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George M. and Sara Coleman

George and Sara ColemanIf there is a gene for public health, the Coleman family has it. George M. Coleman (MPH 1974) began his international career in the late 1950s as the Public Information Officer for the World Health Organization and Organization of American States. He was the first director of the Peace Corps in Brazil and then worked for USAID as Deputy Director for the Office of Population. Already a seasoned public health professional when he arrived at the School of Public Health, he received an MPH in 1974 with a concentration in international public health administration. For over 20 years, George served as a senior development planner specializing in health and community development projects in rural Latin America and Africa. He rose within USAID to direct the Latin America Bureau’s Office of Health, Population and Nutrition, and was Deputy Director of the Near East Bureau’s Office of Technical Support and Development Assistance.

In 1986, George returned to school for postgraduate training, which gave him the opportunity to form a strong relationship with his granddaughter, Sara Coleman, to whom he taught his passion for public health, languages and the arts. Sara’s father and mother were both involved in social service and health programs in the Dominican Republic, where Sara spent most of her childhood. Growing up in a developing country gave her a first-hand appreciation for the ways poverty could destroy health and opportunity. Her best friend lived in a one-room shack, and the people in her community had little access to basic health care—even seeing a dentist was a challenge.

Like her mother, father, and grandfather before her, Sara went to work for USAID, in the Global Bureau's Office of HIV/AIDS. Her experiences in countries such as Ethiopia and Guatemala taught her that “technical expertise is not enough, a program really needs a strong business foundation to be sustainable overseas.” When she was ready to apply for graduate school in public health, Sara “wanted that business lens,” and she chose the Johns Hopkins dual MPH/MBA program. As soon as she shared the news that she had been admitted to JHSPH, “it automatically put me in a family of Hopkins people,” since more than one-quarter of her USAID co-workers had worked or studied at JHSPH. “The School of Public Health is known around the world, and I was really excited by the huge wealth of expertise and knowledge in the Hopkins network.”

Sara had intended to expand on her background in international health, but the debates over Obamacare were heating up just as she arrived at Hopkins, and she got interested in U.S. health reform. Her favorite courses were Introduction to U.S. Health Care and Managed Care and Health Insurance, and they shaped her decision to focus on working to improve domestic health care access. As an intern in the Department of Care Management with Johns Hopkins HealthCare, Sara helped launch a cost-saving primary care strategy for reducing inpatient admissions and collaborated with Johns Hopkins doctors and executives to plan and implement a $20 million grant targeting high-risk Medicaid and Medicare populations in inner-city Baltimore. The grant enables patients to access both social services and primary health care, and involves collaboration among the schools of medicine, public health and nursing, the Johns Hopkins Hospital, the Urban Health Institute, and the Johns Hopkins Community Physcicians.

Both George and his granddaughter Sara have devoted their careers to expanding health care access in the U.S. and overseas. Neither of them is content to accept the status quo—they both chose JHSPH to hone their skills in scientific methods of program evaluation and research, to help organizations like USAID and Johns Hopkins HealthCare improve the quality of health services and integrate them with community social and economic networks. If the past is any indication, the Colemans will keep nourishing new branches of their family tree with a love for public health and Johns Hopkins.