UT Southwestern’s New School of Public Health Lands $100M Gift—One of the Largest for a Public School of Its Kind

The University’s newest school in more than 50 years will be named after Peter O’Donnell Jr., the late local investor and visionary philanthropist. The School of Public Health will be "research-intensive,' says Interim Dean Celette Sugg Skinner.

The school plans to welcome its first class of Master of Public Health students in the fall of 2023, followed by classes for Ph.D. students in the fall of 2024.

The UT Southwestern Medical Center has landed a new financial gift—one it says is the largest that any school of public health at a public university has received.

The university announced receiving a $100 million gift to support its new School of Public Health from the O’Donnell Foundation as it looks to drive research and advance public health. 

“The science of public health seeks to improve the quality of life for whole communities,” said Dr. Daniel Podolsky, president of UT Southwestern, in a statement. “That goal resonates with the core mission of UT Southwestern—promoting health and a healthy society that enables individuals to achieve their full potential.”

Translating discoveries into solutions

The new school—which will be named after late local investor and philanthropist Peter O’Donnell Jr., who formed the O’Donnell Foundation with his late wife Edith—said it will leverage the existing strengths of other UT Southwestern programs in areas including epidemiology, data science, and population health to translate “scientific discoveries into public health solutions.” Specifically, it said programs will focus on things like disease prevention, socioeconomic disparities in health outcomes, and emerging infections on both a local and global level.

Peter O’Donnell Jr. [Image: UTSW]

“We will begin in renovated space in the heart of the UTSW South Campus, and will eventually have a new building, also on the South Campus,” Interim Dean Celette Sugg Skinner told Dallas Innovates via email.

In addition to creating an endowment to support research and educational programs, the new gift will also aid in the recruitment of new faculty members, which initially be comprised of members from UT Southwestern’s Department of Population and Data Sciences of its Medical School, in addition to other departments. In total, the O’Donnells and their foundation have given more than $400 million to UT Southwestern over the past four decades.

New school on the block

The creation of the Peter O’Donnell Jr. School of Public Health was approved by the UT System Board of Regents last year, with $10 million in start-up funding from the Texas State Legislature. It’s expecting to enroll students in its first Master of Public Health degree program next year, with the launch of a doctoral degree program in 2024. The school is currently in the process of a national search for an inaugural dean.

“Faculty will be substantially expanded by recruitment of leading senior and early-career public health scholars from across the country and beyond,” UT Southwestern said.

The new school joins UT Southwestern’s three others, including its Medical School, School of Health Professions, and Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

Brain building

The recent gift comes on the heels of the university wrapping up a five-year, $1 billion campaign earlier this month to fuel research and clinical care at another of its institutes which bears O’Donnell’s name—it’s Brain Institute, which focuses on things like neurological diseases, psychiatric diseases, and injury repair.

“A better understanding of the barriers to health provides promise for equitable and accessible care for all in North Texas, one of the most populous and diverse regions of the country,” Podolsky said.

David Seeley contributed to this report. 

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