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Celebrating Chuck Rohde's Impact and Lighting the Path Forward for Biostatistics

On the one-year anniversary of Dr. Charles (Chuck) Rohde’s passing, many of Chuck’s former colleagues, students, and mentees came together to celebrate his 50+ years with the Department of Biostatistics.


On the 1 year anniversary of Dr. Charles (Chuck) Rohde’s passing, many of Chuck’s former colleagues, students, and mentees came together for a symposium to celebrate his 50+ years with the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Biostatistics. 

Rohde Stories: Lighting the Path Forward provided an opportunity to reminisce and share ideas about how Chuck’s legacy can light the path ahead for the Department. When speaking of his legacy, a common refrain was “You can always trace it back to Chuck.”

Throughout the symposium people praised Chuck’s teaching style, leadership, collegiality, mentorship, and overall development of great biostatisticians. 

As Bloomberg School staff historian Karen Kruse Thomas, PhD, discussed, Chuck played a major role in shaping the Biostatistics Department and strengthening the biostatistical work and application happening at the School, and during his time as Chair from 1981 to 1996 he helped solidify the Department as the nation's premier Biostatistics department.

Chuck led the way in implementing significant changes to the funding allocation system at the School and was instrumental in the Department receiving a $1 million faculty recruitment grant from the Mellon Foundation which made a tremendous impact on the Department. With these funds, the Department was able to hire subsequent Chair Scott Zeger, PhD, future MPH Chair and current UCLA Fielding School of Public Health Dean Ron Brookmeyer, PhD , MS, as well as Kung-Yee Liang, PhD, the future President of the National Health Research Institutes of Taiwan, among others.

Current faculty and past-Chair Karen Bandeen-Roche, PhD, MS remarked that “the way [Chuck] invested in these faculty's careers has transformed not only the Department, but the field of statistics and the field of public health writ large.”

Lessons Learned 
Maureen Maguire, PhD ’83, ScM ’77

When speaking of the lessons he took from Chuck, past-Chair and faculty member Scott Zeger, PhD, spoke of Chuck’s commitment “to hiring excellent people…he was very diligent about the process. He went and picked people up at the airport. He just tried to make it a special place because he knew that the quality of the recruits would help to build and strengthen the Department. And he was extremely patient…He respected all of our different paths.”

Many former students of Chuck’s spoke, including Bloomberg School Dean Ellen J. MacKenzie, PhD ’79, ScM ’75. Dean MacKenzie remembered him as someone who “had just an amazing way of explaining very complex things, but in a way that you could understand them and get you thinking.” 

Chuck’s ability in making complex ideas easily understandable was reiterated by Therri Usher, PhD ’16, one of the last students Chuck advised. Usher expressed her appreciation of Chuck in helping to “make sure I understood things, and that I didn’t feel quite so alone in the process. The biggest impact Chuck left on her Usher said, “was the ability to teach, because that’s communication.” 

Known as someone who went above and beyond to help students, William D. Dupont, PhD ’77, spoke of Chuck finding funding for him to join the PhD program. “The fact that he went to this much trouble for one new graduate student, I think is systematic to how much Chuck cared about his students,” Dupont remarked.

Both students and faculty spoke of the way Chuck connected with them on a personal level, each in their own unique way, and how he continued to mentor and check in after they left the School.

One lesson former student and current faculty member and MPH Chair Marie Diener-West, PhD ’84, learned from Chuck that she reflected on was “that [academia is] not just the work. It’s also the people; it’s the community; it’s the environment that we’re in.”

Looking to the Future
BSPH Dean Ellen J. MacKenzie, PhD ’79, ScM ’75, and UCLA FSPH Dean Ron Brookmeyer

Concluding the day, Diener-West led two discussions: one with current Chair Elizabeth Stuart, PhD, and past-Chair Karen Bandeen-Roche, PhD, MS, and one with Ellen J. MacKenzie, PhD ’79, ScM ’75, Dean and Bloomberg Distinguished Professor and Ron Brookmeyer, PhD, MS, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health Dean.

Bandeen-Roche touched on the warm feeling of community she instantly felt when she arrived at Hopkins, and how all the positive things in the Department’s current culture “go straight back to Chuck.” 

Stuart spoke of wanting to continue to build on the community Chuck built by finding people that will thrive at the School and continuing the spirit of mutual support and collegiality. “You can make so much happen if you have that sort of environment,” she noted.

Dean’s MacKenzie and Brookmeyer discussed how schools of public health are changing and how they see their respective departments of biostatistics needing to evolve in the future. 

Dean MacKenzie highlighted key shifts in public health that she feels have implications for biostatistics and schools of public health, including an emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration, “something that Chuck did very, very well,” and an increased priority on social determinants of health. The “field of statistics has to do a better job of bringing that context into the work that we’re doing,” Dean MacKenzie stated.

Dean Brookmeyer reiterated the importance of social determinants of health and health equity and being able to communicate clearly to the community. He noted Chuck’s ability to speak plainly and communicate clearly as an important skill in making data understandable to the public.

AI, data science, and data technology came up throughout the day, and the evolution the Department has gone through in terms of technology. When speaking of AI’s use in public health, Dean Brookmeyer asserted that “we have to evolve; we have to change. And I think [Chuck] would embrace all of this.”

Honoring Chuck

If you would like to honor Chuck’s memory, please donate online or by check to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and designate for the Charles Rohde Centennial Endowed Scholarship.

To view videos from the symposium, visit our YouTube page.