Yesterday the Child Mind Institute held its 8th annual On the Shoulders of Giants symposium, celebrating the groundbreaking public health and child development work of the 2018 Sarah Gund Distinguished Scientist, Felton “Tony” Earls, MD, and the young winners of our Rising Scientist college scholarships. The morning highlighted the promise of youth to both push science forward and to transform our society when they are treated like valuable members of the community.
The Child Mind Institute presents the Rising Scientist Awards along with the Advanced Science Research Center at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). Joshua Brumberg, PhD, Dean for the Sciences at the Graduate Center, opened the awards by noting that inspiration in science isn’t like the fairytales — instead of waiting for a “Eureka!” moment under an apple tree, young scientists benefit from the communities that grow up around mentors like Dr. Earls and at institutions like CUNY.
Dr. Earls agreed as he welcomed the winners to receive their awards — although, he added impishly, “there are a lot of trees on this beautiful campus.” Child Mind Institute president Harold S. Koplewicz, MD, presented the awards to this year’s remarkable Rising Scientist Award winners, selected for their achievement and dedication to research in child mental health and developmental neuroscience.
- Ellen Amico, Byram Hills High School
- Julia Morneau, Wilton (CT) High School
- James Rogers, Smithtown High School West
- Arsam Shaikh, High School for Youth and Community Development (Brooklyn)
- John Sukumar, Ossining High School
After the Risings Scientist Awards breakfast, a crowd gathered in the auditorium to hear Dr. Earls and his mentees Renee Boynton-Jarrett, MD, ScD, and Kymberly Byrd, MSW, MPH. Together the three researchers discussed their combined decades of research into how certain community dynamics positively affect the growth and development of their children, and how to harness those factors to design interventions targeting everything from violence to HIV/AIDS to minority mental health.
The Child Mind Institute’s 8th Annual On the Shoulders of Giants Scientific Symposium
Dr. Boynton-Jarrett gave an inspiring presentation on how her discovery of Dr. Earls’ work on protective factors in communities and her pursuit of him as a mentor shaped her public health intervention efforts in the city of Boston. She also brought a deep sense of continuity and history to the proceedings, first acknowledging the Rising Scientists: “I know you each have heard this before,” she said. “You all are the future.”
Then she highlighted a personal connection. “As I stand in this space in this moment I am reminded of my late father, Ernest Boynton, Jr., who was a professor at CUNY,” she continued, and praised the “foresight” of an “occasion where we honor rising scientists and acknowledge that our contributions to making this world better are deeply connected to mentorship and relationships.”
Dr. Boynton-Jarrett’s mentee, Kymberly Byrd, presented her experience working at the Vital Village Network in Boston utilizing research and metrics to manage projects involving communities in designing community interventions that affect them. She also discussed her doctoral work leveraging community and self-efficacy.
Dr. Earls took the audience through his life’s work, particularly the results of his 20-year commitment to the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods. This study started with a correlation of murder rates and birth weights and ended with quantifying the link between neighborhoods with high “collective efficacy” to positive public health outcomes. Dr. Earls then described the application of these findings in a Youth Citizen curriculum that has effectively used youth education as a vector for collective efficacy and health promotion from Chicago to Costa Rica to Tanzania.
To close the event, Child Mind Institute associate medical director Ron Steingard, MD, sat down for a conversation about Dr. Earl’s scientific journey. How did this all get started, Dr. Steingard asked? Dr. Earls points to the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, who had been deeply committed to uplifting children. “The loss of that force,” Dr. Earls said, “had to be compensated for.”