NIEHS, NTP Director Kenneth Olden to Receive Honorary Doctorate in Science from University of Rochester at Commencement May 18
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Director Kenneth Olden, Ph.D., will be presented the honorary degree of Doctor of Science by the University of Rochester May 18 at commencement ceremonies in Rochester, N.Y.
In a letter to Dr. Olden, University of Rochester President Thomas H. Jackson said, "Your career at the National Institutes of Health and your dedication to cancer research are an inspiration to our graduates and the entire University community."
Born in poverty on an eastern Tennessee farm, Dr. Olden was the first African American to direct one of the federal government's National Institutes of Health. He is also the director of the National Toxicology Program which coordinates toxicology studies within the Department of Health and Human Services and is headquartered at NIEHS in Research Triangle Park, N.C.
Dr. Olden is an internationally recognized researcher in cancer biology as well as an innovator in environmental health sciences who has pressed for action on the health disparities faced by the poor and racial minorities, and for the more active participation of the American people in the priority setting process in medical research.
Through Town Meetings across the United States and research partnerships with communities, he has provided opportunities for citizens to have input into the priority setting process of the NIEHS.
His tenure at NIEHS, beginning in 1991, has also been marked by the application of genetic tools to the study of environmental toxins and by NIEHS researchers partnering to isolate the first breast cancer susceptibility genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2. Many women in breast cancer-prone families are now tested for these genes.
In conferring the degree, University officials said, "There is no stronger advocate for funding genetic research than Olden." He oversaw the development of the Environmental Genome Project, which studies human's varying genetic susceptibility to the environment, as well as the National Center for Toxicogenomics, which applies genetic technology to the testing of toxic chemicals and to the study of environmentally related disease.
Dr. Jackson called the honorary doctorate from University of Rochester especially appropriate because, although Olden earned his doctorate in 1970 at Temple University in Philadelphia, he actually "did much of the research at the University of Rochester."
Dr. Olden's other honors include appointment by President George H.W. Bush to membership on the National Cancer Advisory Board; membership in the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences; the Calver Award from the American Public Health Association; the HHS Secretary's Distinguished Service Award; the President's Meritorious and Distinguished Executive Award; and the American College of Toxicology's First Distinguished Service Award.
Dr. Olden, encouraged by his parents and teachers, excelled in the public schools and went on to earn a B.S. degree in biology from Knoxville College, an M.S. from University of Michigan and a Ph.D. in the biological sciences from Temple. He carried out research at Harvard University and the National Cancer Institute of the NIH and director of the Howard University Cancer Center before becoming director of NIEHS and NTP.
He and his wife, Sandra L. White, Ph.D., and daughter, Heather, live in Durham, N.C., and he has three grown children.