It’s the end of an era at the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. As 2010 draws to a close, Ann C. Anderson, senior associate dean and professor of environmental health studies, will retire, leaving a legacy of scholarship and growth rarely matched.
While she says goodbye to the day-to-day rigors of being a top-level school administrator, she is not entirely saying goodbye to the academic world as she will remain with Tulane as professor emeritus and will continue to helm the leadership institute she founded in 1995.
In the 41 years since Anderson started at Tulane, she has served as an educator, bench researcher, and administrator with a career arch marked by tremendous growth in student numbers, faculty, research dollars, and the regional and national impact of the school.
“When I came to Tulane in 1969, we had about 250 students in the school of public health. We had never had a full seven-year accreditation. We had a small faculty and a small research portfolio. To see the school grow to over 1,000 students, with an extraordinary faculty and a thriving research program, that’s been amazing,” says Anderson. The growth over the years occurred in no small part because of her work, which colleagues describe as tireless.
“She has been a stabilizing force,” says Dean Pierre Buekens. “She’s stepped up as acting dean on several occasions, has overseen several accreditation processes in which the school received the full seven years of accreditation, and has helped to build an undergraduate public health program.”
Anderson has also been associated with numerous annual rituals, greeting both incoming students and new faculty during their respective orientations and hosting events, such as the summer blueberry picking at her farm.
Anderson trained as a microbiologist and began her career as an instructor in environmental health. Her passion for public health education is the thread that runs through her career.
“Students could not find a better teacher and mentor,” says Assafa Abdelghani, professor of environmental health sciences.
Anderson is known for her stalwart support for hardworking students and staff – and for holding people to the high standards she believed they could achieve.
She says her passion for teaching was rewarded when her students had their “A-ha” moments. “You could just see that they got it,” she says, “and that was incredibly rewarding.”
Her commitment to education has driven her desire to improve the school’s curriculum, staying ahead of the technological changes that enabled the development of professional education programs for the public health workforce in the region.
As a scientist, she published over 190 articles in environmental health, often focusing on the persistence of toxic substances in the environment. She was principal investigator for 12 funded bench research projects and co-investigator for another 14.
“I was interested in practical, results-oriented research that really did answer a question. In most cases, what we learned had direct application to practice,” says Anderson.
As with all her endeavors, Anderson approached research with style as well as intelligence and persistence.
“She is the perfect Southern woman,” says Abdelghani, who co-authored many of her publications. “She is always perfectly dressed for every occasion. She used to show up in her boots and hop over fences in farmers’ fields.”
Anderson put in long hours as a bench researcher, getting up early and staying late. Her ability to focus on a project and see it through to completion served her well throughout her career, says Abdelghani.
“Many times you meet people who have a vision, but they don’t always carry it out,” he says.
Her commitment to a vision served her well in her roles as associate dean and interim dean.
“Hiring Ann was the smartest thing I ever did as dean. In my opinion she is the best associate dean that I have ever been around,” recalls Harrison Spencer, MD, MPH, president of the Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH). He was dean at Tulane’s school of public health from 1991 to 1996.
“Her insights, her perspectives, what she did were so important. In the beginning when I got there, there had been even some talk about closing the school,” recalls Spencer. “Together, with Ann, but with the faculty, students and leadership in the medical center, the school just turned around. It was able to collect itself and really move ahead strongly.”
Overcoming those obstacles was a team effort, says Anderson. During her tenure the school has received full seven-year accreditations multiple times.
In addition to strengthening the academic program, Spencer charged Anderson with strengthening the school’s ties to the Louisiana Office of Public Health and to public health offices in the region. She helped to create a liaison between OPH and the school to give students practical experience.
“It really helped to assure that the students had a more meaningful experience,” recalls Joseph Kimbrell, director of the Louisiana Public Health Institute, who was then deputy assistant secretary of OPH.
Even as she strengthened the school’s relationships locally, she began fighting for an undergraduate public health program at Tulane and was instrumental in helping the University of Arkansas develop the College of Public Health.
Expanding educational opportunities to undergraduate students and to the workforce seemed to be a natural part of her maturation, she says. “I wanted to see the research applied in practice. I think that’s a natural progression, to teach, to teach and do research, and then to want to see the information in application.”
“Her vision to be of service to government entities around workforce development is critically important,” says Kimbrell, who worked with her to launch the South Central Public Health Leadership Institute in 1995 while he was at OPH. The institute is a joint program with four state health officers in Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi and with the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Anderson has been director of 28 funded training grants and is currently co-principal investigator on two training centers in the school. Over the past 10 years, these centers have reached out to 250,000 public health professionals. She developed an Advanced Institute in Crisis Leadership with the same states, which began in March 2007. She directs the South Central Public Health Training Center, funded by HRSA , which began in 2000 and is ongoing. She also helped to develop the CDC-funded Preparedness Center.
“She has made quite an extraordinary contribution to the public health communities at the local, regional, and national level through her funded activities in public health leadership and preparedness,” says Buekens.
“She’s built those into very viable, respected programs,” says LuAnn White, director of the Center of Applied Environmental Public Health. White will step into the senior associate dean position after Anderson’s retirement.
“The training center and the preparedness centers have developed literally hundreds of modules that have helped the public health workforce,” says White.
As professor emeritus, Anderson will continue as co-PI on the grants she currently holds. But she is also looking forward to serving as a board member for the New Orleans Opera Association Womens Guild, exploring her passion for nature photography, and expanding the garden on her blueberry farm with her husband.
— Madeline Vann