Endowment Honors Aitken’s Commitment to Innovation in Centennial of Environmental Science and Engineering

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February 7, 2022

Dr Michael Aitken

As part of a series of events marking its centennial, the Department of Environmental Science and Engineering (ESE) at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health hosted a symposium in early November that included a dedication special to the late Michael Aitken, PhD, and the announcement of an endowment established in his name.

The Michael D. Aitken Endowment for Environmental Science and Engineering supports the entire department by providing discretionary funds to the President of ESE. These discretionary funds will allow the Chair to respond to opportunities and needs as ESE faculty and students seek solutions to emerging threats to the environment, public health and welfare.

As an individual and a leader, Aitken has focused on minimizing and correcting human impacts on the environment. Practicing what he preached, he cycled to work every day, and as a leader he did the most with the tools at his disposal – seeing the potential for using resources to accomplish real and lasting good. .

Dr. Barbara J. Turpin

Dr. Barbara J. Turpin

“As chair, Mike has prioritized the department’s most valuable resources, our junior faculty and our students,” said Barbara J. Turpin, PhD, professor and chair of ESE. “He was also very good at communicating how special ESE is. We are going to benefit from these investments for a long time.”

Aitken was chairman of the Department of Environmental Science and Engineering from 2006 to 2016 and, according to his wife, Betsy Bea Rudolph, he would have greatly appreciated having a fund like this to use for projects and meritorious initiatives during his tenure.

Aitken was committed to doing the dirty work, exploring innovative methods to clean up environmental disasters at US Superfund sites, and his research and leadership found a natural place in the Gillings School’s ESE department. Combining environmental health, science and engineering, the department is uniquely positioned to address environmental challenges that are increasingly complex and require integrated and holistic solutions. ESE faculty and students increasingly plan for and respond to emerging public health threats, including those posed by aerosol-borne viruses, contaminated floodwaters, antibiotic resistance, the growing effects drought-induced wildfires on air quality and climate-induced water shortages currency.

The department celebrated its centenary by affirming its commitment to providing environmental solutions for the protection of public health and to building resilience in the face of climate and environmental change. This claim continues a century of impact in North Carolina and around the world. It began with a need to improve water safety in North Carolina cities and towns in 1920, followed by the creation of the first director of environmental health for the World Health Organization. In the 1970s, 25% of ESE graduates worked with international health organizations and foreign governments. And today’s contributions include Superfund research, understanding exposures to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (“PFAS forever the chemicals”), global efforts to provide safe drinking water through the UNC Water Institute, and Contributions to Atmospheric Chemistry and the Global Burden of Disease from Air Pollution. . The symposium where Aitken’s endowment was announced was named for the late Philip C. Singer, PhD, a nationally recognized expert in water quality issues and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

A poster on an easel in Gillings Court with pictures of Dr Aitken

The dedication to Dr. Aitken took place in Rosenau Court at Gillings School

This endowment will support SEE work that has lasting implications for all of us as well as our water, air and soil. By joining Betsy in supporting this fund, you can increase that impact. Make a contribution to the Michael D. Aitken Endowment for Environmental Science and Engineering today to support the next century of innovation. Any questions can be directed to Matt Cain, MEd, Director of Development, at [email protected]

Learn more about Aitken’s legacy.


Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at [email protected].

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