Osterholm awarded McKnight Presidential Chair in Public Health

Charlie Plain | October 7, 2014


A letter from Dean John Finnegan to SPH faculty, staff and students:

It is my great pleasure to announce that University President Eric Kaler has awarded Professor Michael Osterholm a McKnight Presidential Chair in Public Health. This is one of the University’s highest faculty honors and Prof. Osterholm is the first to be awarded such a chair in SPH. It is as great an honor for the School to be recognized in this way, as it is for Mike personally.

Michael Osterholm grinningThe Presidential Chair acknowledges the critical contributions of important University faculty who have distinguished themselves and their schools in the missions of research, education and public engagement. An SPH graduate twice over, Mike began his public health career at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) in 1975 as our state epidemiologist.

Mike and his team built on the long Minnesota tradition of public health excellence and firmly established MDH as one of the best health departments in the country, recognized often by colleagues at CDC and across the Federal health establishment.

It may seem strange today in light of new emerging viruses, but in the late 1970s with the eradication of smallpox in the wild and other plagues of antiquity apparently under control, there were a few who believed that infectious diseases were on the run, if not defeated. Mike never shared that belief. In the 1980s came HIV/AIDs, toxic shock syndrome, antibiotic-resistant organisms, SARS and a host of other viral and bacterial threats that are all too prominent today. Among many accomplishments in improving the public’s health, Mike and his colleagues were among the first to make the connection between tampons and toxic shock syndrome and to warn of an approaching HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Although Mike has taught and mentored students as a part-time faculty member in SPH for some 30 years, it was on September 10, 2001, that he joined the faculty as a tenured full professor and director of the newly established Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP). The following day, the world changed yet again with enormous ramifications for global politics, public health and emergency preparedness.

One characteristic has distinguished Mike’s career from its earliest days: he has a gift for informing and educating the media and his fellow citizens about the important dimensions of public health science, preparedness, prevention and health promotion. His straight talk on subjects such as influenza, bioterrorism and pandemic preparedness has earned him a global role as advisor and consultant to the highest levels of WHO, the NIH, FDA, Department of Defense and CDC. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine and the Council of Foreign Relations. In 2008, he was named to the University of Minnesota Academic Health Center’s Academy of Excellence in Health Research and the same year was appointed to the World Economic Forum Working Group on Pandemics. He is also a UMN Distinguished University Teaching Professor.

Mike, on behalf of the School, your colleagues and the dozens of students you have mentored and taught over the years, our profound congratulations! This honor to you reflects so well on the whole School. All in all, not bad for an Iowa lad born and raised!

John Finnegan, Dean

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