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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University November 1, 2004 | Vol. 34 No. 10
SPH Creates New Scholar Program

Goal is to recruit, train public health leaders of the future

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has created a pioneering new scholarship program to help recruit the next generation of public health leaders. Likened to a Rhodes scholarship for health, the Sommer Scholars program seeks to train the brightest, most promising students from around the globe.

The program will support up to 15 new master of public health students and up to 15 new doctoral students each year, beginning with the 2005-2006 academic year. The first class of Hopkins Sommer Scholars will be named early next year.

The selected students will receive both full tuition and a stipend. In addition to regular course work, they will take part in a leadership program designed to develop their personal skills and foster both collaboration and networking opportunities.

Ron Brookmeyer, chair of the school's Master of Public Health program, said that the new scholarship will allow the nation's oldest and largest public health school to recruit an even more diverse pool of talented students.

"We are trying to train the leaders of tomorrow here, and we feel these Sommer Scholars are individuals who will have a significant impact on the future of public health," said Brookmeyer, a professor of biostatistics. "From my perspective, there will be a significant increase in our ability to attract the best future public health leaders, international or domestic. Some students simply don't have the financial resources to come to our school, so this scholarship program provides them another opportunity to come here."

The Sommer Scholars program is supported by a $22 million gift made to the School of Public Health in April 2004 by an anonymous donor who believed there is a great need to develop new leadership in public health. The program was named by the donor in honor of Alfred Sommer, the school's dean since 1990.

Sommer, a 1973 graduate of the School of Public Health, is also a professor of epidemiology, international health and ophthalmology. Among many other research activities, he discovered in the 1980s that mild vitamin A deficiency dramatically increased childhood mortality and that the debilitating consequences of vitamin A deficiency could be effectively, quickly and cheaply treated with oral high-dose vitamin A supplementation. His discovery led to changes in global health practices that continue to save the lives of millions of children worldwide.

Sommer said that he is humbled by the naming of the scholarship program, and excited about its future.

"This is a marvelous and unique marketing tool for the school as a whole. I know of no other school of public health with anything remotely like it," he said. "This should further enhance the Bloomberg School's visibility as a very special and unique institution. And it will ensure that we can enroll most of our very best applicants, many of whom presently choose to go elsewhere, despite wanting to attend Bloomberg, because they simply can't afford it. Good state schools, and wealthy private ones, have had the ability to provide more generous scholarship support."

Sommer added that in time the "fame" of the program and its alumni will be sufficiently known to attract talented people to public health who might previously never have thought of considering the field.

In terms of leadership development, the scholars will participate in activities including a seminar series, interactions with federal and local policy-makers, and discussions with staff at Washington, D.C.-based international organizations, including the World Bank, Pan American Health Organization and Red Cross. In addition, the scholars will have access to internship opportunities in government and private industry, both in the United States and abroad, and receive intensive training in presentation skills, media relations, lobbying and strategic planning.

"While this group of scholars will always have some added opportunities, primarily because of the highly selective nature and basis of their being chosen, we very much anticipate making more leadership training opportunities available for all students," Sommer said. "These are skills [that can be developed]; most leadership will come from each student's excelling in his or her area of endeavor, whether that is research or professional practice."

Those interested in applying for a Sommer Scholarship must apply to and be accepted by department-specific doctoral programs or the Master of Public Health program. To be eligible, candidates apply through the school's application form and in the personal statement articulate why they wish to be considered for the scholarship, and how such a distinction would further their ability to make a significant contribution to global health.

Brookmeyer said that the faculty selection committee will look for well-rounded individuals who have displayed leadership abilities.

"This will be a highly competitive process that takes into account a number of factors, such as scholastic record, work experience, health-related experience, the personal statement, letters of reference and more," he said. "These will be truly exceptional scholars."

For more information about the program, go to


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