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Central HR team volunteers to help hungry Coloradans

HR volunteering at Food Bank of Rockies

HR volunteers at food bank
A group of 25 team HR team members pitch in at the food bank as part of the CU in the Community program.

In what’s become a spring tradition of service, the CU Denver | CU Anschutz Medical Campus Human Resources Office team once again spent a half day volunteering at the Food Bank of the Rockies. This year’s group of 25 team members marked the seventh consecutive year the HR Department has sorted, loaded and prepped food for distribution to Coloradans in need.

The department, along with scores of other CU teams, feels honored to donate time to such a worthy cause. The CU in the Community program encourages faculty and staff to spend a half-day of their work week volunteering in the activity of their choice in the community.

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Leslie Berg named chair of Department of Immunology and Microbiology

Leslie J. Berg, PhD, who specializes in understanding how T cells develop and help fight infection, has been named Chair of the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine on the Anschutz Medical Campus, effective Feb. 1, 2019.

Berg is Professor of Pathology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, Mass., where she has served on the faculty since 1998. At UMass, Berg served as Vice-Chair of the Immunology-Virology Program from 2003 to 2006 and as chair from 2006 to 2009. From 2009 to 2014, she served as the program’s Graduate Director.

Her responsibilities at UMass have included teaching, leading a consistently funded research laboratory, and handling administrative duties for the Immunology and Virology Program. She brings to CU School of Medicine considerable expertise in studying the way the body addresses pathogens, which is key to developing treatments for ailments caused by immune system dysfunction.

“We are trying to understand how our T cells make decisions about what kind of T cell they’re going to be and what kind of response they’re going to make,” Berg explained in 2012 as part of the American Association of Immunologists Oral History Project.  “One way to think about that is when you have an infection, depending on the nature of the pathogen, if it’s a virus or a bacteria or a parasite, your immune system has to come up with a different response because you need a different response to clear different kinds of infections. And your T cells have to figure that out.”

Berg’s research has helped show that the T cells respond to signals in a way that is more complicated than a simple on-off switch. Rather, the cells respond to a type of protein that gives a signal on how the T cell should develop.

In a 2012 article in the Journal of Immunology, she wrote that some signaling proteins provide an on-off switch, while others function like a mechanism inside a water faucet where “turning the handle a small amount produces a trickle of water, whereas cranking the faucet handle all of the way open produces a gushing stream of water.” That variation affects how the T cell develops and responds.

“I am confident that Dr. Berg will continue making outstanding contributions to science as a leader at the School of Medicine,” said Dean John J. Reilly, Jr., MD. “We are fortunate to have her joining the world-class faculty we have in our Department of Immunology and Microbiology.”

Berg earned her BA in biology from Harvard University in 1980 and PhD in molecular biology from the University of California Berkley in 1986. She conducted postdoctoral training at Stanford University before joining the faculty of Harvard University’s Department of Cellular and Developmental Biology in 1990. She remained at Harvard until joining UMass in 1998.

Berg is the author of more than 100 articles in peer-reviewed journals, book chapters and invited articles. She served as President of the American Association of Immunologists in 2011-2012 and has received numerous academic awards and honors.

Guest contributor: CU School of Medicine

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Evalina Burger named chair of Orthopedics

Evalina Burger, MB ChB, MMed, an expert spine surgeon and accomplished administrative leader, has been named chair of the Department of Orthopedics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, effective Nov. 1, 2018.

Evalina Burger, Orthopedics chair
Evalina Burger, MB ChB, MMed, chair of the Department of Orthopedics

Burger, who joined the CU School of Medicine faculty in 2006, is a successful and highly productive surgeon who has been recognized frequently by her peers as one of the best physicians in the country. In addition to her clinical work, Burger has been an active investigator and educator working to find new metal-alloy compositions to improve orthopedic implants.

She has written more than 60 peer-reviewed publications and several book chapters. She also serves on editorial boards of scholarly journals and has co-edited two textbooks on spine surgery. She has actively participated in FDA clinical trials for spine implants and has received several grants to support her work.

‘Global destination’

“Through innovation, infrastructure and inclusion, I see the Department of Orthopedics becoming a leader and an integral part of healthcare delivery on a national level,” Burger said. “With a diverse faculty, I hope to grow the department into a global destination for healthcare excellence.”

Burger was selected after a national search to succeed Robert D’Ambrosia, MD, who joined the CU School of Medicine in 2002 and who has been a catalyst for growth and an inspirational champion of the university’s diversity efforts. When D’Ambrosia joined CU, there were six faculty members in the department and there are now more than 110.

Burger has also been a key administrative leader in the Department of Orthopedics, serving as vice chair of clinical affairs since 2008. In her leadership role, she led efforts in clinical service development and reorganization and strategic business planning. She has also helped improve workflows to enhance quality patient care in a teaching environment.

‘Talented surgeon’

“Dr. Burger is a talented surgeon and a dedicated colleague,” said John J. Reilly, Jr., MD, dean of the CU School of Medicine. “She articulated an ambitious vision for the department, building upon the foundation established by Dr. D’Ambrosia, and clearly recognizes the importance of all of our missions. She successfully treats patients from all walks of life while efficiently managing the need for high-quality and efficient care in an academic setting. We are fortunate to have her on our faculty and I look forward to working with her in her new role as the chair of a growing department.”

Burger graduated with a medical degree, MB ChB, from the University of the Orange Free State in South Africa in 1984. She also earned a graduate degree, an MMed, from the University of Pretoria in 1993. In 2000, she became the first female orthopedic surgeon from South Africa and only the third woman ever to receive the American-British-Canadian Traveling Fellowship, which is awarded to highly accomplished young surgeons from English-speaking countries.

Prior to joining CU, Burger was an associate professor at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans from 2001 to 2006. While there, she helped establish the first fully functional orthopedic clinic after Hurricane Katrina.

Guest contributor: CU School of Medicine

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University of Colorado announces new dean to lead the College of Nursing

The University of Colorado Board of Regents approved the Sept. 1 appointment of Elias Provencio-Vasquez, RN, PhD, as the new dean of the CU College of Nursing at the Anschutz Medical Campus.

Elias Provencio-Vasquez, RN, PhD, new dean of the CU College of Nursing.
Elias Provencio-Vasquez, RN, PhD, new dean of the CU College of Nursing.

Provencio-Vasquez becomes the 11th dean and the second male dean in the history of the College, which is celebrating 120 years of educating nurses throughout Colorado. He is also the first Latino male to earn a doctorate in nursing and to head a nursing school in the U.S.

“We are thrilled that Dr. Provencio-Vasquez will be leading the College of Nursing,” said CU Anschutz Chancellor Don Elliman. “Not only is he a highly experienced nurse educator, eminent researcher and proven administrator, he’s the son of immigrants who was the first in his family to attend college. He is uniquely qualified to lead the College into the next phase of its history.”

Provencio-Vasquez got his start in the healthcare industry more than 40 years ago as a teenager organizing food trays in a Phoenix hospital. That experience helped inspire him to pursue a career in nursing. After receiving his associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, he went on to earn a doctorate.

“I know personally the power of education and appreciate the University of Colorado’s commitment to student access and diversity,” he said. “I never thought that having faculty or people that look like you would make a difference, but it does. If you see faculty whom you can identify with, that does make a difference.”

During his career, he has served as a clinical nurse, a nurse researcher, a nurse educator, school administrator, and a pediatric and neonatal nurse practitioner. He is internationally renowned for his pioneering work in neonatal and pediatric care and in women’s health. Provencio-Vasquez is also a Robert Wood Johnson Executive Nurse Fellow alumnus, a Robert H. Hoy III Distinguished Professor in Health Sciences and serves on several community and editorial boards.

Prior to his current position, Provencio-Vasquez served as dean of the nursing school at the University of Texas El Paso, associate dean at the University of Miami and director of the Neonatal Nurse Practitioner program at the University of Texas at Houston and the University of Maryland.

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CU Anschutz hires Kathy Green as new communications chief

Kathy Green, a seasoned communications professional with over 25 years of experience in politics, health care and marketing, has been appointed chief communications officer at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

Kathy Green is the new chief communications officer at CU Anschutz
Kathy Green is the new chief communications officer at CU Anschutz

“We have a tremendous story to tell: one of groundbreaking research, world-class faculty educating a talented student body, excellent clinical care and a bold vision for the future,” said CU Anschutz Chancellor Don Elliman Jr. “I am delighted to announce that today, with the appointment of Kathy Green as our new chief communications officer, we are one step closer to telling that story to the world.”

Green brings decades of experience in multi-disciplinary marketing and communications along with strategic planning and partnership development to the new job.

As communications director for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, she handled media relations, strategic planning and successfully redesigned and rebuilt the office’s communications division, increasing national rankings on social media, boosting citizen engagement and increasing media exposure.

“Kathy’s consistent grace, wit and intelligence, which had such a positive effect on everybody at the governor’s office, will undoubtedly serve CU Anschutz well,” said Governor Hickenlooper. “It’s great to see someone so talented join an institution that’s doing so much to improve health throughout Colorado.”

Prior to her work in the governor’s office, Green served as strategic marketing and communications director for the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. Before that, she was communications director for various agencies within the City and County of Denver. She also worked in advertising and public relations and started her career with University Hospital in Chicago. Green is currently a communications consultant.

“I’m thrilled to be joining the CU Anschutz team and the dynamic campus at a time of tremendous growth in everything from medical advancements to philanthropic support,” said Green. “The campus continues to gain momentum, and I will focus on sharing this story locally, national and globally.”

Chancellor Elliman noted that with its ground-breaking research, strong enrollment and increasing innovation, CU Anschutz is making major strides in all the right directions.

“Kathy is the right person at the right time to help our growing campus continue to build its reputation, brand and visibility as a leading academic medical center: where anyone who needs it can get the finest care in the world, where the science of that care is being pushed to new horizons, and where we train and prepare the health workforce of the future,” he said.

Green will join CU Anschutz on July 16 in a part-time role while finishing work with her current clients. She will begin full-time on Sept. 1.

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Lindau Nobel Laureate 2018

At the prospect of meeting her role model, Rushita Bagchi is at a loss for words. Selected through a national competition to attend the prestigious Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting this summer, Bagchi has the chance to interact with top scientists from around the world, including Elizabeth Blackburn, 2009 winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Rushita Bagchi, PhD, has been with the university since 2015.

Bagchi, who received her PhD from the University of Manitoba in cardiac pathophysiology, said she hopes she will be able to calm her excitement enough to gain insight from the renowned woman scientist. Bagchi recently spoke with CU Anschutz Today about her path to the notable meeting invitation. She has worked in Dr. Timothy McKinsey’s lab on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus as a postdoctoral fellow in the Division of Cardiology since 2015.

What do you study, and what do you like most about it?

Currently, I am researching the epigenetic regulation of cardiometabolic disease, with a special focus on chromatin modifying enzymes known as histone deacetylases (HDACs). This area is fairly lesser explored than broad cardiology. Any novel findings from this area of research have the potential to pave the way for the development of new therapeutics to treat patients diagnosed with diabetes and hyperlipidemia and cardiovascular disease associated with these conditions. The translational nature of this work is very exciting and keeps me very engaged.

What is the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting?

It is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for top trainees in the world (under the age of 35) to network and learn from the experts in the field. The annual meeting is conducted in different categories, just like the Nobel Prize categories. This year’s meeting in June is in the area of Medicine and Physiology. The top 600 trainees from 84 countries have been selected to participate in this meeting and interact with over 40 Nobel laureates. This is the best platform to build networks and lay the foundation for future collaborations. Mostly importantly, I think this is the best opportunity one can have to get to know the world leaders in science better and listen and learn about their academic and personal experiences.

What is the application process like?

It starts with a nomination from a partner institution in a country, which may choose to select its nominees through competition, merit or both. The nomination letter is just one of the many components of the application process. In addition, the nominees are asked to provide detailed biodata, their significant contributions to the field of science, recognitions and awards and what motivates them to pursue scientific research. A scientific committee carefully assesses thousands of applications from nominees worldwide and selects the top 500 or so individuals to participate in the meeting.

“I think this is the best opportunity one can have to get to know the world leaders in science better and listen and learn about their academic and personal experiences.”  ̶  Rushita Bagchi, PhD

What did you think or do when you heard you were chosen? 

I received an email from the meeting organizers very early morning on Feb. 27, which is also my dad’s birthday. It took me a little while to process what had just happened. I called up my husband in Canada and my parents in India immediately to inform them about my selection. I also passed on the news to my current mentor, Dr. Timothy McKinsey, and my PhD mentor, Dr. Michael Czubryt. It was very exciting, and surreal!

What are you looking forward to the most?

I am looking forward to networking opportunities and learning from the experts. I am especially excited about being able to meet Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, who received the prize for the discovery of the enzyme telomerase. I have always looked up to women scientists, and she is one of my role models.

What do you think you’ll say or ask when you meet her? 

Honestly, I don’t know how I will react when I meet her in person. I will probably be at a loss for words at the first glance, and then hopefully will be able to introduce myself and start a conversation. I will surely ask about her experience and path she took to becoming a top woman scientist and especially her advice for aspiring women scientists.



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Overcoming a health challenge and finding purpose

Seven years ago, Courtland Keteyian rolled into an operating room, excited by the prospect of running the way he once did as a star athlete on the track team in college. He imagined running on an outdoor trail and alongside gurneys in an emergency room.

Post-surgery, a few hours later, nurses wheeled him out of the operating room. He has been in a wheelchair ever since.

His surgeon made the operation sound fairly routine. A first-year resident at the time, studying emergency medicine, Keteyian was aware of the litany of things that can go wrong on the operating table. But he went in with confidence and assurances that the risks of the operation were minimal. He felt certain that his bothersome running injury would finally be healed.

But after this surgery, he could not even walk.

Finding meaning in work

Keteyian admits that dealing with the complications of his surgery was not easy. But instead of turning away from medicine, his desire to become a doctor grew stronger. He decided he wanted to become a different kind of doctor — one focused on prevention and who avoids unnecessary medical interventions as much as possible.

He finished his internship in emergency medicine and went on to complete his residency in preventive medicine at the University of Michigan. Today, he is an occupational and environmental medicine fellow at the Colorado School of Public Health (ColoradoSPH) on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

With BS, MD, MBA, and MPH degrees, experience as the CEO of his own startup company, and time spent as the medical director of a county health department under his belt, Keteyian brings a unique set of skills to the fellowship. He is the first fellow to matriculate into the program, one of the only one-year fellowships in the country that offers a path for physicians to become board certified in occupational medicine. The program was designed by faculty in the ColoradoSPH’s Center for Health, Work & Environment and is funded by the center’s Mountain & Plains Education and Research Center and an educational grant from Pinnacol Assurance, the largest workers’ compensation insurer in Colorado.

“I take a lot of pride in going to work each day. I think most people do. I wanted to work with people who experience disability and help them be functional at work so they can continue to experience that sense of value,” said Keteyian.

While his current career path is not exactly what he would have imagined as an intern at the University of Michigan, he has found purpose. Specializing in occupational medicine has offered him the opportunity to help others overcome their health challenges, get back to work, and hopefully regain the sense of identity that their job symbolizes.

Prevention-first approach

The fact that he was able to customize the program to fit his career goals, focus on his interest in prevention, and gain hands-on training in a clinical setting was a major draw of the fellowship.

When he is not treating patients, Keteyian is conducting research that will help prevent injuries and illnesses from occurring in the first place. Currently, he is investigating what factors cause repeat job-related injuries by analyzing workers’ compensation claims. He and his co-investigators in the Center for Heath, Work & Environment envision using the findings of this work to help employers and employees prevent repeat injuries, a topic that has not been studied extensively in the past.

“Seeing patients is important work, but it’s impact is mainly limited to the present,” said Keteyian. “It is critically important to understand why workers experience injuries and what can be done to prevent them. Research is essential to answer this question, and has the potential to improve health outcomes for workers long into the future.”

Connecting with patients who experience disability

Keteyian’s experiences as a frustrated patient and as a physician with a disability have informed both his research focus on prevention as well as his interactions with patients.

“Regardless of who the patient is, I think just seeing someone in a wheelchair can be very disarming for patients,” he said. “It can create a bridge that wasn’t there before. They think, ‘This guy gets it. He’s had some sort of challenge.’”

After years of hard work, Keteyian is now able to walk to some extent. But most of his time is spent in a wheelchair. The way Keteyian sees it, everyone will cope with disability in their lifetime in some way. Our ability to do everyday activities, on the job or at home, may change over time. Keteyian often conveys to patients that they are not alone in facing challenges and that they can still contribute to society, even if they need to adjust their work tasks or lifestyle to accommodate an illness or injury.

“Just because you have an injury or a disability doesn’t mean you can’t be very productive in other ways,” said Keteyian. “I treat patients and do research to contribute in ways that I feel are meaningful to society.”

The combination of Keteyian’s background in emergency medicine and his own personal health journey has led him down a career path focused on prevention and helping workers. He looks forward to continuing to build on his clinical and research expertise to move prevention-first approaches forward in the field of occupational and environmental medicine.

Learn more about the fellowship and how to apply. 

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Coordinator Fontana facilitates access and equity

Lauren Fontana used to spend her days living in code. A graduate of the University of Michigan with a BSE in computer science in engineering, she designed programs for the health care industry. But in 2004, she felt compelled to take a different path. “As I was sitting in a cubicle, writing code every day,” she tells me, “here was this huge movement of people in 16 states voting on whether I could get married. And I kind of thought, ‘What am I doing?’”

Since 2004, Fontana has done quite a lot: she obtained a law degree, moved to Colorado, worked for the State Supreme Court, became a legal advocate for incarcerated people and became a civil rights attorney. Building off her work in individual litigation, Fontana now hopes to “look broader,” tackling the “big issues” of accessibility and discrimination in higher education.

As an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Affirmative Action coordinator, Fontana uses her flexible expertise to work with employees, supervisors and hiring committees across both campuses in order to ensure our work lives are more equitable. Fontana sat down with Today to tell us what justice means to her, and to explain how the University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus is working toward it. 

Could you describe what a day in the life of an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Affirmative Action (AA) compliance coordinator looks like?

Every day is different. On the ADA side, sometimes I’m talking to supervisors about working with employees to come up with accommodations that work for the employee, who needs the accommodation, and for the work that needs to be done. Sometimes I’m talking to employees who are requesting accommodations in the first place, learning more about what their needs are, and learning what we can do in order to actually accommodate them so that they can do the job.

Lauren Fontana speaks with CU Denver Today

What do conversations about employee accommodations typically involve?

We have a form that the employee takes to their doctor that asks a standard series of questions, essentially determining if the employee has a disability that’s covered by the ADA. The employee works with their doctor to figure out what might be the best possible solution, and then they bring that either to me or to their supervisor, and we figure out if what they’ve proposed works in terms of their business unit functioning.

It’s sort of a puzzle between the employee, the doctor, the supervisor and me figuring out what’s going to enable the employee to do their job in a way that works for the department and works for them.

Are there things about the ADA that you wish people understood better?

A lot of people view accommodation as “cheating,” whether accommodation means giving a student more time to take an exam, or giving an employee an extra break because of a medical condition. There’s pushback around the idea that accommodation isn’t fair.

“Equality” is giving everyone the same thing, no matter what. “Equity” is giving everybody what they need to have a fair shot, to level the playing field. I wish we could get away from this idea that giving someone an accommodation is like giving someone an unfair advantage; it’s not – it’s enabling them to do the same thing that someone who doesn’t need an accommodation can already do.

I know that you have a background in law, but how did you get started in ADA and AA work?

Before I came to CU I was a civil rights lawyer in private practice. I also taught in the civil rights clinic at the University of Denver’s law school for a couple of years. I got to the point where I didn’t want to litigate anymore, but I still wanted to use my civil rights and legal background, so I ended up here in a civil rights investigator position. That was a perfect transition.

What inspired you to work in equity and civil rights?

I was an engineer before I became a lawyer. I was a software engineer, and in the 2004 election, 16 states had anti-same-sex marriage state constitutional amendments on the ballot, including my home state of Ohio, and Michigan, where I was living at the time. As I was sitting in a cubicle, writing code every day, here was this huge movement of people voting on whether I could get married. And I kind of thought, “What am I doing? Nobody cares about this code that I’m writing.” So I decided to apply to law school.

I wanted to do gay rights policy work, but then I realized that was too close to home. So I ended up shifting toward advocating for people with other marginalized identities that I don’t necessarily have. I was more productive as an advocate for other folks.

Lauren Fontana speaks with Callie Rennison, Director of Equity and Title IX Coordinator

Around your civil rights and equity work, do you have a particular philosophy? Is there a quote you point to and say, “That’s the kind of justice that I’m working toward?”

The specific quote is so important to me that it’s tattooed on my arm – is “Silence is betrayal,” which is from a Martin Luther King, Jr. speech about the Vietnam War.

The gist of it, to me, is that if you’re not speaking out for other folks, you’re really not doing anyone any justice. And that can look like different things. So, if someone else doesn’t feel safe, or doesn’t have the emotional capacity, or just doesn’t feel like they should have to advocate for themselves, then that’s the time to step in.

Justice also, more importantly, involves amplifying other people’s voices. Particular marginalized communities can say all they want without being heard. So, if I can use my position of privilege – and I have lots of positions of privilege, even if I have marginalized identities too – to say, “Hey, let’s listen to this marginalized community,” then that’s also eliminating the silence.

What are the most common misconceptions around affirmative action?

I think the most common misconception is that affirmative action is a “quota system” –  it’s just not.

In the context of employment, the whole idea is that if we’re not discriminating against people, then the pool from which we’re selecting employees should look pretty similar to the people we select. That’s just probabilities. The reasoning behind having an affirmative action plan is that, absent discrimination, we should have a representative number of all marginalized groups.

This idea is that, historically, employees and students have been predominantly, if not all, white. If we keep doing what we’ve always done, that’s what we’re going to get, leaving out vast quantities of people who deserve to be here.


If you have questions or concerns about accessibility, Title IX, or harrassment, please reach out to the Office of Equity.
Lawrence Street Center, 12th Floor

If you weren’t an equity coordinator, what would you be?

I would be a farmer. I would grow all of the vegetables, and that’s what I would do all day. We’re working on expanding our garden at the moment, because the first year we planted, everything got killed by bindweed. So, we’re building raised beds – we have two of them, out of the 10 we plan to have. That’s what grounds me.

What gets you up every morning, and what keeps you up at night?

In the summer, I get up early to play in the garden before work. But really, what gets me up is being able to come up with creative ways to solve problems, and that process – particularly here. This whole office is very collaborative; I talk to my colleagues all the time. Having that sense of community around social justice issues is really motivating to me.

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Top global expert on air pollution and tobacco control takes reins of ColoradoSPH

The newest dean on campus has a lot to boast about. A recent invitation to the Vatican. An award presented by a king. But after 40 years in a career that landed him many top-level posts and prominent international recognition, the dean of the Colorado School of Public Health (ColoradoSPH) remains straight-forward and modest.

Unless the conversation turns to grandchildren, of course.

Distinguished Professor Jonathan Samet, MD, MS, who took over his new desk on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus before making his pontifical stop, came from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, where he was chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine.

Considered a top global expert on air pollution and tobacco control, Samet’s accolades include a National Academy of Medicine election, a National Cancer Advisory Board appointment, two Surgeon General’s Medallions and the Prince Mahidol Award for Global Health presented by the King of Thailand.

Samet recently sat down with CU Anschutz Today to discuss his career highlights and outlook for the ColoradoSPH.

Jonathan Samet in front of painting of Pope Francis at the Vatican
Jonathan Samet, the new dean of the Colorado School of Public Health, relaxes during a workshop break at the Vatican.

Today: How did you earn an invitation to such an exclusive Vatican event?

Samet: For decades, I have focused on air pollution and air quality, and I’ve been involved in many related issues. I chaired the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, and I’ve been involved with the World Health Organization and the Surgeon General’s office and written extensively on this issue.

Today: At the Vatican, you spoke on the disease burden of air pollution. Tell us about your message.

Samet: Outdoor air pollution causes 5 million premature deaths a year. Then there are a billion and a half people or so who are exposed to smoke indoors from biomass fuels (wood, dung, charcoal) that they use for heating and cooking. This occurs mainly in other countries and is a rising problem. Nationally, things have improved. For instance, 30 years ago, Denver was famous for its dense brown cloud. Thankfully, it’s not what it used to be. But in the rest of the world  ̶  India, China, parts of Asia, parts of Africa  ̶  air pollution levels are back up to what killed people in the past. It remains a serious global health problem.

Outlook on change

Today: What were the driving factors behind your decision to take this position?

Samet: The real professional attraction was to take the leadership of a school that I think has tremendous opportunity to have impact on public health here in Colorado and the region. I’ve always been interested in taking research and doing something with it: If there is one thing that has defined my career, it’s probably that. I want to make sure we’re taking what we learn and moving it into action. On the personal side, my son and grandchildren are here. My son came to the University of Colorado in Boulder years ago for the reason any young man would go there: to rock climb. And he stayed.

Today: What are your chief goals for the school and community?

Samet: The school is special in that it crosses three universities: the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, Colorado State University and the University of Northern Colorado. We have good programs at each and complementary strengths across the three campuses. That’s something to build on. Just as an example, by drawing on CSU’s long-standing strengths at the veterinary school, we can look at the issue of antibiotic resistance. A lot of the drive behind increasing resistance is the use of antibiotics in animals.

And Colorado has a number of issues that need to be studied or addressed. Right now, there is a unique experiment going on with the legalization of marijuana. We’re in the forefront there, and we need to understand any potential consequences. There’s also rapid growth in the state and what comes with that, such as housing issues, environmental changes. These are all things in which I think the school should be involved.

Taking on challenges

Today: You’ve written a bit about the public’s losing trust in science and medical experts. Can you tell us how that works against you and your colleagues?

Samet: For those of us in public health, our research may have important consequences. As an example, showing that smoking causes lung cancer demands action. These kinds of findings may bump up against powerful interests. We know as the science unfolded on smoking and disease, the tobacco industry was always there trying to undermine the findings and their public health impact, creating doubt about the evidence. This has spread, for instance, with climate change and with vaccinations. People are, in a sense, making belief equivalent to evidence as a foundation for decision-making. For instance, a parent says: I believe childhood vaccinations cause autism, which is well discredited. Therefore, I will not vaccinate my child. At some point, this becomes a problem.

Jonathan Samet at his desk
Jonathan Samet brings an expert background in air pollution and tobacco control to the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

Today: How would you describe progress in your other main focus area: tobacco control?

Samet: If you look nationally at the rates of cigarette smoking at the peak in 1960 or so, the majority of men were smokers. If you look now, we are down to about 17 percent of adults smoking daily. There’s tremendous progress but with new challenges. The world of tobacco control has changed really quickly with the arrival of various products that are not combustible cigarettes. We are at another turning point.

Today: You recently accepted a top award in your field from the American Public Health Association’s Epidemiology Section. You are no stranger to awards. Was there anything particularly special about this one?

Samet: This was the Wade Hampton Frost (1880–1938) award. He was essentially the first academic epidemiologist. He founded the Department of Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. I was in the line of chairs who came after him, so that was an honor for me, and I enjoyed the opportunity to talk with colleagues.

Today: What is one misperception people have about you?

Samet: Probably a workaholic perception. I do work hard,  but I have many interests outside of work. For instance, I’m passionate about jazz (and his 3- and 6-year-old grandsons). The one who just turned 6 has been riding his bike to the bike park without training wheels since he was 3. So I definitely will be cycling with them. And they are, of course, rock-climbers already. So I’m really looking forward to the outdoor activities and spending time with family.

Photo at top: Jonathan Samet recently received a top award in his field from the American Public Health Association at a ceremony in Atlanta.

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Memorial remembers Traystman as a respected scientist, cherished friend

Although his office now sits empty, a rarity during his 10 years with the University of Colorado, Richard “Dick” Traystman, PhD, lives on through his legacy. He built a successful research program, guided countless colleagues and mentored students toward greatness.

Richard Traystman memorial
Richard Traystman, PhD, where he spent countless hours – at his desk.

Such was the message delivered during a “Celebration of Life” on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus for the distinguished professor and vice chancellor for research, who passed away Oct. 19 at 75.

More than 250 campus community members, welcomed by CU Anschutz Chancellor Don Elliman, gathered on Nov. 7 to reminisce about a man whose colleagues say led with both fortitude and compassion, serving as a revered mentor and a treasured friend to many.

When people leave this earth, they leave a lot of holes in other people’s lives, said Professor Robert Damrauer, associate vice chancellor for research housed at CU Denver, after sharing his and Traystman’s love of opera.  “There are going to be holes in all kinds of people’s lives.”

‘We can do more’

Richard Traystman in the kitchen
Traystman was remembered as a consummate team leader. Here, he pitched in cooking a meal.

CU Denver Chancellor Dorothy Horrell recalled her first meeting with Traystman, PhD, and being struck by his “booming” voice and straight-forward demands for high standards. “But I found that once Dick took you into his fold, he became an ardent advocate, a trusted confidant, a sage resource and a cherished friend.”

Well-loved for his wit and generosity, Traystman also bolstered colleagues and students in their own careers by modeling passion and strong work ethic, his friends said, noting that he was always the first to come and last to leave the office and was a fixture on Saturdays.

“I asked him once when he usually leaves,” said Vesna Jevtovic-Todorovic, MD, PhD, a colleague in the Department of Anesthesiology. “And his response was that Suzann (Lupton), his devoted and very supportive wife, made that decision for him.”

His work ethic stemmed, at least in part, from his sheer love of his job, his colleagues said. “He worked extremely hard, but it was never work to him as he enjoyed it all too much,” said Alison Lakin, RN, PhD, associate vice chancellor for regulatory compliance.

“But most importantly of all, he created not a team but a family that supported each other and could have fun,” Lakin said, choking back tears. “We all know the most important role we can play is to make sure the research keeps moving forward. Thanks to his great leadership and legacy, I know that it will.”

‘We can do better’

Traystman had a talent for spotting human potential and motivating colleagues and students, for whom he had a special affection, Horrell said. “He would engage so deeply with students, ask thoughtful questions, and always leave them with an encouraging word.”

Portrait of Richard Traystman
Richard “Dick” Traystman, PhD

CU wanted him for his science, his ability to bring people together and for his personality, which it really needed at the time, said former School of Medicine Dean Richard Krugman, MD. When Traystman was recruited, the campus was moving to Aurora from central Denver and facing other struggles.

“It looked to me that Dick was being recruited for an impossible job,” Krugman said. But he gathered a terrific group of people and overcame the struggles, all while he kept up his own lab and research funding and traveled the world earning a Lifetime Achievement Award, Krugman said. “No one person could ever do this,” he said.

Traystman’s dedication never waned, not even at the end, his colleagues said. “During my final visit with him at the hospital, I thanked him for all he had done, the way he had touched so many lives, for his support of CU Denver, and for his belief in me,” Horrell said. “True to form, he had something to say: that our work wasn’t yet done. We can do more,” he told her. “We can do better.”

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