Worthy Pursuits

August 31, 2015
Worthy Pursuits

When the Baylor Provost Search Committee began their task of identifying the next executive vice president and provost at Baylor University, Dr. Todd Still, chair of the search committee, described the individual Baylor sought as "an unmistakably gifted scholar-administrator who can join us in advancing Baylor's aspirations under Pro Futuris, as a university with a very high research activity, while reaffirming and strengthening our distinctive Christian mission."

The search committee found those qualities in Dr. Edwin Trevathan. Trevathan--then serving as dean and professor of epidemiology of the College of Public Health and Social Justice at Saint Louis University, practicing pediatric neurologist and lifelong product of Christian higher education--was named as Baylor's chief academic officer in December and officially took office in June. In this role, he is charged with continuing to advance the University's academic programs and providing leadership in implementing the academic goals of Pro Futuris, Baylor's strategic vision for the future.

"Dr. Trevathan brings outstanding credentials and a genuine enthusiasm for Baylor's unique mission and the community vision of Pro Futuris," Baylor President and Chancellor Ken Starr said. "We know he will make a powerful impact on our future progress and we are delighted to welcome him to the Baylor family."

His enthusiasm for Baylor's mission comes naturally. Trevathan's father was a Christian college professor at Nashville's Lipscomb University, Trevathan's alma mater. He grew up watching his father, Norman, approach work as a history and political science professor with a strong sense of mission, both in and out of the classroom. It was common for a young Edwin Trevathan to come home and find his parents entertaining students and investing in their lives.

"I learned very early that students came first," Trevathan recalled. "I saw that faculty often make great personal sacrifices for their students, for their scholarship and for the university in which they work that many people don't notice. The things that happen outside of class--an office visit, a conversation on the sidewalk, hosting students--is where so much of the real business of the university takes place. That's part of the excitement of being at a Christian university. I saw in my dad and his colleagues that professors have the opportunity to change the lives of students who then go out and have a positive impact on the world."

His father's example helped shape Trevathan's professional life. Although teaching and academic administration weren't the first steps in his career, Trevathan imbued that same sense of mission into his work in neurology, public health and higher education. He brings to Baylor a decades-long enthusiasm for the mission of Christian higher education because of the way it shaped his life.

"I think that almost everything in my personal life and my professional life would have been different had I not had an education at a Christian college," Trevathan said. "It impacted my early adult experience. I learned to see the world through the eyes of faith, regardless of whether I was looking at a problem in biology, politics, religion or literature. I learned to see the world through a different lens."

A Multi-faceted Career

For the past 35 years, Trevathan simultaneously worked in multiple disciplines--in healthcare as a clinical physician, pediatric neurologist, researcher and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) official and in education as a classroom professor and higher education administrator.

While he hasn't handled all of those roles at the same time, he cannot remember a time in which he hasn't worked on at least two of those tracks as a professional. Whether teaching at Washington University in St. Louis or consulting with the CDC while practicing clinically or continuing to practice as a neurologist while serving as a dean at Saint Louis University, Trevathan has followed dual streams that kept him busy and fed his passion to serve.

How did he develop a desire to work in so many different areas?

"They just always went together. I don't think there was ever a question about whether or not those of us who have received much [should also] have high expectations for serving others. That was a given," Trevathan said. "The question was, 'In what field, or fields, am I going to be to help others and use my gifts the best that I can?'"

At least part of the answer may lie in a chance discovery over an unexpected visit to an organization with which he built a 30-plus-year relationship. After graduating with a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Lipscomb, Trevathan visited Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. His interview at Emory included an unexpected break in the middle. He took the opportunity to stroll outside and happened to notice Emory's next-door neighbor--the CDC. This unexpected break changed his life.

"I had never heard of the CDC at the time," Trevathan recalled. "I was a college student, and the CDC wasn't in the news as much back then. I just walked into the CDC and, without an appointment, asked for a tour."

The recent college graduate met some of the young physicians working at the CDC and was captivated by what he saw. The idea of public health took hold of Trevathan. He went back to continue his interview with Emory and told his future instructors that he wanted to work at the CDC someday.

"I often wonder what would've happened if there had not been an unexpected break on that interview day," Trevathan said, "if I hadn't gone next door to discover the CDC for myself and realized I loved that place. My guess is I may not have gone to Emory, and I probably would not have had the experiences at the CDC or the emphasis on public health in my career."

From that moment on, he would always keep his feet in two worlds--neurology and public health, neurology and education or public health and education. At Emory, he was the first student to graduate from a pilot program in which students could receive both MD and Master of Public Health degrees. While he was a student in that program, a professor recommended he go into pediatrics, and he did. The professor told Trevathan that Yale had the best pediatric program in the country, so he went there on a post-doctoral fellowship. One of his Yale professors encouraged him to go to into pediatric neurology and then set up Trevathan with Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was trained as well.

Those were busy and formative years. He began a private practice while working at the CDC and Emory, which he said prepared him for future administrative roles--"I learned, or was forced to learn, management techniques and budgets." At the same time, he built a life with his wife of 37 years, Linda, and their three sons, living first in Atlanta, then St. Louis, and then Atlanta and St. Louis again, the two cities in which they've spent most of their professional lives.

Trevathan proceeded with the somewhat unusual path of working in both private practice and public health. He also began teaching, with faculty appointments at Emory, Kentucky and Washington University in St. Louis. At Washington University and St. Louis Children's Hospital, he served as a professor of neurology and pediatrics and neurologist-in-chief, while maintaining active teaching, research and clinical practice roles.

"That worked for me because I loved my work so much," Trevathan said. "I'm actually energized by it. I've been able to balance things because I love the work so much. Perhaps it looks a little confusing on my résumé, but it's the way I was educated and trained."

He continued to consult with the CDC through it all. When the CDC came calling for his full-time attention in 2007, he accepted the opportunity to direct the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. Two years later as the H1N1 influenza epidemic demanded a global response, Trevathan was tapped to lead the CDC’s pediatric response to the outbreak.

Trevathan and his team realized pregnant women and children with disabilities faced the highest risk of death among those infected and that the team faced a challenge to overcome the view of the elderly as most vulnerable. The lack of available vaccine was another hurdle. In 2009, the methods for developing vaccines were nearly 30 years old--and production was slow. While more rapid methods of vaccine production were available, the government had not budgeted for them, prioritizing other projects. Because the epidemic started in the summer, instead of in the fall as is typical for most flu seasons, there wasn't enough time to make the massive quantities of vaccine needed, an obstacle that shaped what the CDC could and could not do. A massive educational initiative throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America was just one step.

"That pushed us to look at ways to reduce transmission," Trevathan recalled. "When you walk on the Baylor campus today, you see one of the manifestations of the H1N1 response--hand sanitizers everywhere. You didn't see that before the H1N1 outbreak. We recommended that step because, without adequate vaccine available, you really had to rely more on hand washing and basic hygiene to reduce transmission and encouraging people who were sick to stay home and so forth. It turns out that’s actually very effective--washing your hands saves lives."

Trevathan's love for the CDC stems from that passion to save lives--often quietly. He said one of the aspects of working for the CDC that most attracted him is the CDC's commitment to helping people "though they rarely get credit. When the CDC helps prevent you from acquiring an infection, you don't necessarily know they saved your life. Nobody goes over there to thank them. The people are committed to saving lives because they understand there are human beings on the other side of those numbers."

Trevathan's multifaceted career helped prepare him for his position as dean of the College of Public Health and Social Justice at Saint Louis University and, he believes, for his new role at Baylor.

"If you sit in an office and all you do is just get reports from other people, it's hard to maintain that understanding of who the people are on the other side of the numbers. At the CDC, I was able to get out and meet with community groups and to listen to their concerns and to see the problems that they had, both here and in other countries," Trevathan said.

He hopes to meet and listen to faculty, particularly during his first six months--all faculty members. "I want to see all of them at some point," Trevathan said. "If not one-on-one, then in groups that are small enough that I get an opportunity to hear everyone who wants to say something."

Blazing a New Trail

Listening as his first order of business as Baylor provost will allow him to intentionally focus on learning from the faculty, staff and students to gain information that will help the University turn the dreams of Pro Futuris into a reality.

"I need help from our faculty and students," Trevathan said. "I want to understand at the individual faculty level, departmental level, college level and from our students, what does all of this mean to them? How do they feel their work impacts the University? What do I need to know about their dreams and ambitions? I think that information can help us do the best we can in implementing this wonderful strategic plan, Pro Futuris."

For a man who has spent a lifetime pursuing varied career tracks with a goal of serving others, coming to Baylor at this point in time is a dream. Trevathan is excited about Baylor's partnerships to serve the poor and underserved--"it's the embodiment of the Christian mission at the University and, at the individual level, it's the embodiment of our own Christian walk as professionals"--and Baylor's aspirations--"I think the next step is becoming the great national Christian university of the world. That's the vision I have. I think the next step is becoming the great national Christian university of the world. That's the vision I have."

As he works with faculty and administration to help make that vision a reality, he will be working with the muscle memory that comes from a lifetime in Christian higher education, with students who, like he did, are learning what it means to live out their faith in their calling.

"I think a Christian college background helped me as a young physician to be more caring, compassionate and holistic." Trevathan said. "From knowing schoolteachers, lawyers, engineers and other professionals, I've learned that all of us have opportunities to care for others as a manifestation of our faith. We are training people to meet the technical needs of those whom we are helping, and also to meet their spiritual needs--to be Christian lights in a dark world. The question now is, 'What should all of us who are here now, in 2015, be doing to head in the direction of being the top Christian university and to achieve what God has given us to do in a way that improves the lives of our students and faculty and brings us all closer together?'"

It's these questions Trevathan hopes to answer, collaboratively, with the Baylor Family, as he and his wife, Linda, fully integrate themselves into the Baylor community. They are sports fans, so expect to see them at football or basketball games--lest one get the impression all they do is work. "My wife might say that’s all I do," Trevathan joked.

They plan to serve in the community with Baylor or perhaps traveling on a mission trip. Linda is president of the board of directors for Presdan, a missions organization that serves the physical and spiritual needs of Honduras, where they have both served extensively, in addition to serving in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and China. Already, they're enjoying being a part of the Baylor Family, and loving both the familiar and the unknown of being on this particular Christian campus.

"Every university that I know of has another institution that they aspire to be like," Trevathan said. "When I ask, 'What is the aspirational university for Baylor?' people don't always have an immediate answer, or they give different answers. I think the reason for that is very exciting because there is no other university that is moving in the exact same direction as Baylor University--to strive to be the top Christian national research university. It is very exciting to work as a physician, scientist, professor and leader at a protestant university operating at the highest level of national research universities.

"All of us who are at Baylor University at this time in history are pioneers--doing something that is unique in the history of higher education," he said. "That's why I’m so excited to be here."