‘A Drink from the Fire Hose of Everything We Do’

Posted on: October 5, 2017 Topics: activist month, In Conversation With

Beverly Brown Director of Development, Industry

Breakfast: Oatmeal with strawberries and blueberries, chopped pecans, and a little dark chocolate (“It gives me my fix for chocolate for the day, first thing, and it gets some fruit going into the diet.”)

Hometown: San Antonio, Texas

Extracurriculars: “I love gardening. There’s some vegetable and herb gardening, but mostly the yard and flowers—perennials and some annuals. In Massachusetts it rains a lot, so I’m always fighting back what I call ‘the biomass,’ which will overtake any yard, and that includes poison ivy.”

What is the Think. Teach. Do. Showcase on October 12?

For the Think. Teach. Do. Showcase, in the new Rajen Kilachand Center for Integrated Life Sciences & Engineering, we’re taking the BU Research on Tap model and expanding it to research, scholarship, and practice, to show our donors the impact of their support.

These three-minute presentations are just a teaser, and then there will be time afterwards with food and drink so that people can meet individually with the presenters. In one sense it’s a stewardship event to show donor impact, and in another sense it’s getting researchers in front of these donors to inspire continued partnerships and financial support.

The researchers are all pilot grant recipients, which means they’re starting new projects. That also means many of them are newer researchers working in newer research areas.

How does the showcase use SPH’s motto, Think. Teach. Do.?

I’m very excited about how we’ve been able to weave together Think. Teach. Do. We’re featuring 18 talks on Think (research), but we also have a student who is talking about Teach, and then Harold Cox talking about Do, about how practice translates into the School of Public Health. While the emphasis is on Think, I’m excited to highlight the Do and the Teach, because they are major components of what we do here. It’s really “a drink from the fire hose” of everything we do at SPH.

think-teach-do(red)-icon-200x200For me, those three words clearly articulate how SPH or any academic public health institution does its work. It articulates how donors of all types can engage in meaningful investment for improving health for all, and actually engage in a particular area of interest. Perhaps they’re excited about students and they want to support internships and fellowships. Maybe they get excited about specific faculty. A lot of corporations are more interested in impact on communities, so the Do element is especially appealing to donors like Santander Bank and Barnes & Noble, for example, who aren’t specifically in the healthcare space but want to be seen as promoting good health and general community good.

What led you to this intersection of public health, development, and industry?

My career journey started when I was quite young and had an interest in health care. The path that seemed to be the most straightforward was to become a medical technologist. Medical technologists are the people in the lab who, once your blood is drawn, run all of the tests and report the results back. It turned out that I actually wanted to do more than just run the tests. I wanted to develop the tests. So I got a PhD in biochemistry and went into industry. I have worked both in life science and at diagnostic companies to develop a wide range of diagnostic and medical device products.

My first real opportunity in public health was at CIMIT, the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology. They had a global health program, and in learning about global health I read a book called The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid. The book was written by an economist who actually put together a number of cases of companies that have created new business models that make their work in global health sustainable. These cases show that one can do sustainable global health and development, and people can make money and improve lives at the same time. In other reading, I learned that the biggest gains in health—in life expectancy and so on—have been made by public health improvement. That convinced me that the best investments are investments in public health. When I came to BU, a school of public health was a natural fit for me. So here I am.

How does private support advance the work and mission of SPH?

There are really two kinds of money that our school gets, and the largest kind is actually in corporate-sponsored research, which involves a contract and an intellectual property agreement. The other kind is what I’m focused on raising more specifically, and these are donations. For something to be classified as philanthropy, according to IRS code it cannot yield any tangible return to the person doing the giving, meaning that there is no intellectual property return or other tangible return.

While we give the individual organizations credit, and put their logo on the website and thank them in many ways, they don’t get to pick which projects they support. We pool all of the money and then we make all of the choices of how the monies are spent. Now, the organizations can say they want to support a particular area, like Big Data studies or epidemiological studies, and we can do that, but they’re not picking the specific projects or influencing the research done.  That distance between the donor and the researcher helps protect against conflict of interest.

Another type of donation that Santander Bank has been giving to SPH for the last seven years is actually funding global practicums through the Santander Scholars Program. We’ve put more than 100 students out in the field around the world with that support.

Beyond donations, industry is also very important to this school in particular because a very large percentage of our graduates will end up working for these companies. We have a better ability to place our graduates because we have these relationships.

Michelle Samuels

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