Alumna Pat Mail’s gift establishes new dissertation fellowship fund
Dr. Patricia Davison Mail (PhD ’96), a retired commissioned corps officer for the United States Public Health Service and a past president of the American Public Health Association, has established a new fellowship fund to support future University of Maryland School of Public Health doctoral students. With $250,000 bequeathed in her estate to the School of Public Health, the fund will eventually provide annual support for a PhD student who has achieved candidacy, with preference given to a student pursuing a career in public health education. Dr. Mail was a distinguished guest at the 2007 event that launched the UMD School of Public Health, but her relationship to the school started long before. She earned her doctoral degree in health education through the UMD Department of Behavioral and Community Health (then Public and Community Health) in 1996.
Dr. Mail, who spent her career dedicated to public health education, remembers the challenge of juggling work and school. She was already a senior level public health official when she went “plowing through” her doctoral work at the University of Maryland. “Maryland made it really easy because they did classes in late afternoons and evenings for working people, and I was very grateful for that,” she said.
“I have five degrees and don’t think I had any student debt when I finished. I’m very aware of the tremendous gift that was,” Dr. Mail said. The GI Bill paid for her University of Maryland doctorate, and she pieced together tuition for her other academic degrees by working and with some help from her parents. “I am delighted about establishing a fund to support somebody working on a dissertation. Once you finish your coursework, you’re feeling very pushed but there’s not always support for it. I’m not giving a lot of money, but I’m giving to all four of my colleges. More and more people are going to need that kind of assistance, and it’s important to give back.”
Dr. Mail served as president of the American Public Health Association in 2006, and was a two-term president of the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing. She was on the faculty at the University of Washington, Seattle University, and Medicine Creek Tribal College, where she worked on substance abuse and tribal health issues in the Pacific Northwest.
She is the author of Alcohol Use Among American Indians and Alaska Natives (2002, National Institutes of Health). Dr. Mail received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona (1963), and three masters degrees: MSPE, Smith College (1965); MPH, Yale University (1967); and MA, University of Arizona (1970).
“Pat exemplifies the attributes of a model public health professional,” SPH Associate Dean for Research Dushanka Kleinman said. Drs. Mail and Kleinman were colleagues in the United States Public Health Service. “In addition to the many accomplishments of her stellar formal career, she also invested extensive personal time to contribute to and lead national professional organizations. Her leadership has resulted in key policy changes that address health equity and reduce health disparities. Throughout these activities, Pat involved and mentored others. Her path is an outstanding example for our students.”
Dr. Mail recalls the impact that Professor Robert Gold, who was the School of Public Health’s founding dean, made on her during her time at the University of Maryland. “His emphasis was on us needing to be computer literate early on,” she recalls. “He wanted everybody to understand how computers could help us in working with people.” She also mentions Dr. Stephen Thomas as another faculty member who was influential. “A lot of the faculty were very supportive of people who were trying to juggle work and school. Dr. Sharon Desmond was someone who I remember fondly because she pushed me.”
Dr. Mail also fondly recalls Fran Gover, the graduate program advisor. “She would remind us of things that were coming due, knowing we had lots of things on her mind. She was always gracious, cheerful, supportive. She kept us all on track and I just loved her for that.”
“There’s something very appealing about the idea of caring for a population, and trying to prevent things from happening,” she said about public health. “It’s quite an unsung profession. If there’s an outbreak, you get a lot of blame for not anticipating it. If you do your job well, people don’t notice. But it’s a wonderful profession, and not recognized enough even today.”
“With this gift, Dr. Mail joins a group of dedicated health professionals who have included the School of Public Health in their estate planning,” SPH Dean and Professor Boris Lushniak said. “I am glad we can thank her personally for her gift.” Dr. Mail made her gift as a member of the UMD Founders Legacy Circle. The Founders Legacy Circle honors all benefactors, both living and deceased, whose gifts through wills, bequest intentions, or other planned gifts ensure the future excellence of the University of Maryland and its students.
“I’m relieved to have made the decision; it’s one less thing I have to worry about when I go to my maker,” Dr. Mail said.