New Gift Builds Upon Longstanding Relationship with Rollins Family, Dean Curran’s Legacy

February 1, 2022
James W. Curran

By Kelly Jordan

The O. Wayne Rollins Foundation recently announced its most generous financial commitment to the Rollins School of Public Health to date. The $100 million gift—the largest in the foundation and school’s history—will establish two endowment funds: the Rollins Fund for Faculty Excellence and the Rollins Fund for Student Success.

While this gift will be transformational in the life of the school, it also serves as a lasting tribute to Dean James W. Curran’s legacy at Rollins and the role he has played in securing the school’s future by building a strong endowment.Starting with less than $2.5 million when he arrived in 1995, the O. Wayne Rollins Foundation’s most recent gift will bring the school’s endowment to over $260 million when fully funded.

Faculty Support

The Rollins Fund for Faculty Excellence will focus entirely on the recruitment and retention of distinguished senior faculty and early career endowment support for the world’s most gifted junior faculty. This fund will double the number of endowed faculty, making it possible to provide endowment support to over half of the school’s tenure-track faculty.

Student Support

The Rollins gift will double the number of Master of Public Health and Master of Science in Public Health students receiving merit scholarships and provide stipends for an additional five PhD students. It will increase Rollins Earn and Learn work study funding adding an additional 75 students and bringing the total number of recipients to over half of the school’s 1,300 students.

“My long-term work at the Rollins School of Public Health has been strengthened by our partnership with the O. Wayne Rollins Foundation,” says Curran. “It began before I arrived, with the Grace Crum Rollins Building and continued with the gift that established the O. Wayne and Grace Crum Rollins Endowment Fund. Subsequent gifts to this unrestricted endowment were followed by commitments to our faculty in the form of a number of endowed professorships and significant support of our students through the James W. Curran Scholarship Fund. The Rollins family’s philanthropy to their namesake school includes unparalleled space in the Claudia Nance Rollins Building and the R. Randall Rollins Building which will open later this year. This has all been made possible because of a trusting relationship, the family’s extraordinary generosity, and their commitment to building an exceptional school of public health.

Curran’s more than 50 years working in public health covers almost a quarter of a century at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which gained him international recognition for his work leading CDC’s task force to investigate HIV/AIDS in the early days of the epidemic. The second half of his career brought him to the helm of Rollins at a time when the school was still in its infancy. During one of his initial meetings with the Rollins family—at a time when the school had become the first named school of public health—Curran mentioned that graduates would go on to spread the Rollins name around the world.

“And I said, that is going to be a part of your legacy and ours,” says Curran. “I give thanks to them, because yes, the Rollins family has contributed to our school, but they’re also contributing to the world.” Curran’s assessment has become reality with more than 11,500 alumni enhancing the school’s stellar reputation as they work to prevent disease, protect health, and save lives around the globe.

While Curran notes there are obvious similarities between his work at CDC and at Rollins, in his role as dean, it is more of a long game. Says Curran, “What you’re looking at, is identifying the very best faculty and supporting their careers so they can be the very best in their field. It involves attracting the very best students who seek to make the world healthier and then providing them with the necessary training, skills, and advice. In the long run, some of these people have done that. They’re changing the world.”

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, “public health” has become more recognizable and relevant. The necessity of a well-trained public health workforce is attracting record numbers of students as more and more people have become aware of the need and impact that can be achieved through the work of public health. When paired with Rollins’ reputation as the No. 4 ranked school of public health, transformative research (Rollins ranks 4th in NIH funding), and influential faculty, the school saw a surge in admissions applications in 2021 and continues to outpace pre-pandemic numbers.  

As the interest—and strong need—in building the nation’s public health capacity remains, the Rollins family’s transformational gift will continue to support the next generation of faculty leaders and outstanding students as they tackle the biggest health threats impacting the nation and the world.

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