time. “I was thrilled by research,” he says, “and that was the best decision I’ve ever made.”

Dr. Olden has maintained his research interests throughout his administrative career. Among his many publications are a 1978 paper on glycoproteins in Cell that has become one of the 100 most-cited scientific research reports, and a 1985 paper in the Journal of Biological Chemistry that reversed the 15-year conventional wisdom that secretory proteins are transported via a “conveyor belt.”

Dr. Olden’s early cancer research led him to study the role of glycoproteins in cancer. Working with Ken Yamada and others at the National Cancer Institute, he became fascinated with fibronectin, a glycoprotein that promotes the attachment of cells to the extracellular matrix. Because fibronectin disappears from cancer cells, which then metastasize, fibronectin might hold the key to metastasis prevention, thus saving patients’ lives. The team got as far as preventing metastasis in mice but was unable to do the same thing in humans.

The City University of New York is the nation’s largest urban public university. Founded in New York City in 1847 as the Free Academy, the University comprises 23 institutions: 11 senior colleges, six community colleges, the William E. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, the Graduate School and University Center, the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, the CUNY School of Law, the CUNY School of Professional Studies and the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education. The University serves more than 240,000 degree-credit students and more than 231,000 adult, continuing and professional education students. College Now, the University’s academic enrichment program for 32,500 high school students, is offered at CUNY campuses and at more than 300 high schools throughout the five boroughs of the City of New York. The University offers online baccalaureate degrees through the School of Professional Studies and individualized baccalaureate degrees through the CUNY Baccalaureate Degree.