Black History Month: Saluting Two NIOSH Pioneers of Diversity

Posted on by Jenise Brassell, B.S. and Constance C. Franklin, MPA


During Black History Month, we celebrate the men and women of African-American heritage who have contributed so much to our nation’s leadership in the global community. At NIOSH, we recognize the importance of a diverse scientific workforce that mirrors the diversity of today’s workforce as a whole.  As we approach the third decade of the 21st Century, a highly trained, empathetic community of researchers becomes increasingly important to prevent work-related injury, illness, and death among African-American men and women, who are among the working populations disproportionately employed in dangerous jobs and disproportionately vulnerable to the economic consequences of disability and impairment.

We are proud that two pioneering NIOSH leaders of African-American heritage recognized, early on, the importance of nurturing an interest in science among minority students, and mentoring them in real, hands-on laboratory experience.

Marvin Mills 31_edited
Dr. Marvin Mills

Dr. Marvin Mills earned his bachelor’s degree in Biology at West Virginia State College, his master’s degree in Health at New York University and a doctorate in Safety Management at New York University. A few of Dr. Mills accomplishments include positions as faculty member of six colleges and universities, member of two Presidential Commissions, President of the American Academy of Safety, member of the Board of Directors for the National Safety Council and consultant to numerous academic, government and professional organizations. Dr. Mills came to NIOSH in 1989 as an Education Specialist and by the summer he started the first class of interns at NIOSH for minority college students. Dr. Mills established programs that nurtured and mentored young professionals and minority students in the area of occupational health. Over the years more than 100 students have come to NIOSH under this intern program.

CAPT Derek Dunn, PhD

Dr. Derek Dunn received his B.S., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Cincinnati. Dr. Dunn was a Captain in the U.S. Public Health Service. During his career he received numerous awards including, the U.S. Public Health Service Meritorious Service Medal and the Surgeon General’s Exemplary Service Medal. Dr. Dunn rose through the ranks at NIOSH and held the position of Division Director and later the Associate Director for Science. Before his death Dr. Dunn became a senior staff officer for the U.S. Surgeon General. Following in Dr. Marvin Mills’ footsteps, Dr. Dunn oversaw the recruitment and matching of future scientists to summer research opportunities throughout NIOSH. Colleagues remember his many contributions to the prevention of work-related hearing loss, and his admonition to fellow researchers, “What have you done for the worker today?”

Dr. Mills and Capt. Dunn were champions of “Project IMHOTEP,” established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), of which NIOSH is a part. In this program, NIOSH endeavors to increase the knowledge capacity and skills of minority students in biostatistics, epidemiology and occupational safety and health through a cooperative agreement with Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.   Students in this program spend eight weeks in NIOSH laboratories and offices, getting hands-on experience in the field of research and assuring safety and health for all workers.

The cooperative agreement supporting Project IMHOTEP has been in existence since 1981 and NIOSH joined the program in 1994 to provide an occupational safety and health component. Since 1994, 173 students have been assigned to NIOSH and completed the program; 106 of these students have complete or currently are in graduate school pursuing careers in public health or occupational safety and health.

We hope that such opportunities for students will also help NIOSH increase its own internal diversity. As the current generation of NIOSH scientists and engineers with 30 or more years of career experience nears or enters retirement, we face both the need and opportunity to recruit younger and diverse talent.  This was the dream of Capt. Dunn and Dr. Mills, and the goal they set for us.

We encourage those working in occupational safety and health to do their part to open doors for young scientists and encourage diversity in our field. If you are aware of other programs to encourage diversity, please post in the comment section below.

Jenise Brassell, B.S., is a Health Communication Specialist in the NIOSH Office of the Director.

Constance C. Franklin, MPA, is Public Health Analyst in the Total Worker HealthTM Office for Coordination and Research Support. 

Posted on by Jenise Brassell, B.S. and Constance C. Franklin, MPA

7 comments on “Black History Month: Saluting Two NIOSH Pioneers of Diversity”

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    Congratulations for Drs Mills and Dunn, their example is to be followed by all of us.
    NIOSH must be congratulated for this recognition

    I feel extremely privileged to have had Derek Dunn be my mentor in my studies and in my career in hearing loss prevention. Derek consistently helped me, not only with academic advice but also with his most respectful attitude, grow into a successful, confident researcher and human being. He treated all whom he met in the same manner. One of his greatest passions was mentoring young students, scientists and officers. He was an accomplished researcher and public health professional. But it is my view that his main contribution was to help every individual he encountered to be the best person he or she could be. One of my most endearing memories of him was how, being the accomplished man that he was, he still devoted time to summer interns to help them grow into confident, capable people. He respected the individuality of these young college students while guiding their intellectual development.

    Similarly, with his employees, his door was always open. His employees knew they could approach him for private, helpful advice and direction before submitting articles, ideas, or presentations to larger audiences. Despite his high position, he never took on airs of superiority. He conversed with colleagues about their lives, hobbies, etc. in a way that made one feel important and respected in his presence. Talking with him was stimulating and challenging.

    All he accomplished was with unique kindness, elegance, and respect. And this assessment is as unanimous as opinion can be, from all in the institutes and universities who were close to him. All that have met him, whether personally or professionally, were privileged to have known this truly gentle, caring person. Derek’s example remains an inspiration for me and many others.

    I have always heard of the great work done by these two Honorable Men. They worked hard in and out of their careers. Their message was strong. NIOSH management really needs to get back to the real meaning of Diversity. We have not had a Dr. Mills or Dr. Dunn since.

    Thank you for sharing this post. I hope that NIOSH does more in the future to encourage the recruitment and retention of a diverse workforce.

    Thank you, Jenise and Constance for highlighting the lives and accomplishments of these two wonderful gentlemen!

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Page last reviewed: March 12, 2018
Page last updated: March 12, 2018