Emory Report
May 31, 2005
Volume 57, Number 31


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May 31, 2005
Levinson builds 33 years of bridges

BY eric rangus

When Dick Levinson received written confirmation he had won the Thomas Jefferson Award, he thought the note meant something else. He figured the letter, which arrived on presidential letterhead, was notification he had been assigned to another committee (he chairs the campuswide Honorary Degree Committee and sits on the School of Medicine curriculum committee).

“It wasn’t until I looked closer [that I saw it was about] the award,” said Levinson, professor and executive associate dean in the Rollins School of Public Health, who had been on the phone when he opened it.

The Jefferson Award is given to an administrator or faculty member for significant service in the areas of teaching, scholarship, University advancement, community service and work with students. Levinson has offered that service all across campus for more than 30 years.

“I think we’re a discovery profession,” Levinson said of his adopted home in public health. “People find out about it late in their careers. Everybody knows medicine and law, but you don’t really figure out what public health is until late.”

He speaks from experience. Levinson doesn’t have a public health degree. Trained in sociology, he earned his doctorate in that subject at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1975, having joined the faculty of Emory College three years earlier.

Levinson’s lifelong interest in health issues acquainted him with a wide range of Emory academics—a minister, a clinician, a philosophy professor—who came together and formed a group that focused on biomedical ethics. That group included faculty in the School of Medicine’s (SOM) preventive medicine program. Conversations started and eventually a new SOM program sprung from them: a master’s program in community health (a precursor to “public health”—a term that had yet to be born).

In 1978, Levinson joined the SOM faculty, where he was based until he moved to the new Rollins School of Public Health was founded in 1990. It’s Levinson’s broad range of experiences at the University that give him an ability to build bridges across schools, something he feels is crucial to student experience. “I think Emory College students should benefit from a university with a school of public health, and I think we can have a significant impact on undergraduate education,” said Levinson, who continues to teach “Social Aspects of Health” in the college.

Levinson has sat on dissertation committees for graduate students, he has taught undergraduate classes abroad in England, and he has helped create a new dual-degree program that combines an MPH and a master’s in mathematics.

And it’s those new degree programs where Levinson is now focused. This summer, he will finalize two new PhD programs in public health—behavioral science and health education and health services research and health policy.