Campus snapshots: 100 years of student life

Campus snapshot

[Fall 2013 Centennial issue]

Prince Mahidol Songkla of Thailand (then Siam) kept a low profile while he Education-Mahidolwas a student at HSPH’s predecessor, the Harvard-MIT School for Health Officers, from 1919 to 1921. Years later, classmate Roy Campbell recalled his surprise when the “smart, very nice fellow” he went to movies with revealed his royal lineage just before returning home. Campbell regretted that he had to decline Songkla’s invitation to visit due to the $600 ticket price. Although the prince lived to be just 37, he is revered as the “Father of Modern Medicine” in Thailand for his efforts to enact health care reforms and expand opportunities for public health and medical education in his country.

“I recall Philip Drinker taking us through factories telling us to watch for dirt and accident hazards, and not to take notes in front of our hosts,” James M. Dunning, MPH ’47, wrote in a class note in the Spring 1978 Harvard Public Health Alumni Bulletin.

Thomas Davis, MPH ’54, arrived at HSPH two months tardy, but his $10 late registration fee was waived — presumably because he had just sailed more than 10,000 miles to get there. Davis, a surgeon from the Cook Islands, spent five months traveling with his wife, two sons, and two crewmen from Wellington, New Zealand. He was elected class president soon after his arrival, according to the Harvard Crimson, “following a bibulous beer party for him in the School’s staid lobby.” Davis returned to the Cook Islands after graduation, where he later served two terms as prime minister.

“As an alternative to vacation between the terms, there were ‘volunpulsory’ field trips.” These visits—the predecessors to today’s WinterSession courses—included trips to the New York State public health laboratories, day-care nurseries in New York City, and sewage works and candy factories in Boston. (HSPH yearbook, 1955.)

World Music ShattuckSince 1961, Since 1961, Shattuck International House, a complex of furnished apartments owned and managed by HSPH, has served as a home away from home for more than 3,000 students and their families. Residents—about 60 percent of whom come from abroad—study together, celebrate milestones and holidays as a community, and stage talent shows and potluck dinners showcasing their diversity.

“But most of all, I remember the times we spent in this room. Eating lunch. Trying to make coffee for 25 people with only three paper cups. I think that’s how it is in Public Health. We’re lucky to have such a good group of people, because otherwise it would be pretty rough. Somehow, we always manage to get coffee.” (HSPH yearbook, 1965.)

Joan BarenfangerJoan Barenfanger, SM ’71, conducted epidemiological studies on trachoma in the oasis and desert villages surrounding the HSPH Microbiology Department’s field station in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. “For me, it put the ‘public’ into public health to be in a country where 90 percent of the population” suffered from the infectious eye disease, she wrote in the Summer 1973 Harvard Public Health Alumni Bulletin.

At the 1974 year-end party, the highest-bid-upon item in the first-ever auction for the student loan fund was a bread baking lesson by Dean Howard Hiatt. Robert Reed, professor of biostatistics, entered two original sculptures in the auction. His creation, Aspiring Worms, which was made of Styrofoam packing material, was stolen during the event.

Magdalena SerpaWhen physician Magdalena Serpa entered the class of 1985 at HSPH, it was an unusual homecoming. She was born in Boston in 1959 while her father, Fernando Serpa-Florez, a former secretary general in Colombia’s Ministry of Health, was an HSPH student. Serpa subsequently pursued a career in child health and nutrition policy.

Posters at HSPH’s June 1988 Commencement ceremony honored alumna Heng Leng Chee, SM ’79, one of nearly 100 Malaysian citizens of Chinese ancestry arrested the previous October and placed under what the Malaysian government termed “preventive detention to avoid racial conflict.” An advocate of women’s rights and the welfare of the poor, Chee was investigating the socioeconomic determinants of health status in a squatter community in Kuala Lumpur at the time of her arrest. Letter writers in a campaign for Chee’s release included HSPH Dean Harvey Fineberg, Harvard President Derek Bok, and Massachusetts Senators Edward Kennedy and John Kerry. Chee was released in August 1988.

Dora Anne Mills, MPH ’97, earned her master’s studying part-time while maintaining her pediatric practice in rural Maine. The brutal commute was worth it for Mills, who told the Harvard Public Health Review in 1996 that her training would allow her to accomplish more through systemic change than she could through individual patient care. Mills later served as director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention for 15 years and is credited with reducing the state’s rates of tobacco use, teen pregnancy, and childhood obesity.

Anne Newland, MPH ’13, “Medical school and residency are where you learn to take care of individuals. An MPH helps prepare you to take care of communities.”

John Jackson, SD ’13, Horace W. Goldsmith Fellow, “A lot of issues—not just medical treatment itself, but also large social forces such as access to care, poverty, and discrimination—shape people’s health. Finding a successful treatment is an important step in improving population health, but it’s one step among many. One of my research interests is the effectiveness and safety of psychotropic medications and interventions for mental health. I want to understand how they work, why they work, and in what settings, so that we can improve these treatments and the ways they are used.”

Panji Hadisoemarto, SD ’14, “In my opinion, the best place to thrive is the place that is least developed. I like research, but I don’t want to do research for itself. I want to see change.”

— Madeline Drexler