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Updated 10:00 AM October 31, 2007




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Graham Institute names Jackson as first director

Dr. Richard Jackson, an internationally recognized environmental health expert who in recent years has focused on the links between urban sprawl and human health, has been named the first director of the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute at U-M.
Dr. Richard Jackson, pictured at Yosemite National Park, joins U-M from the University of California, Berkeley. (Photo courtesy Richard Jackson)

Originally trained as a pediatrician, Jackson has spent more than 25 years in public health. He joins U-M from the University of California, Berkeley, where he is an adjunct professor of environmental health, as well as an adjunct professor of city and regional design.

Jackson led the California Department of Health Services as State Public Health Officer in 2004 and 2005. Before that, he served nine years as director of the National Center for Environmental Health at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

In 2005 he received the highest civilian award for U.S. government service, the Presidential Distinguished Executive Award.

A topic of special interest to Jackson is the impact of community design and land-use choices on public health. In 2004 he co-authored the book "Urban Sprawl and Public Health," which argues that sprawl contributes to a wide range of diseases, from asthma to diabetes, hypertension and depression.

"If you construct environments that make it impossible for people to walk, and you remove the incidental exercise from people's lives, then you reduce their level of fitness and you increase their weight, because they're not burning it off," Jackson says.

"We can create environments that can be much smarter in terms of protecting the planet, protecting human well-being and, in the long run, protecting the economy and prosperity," he says. "I see the Graham Institute as a leadership group to help move the school, the state and eventually the nation toward sustainability."

The institute was launched two years ago and is funded jointly by the University and the Graham Foundation, a philanthropic organization established by Donald Graham and his wife, Ingrid. Jackson's appointment was announced last week.

"Dr. Jackson will bring a fresh set of eyes to the institute and blend his varied background into innovative research and education initiatives," Donald Graham says. "His broad-based badge of experience will help the institute to solidify its position as a link between the varied fields of environmental sustainability within the university."

The Graham Institute encourages multidisciplinary research and education related to environmental sustainability. It focuses on six key issues: energy; freshwater and marine resources; human health and the environment; biodiversity and global change; sustainable infrastructure, built environment and manufacturing; and environmental policymaking and human behavior.

"I am delighted that we have been able to attract a scholar of Dick Jackson's stature to our campus," says Provost Teresa Sullivan. "He is a highly visible and internationally recognized leader studying how human-built structures impact health."

Jackson will take over as the Graham director on Feb.1. Brian Talbot, the David B. Hermelin Professor of Business Administration, has served as interim director since March 2006.

"What interests me strongly about the University of Michigan is the very-high-level commitment to this sustainability effort — right from Don Graham, the philanthropist-donor, all the way through to the president and the provost and the faculty and deans I've met with, and the students themselves," Jackson says.

While in California, Jackson's work led to the establishment of the California Birth Defects Monitoring Program, as well as state and federal laws that eliminated the use of several hazardous pesticides. While at the CDC in Atlanta, he established the national asthma epidemiology and control program, and he oversaw the childhood lead poisoning prevention program.

In the late 1990s Jackson was the lead CDC official in a multi-agency effort to establish the U.S. National Pharmaceutical Stockpile. The stockpile, which was activated on Sept. 11, 2001, is designed to help the nation quickly respond to large-scale terrorist acts or major disease outbreaks.

Jackson earned a Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of California, San Francisco, in 1973 and a Master of Public Health degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1979.

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