Published: January 27, 2020
The campus community mourns the passing of UNTHSC School of Public Health Professor David Sterling, PhD, CIH, ROH, who said goodbye surrounded at home by family after a courageous and lengthy battle with cancer.
Dr. Sterling was a beloved Biostatistics and Epidemiology Department professor who touched the lives of many students and contributed in important ways to the field of public health and the good of the community over a career that spanned more than 35 years.
He joined UNTHSC in 2008, serving in different roles over the last 11 years, including Research Fellow with the UNTHSC Institute for Patient Safety; Interim Chair, Department of Epidemiology; Professor and Chair, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health; Research Affiliate with The Texas Prevention Center and Center for Community Health; Director, Doctoral PhD Program in Public Health Sciences; and School of Public Health P&T Committee.
For 18 years, Dr. Sterling led the Asthma 411 initiative, a comprehensive, school-based program to improve outcomes for children with asthma. He first initiated Asthma 411 in St. Louis between 2002 and 2008 with support from the CDC. One of his most noted accomplishments at UNTHSC was the continued development, adaption and dissemination of Asthma 411 in Fort Worth for students in grades pre-K through 12.
In 2013, a two-school, two-year pilot of Asthma 411 was conducted in Fort Worth. Based on positive outcomes the program was expanded, is now adopted by 10 districts with over 230,000 students, and is supported by a consortium of area healthcare partners.
In 2018, the Asthma 411 team was recognized with a Fort Worth Business Press Healthcare Heroes award for the work being done to address the high rates of this growing national public health concern, by educating school-based healthcare providers, parents and caregivers on asthma management strategies for both home and school.
Dr. Sterling was named as a Fellow of the American Industrial Hygiene Association in 2017.
He was honored with the UNTHSC President’s Award for Educational Excellence in 2011 and was inducted into the Delta Omega national honorary society for public health in 2012.
With a PhD in Environmental and Occupational Health Science, an MS in Environmental Health and Industrial Hygiene, and a BS in Biological Sciences, Dr. Sterling began his career as a Research Chemist at the Illinois Institute of Technology, ITT Research Institute, in Chicago in 1984. His work addressed industrial hygiene, ambient and indoor air quality, asbestos, odor science and hazardous waste and materials.
He joined the faculty at Old Dominion University, College of Health Sciences, in 1987, serving as Assistant Professor and Assistant Director for Programs in Environmental Health, College of Health Sciences.
From 1993 to 2008, he served on the faculty and as Program Director of the graduate Environmental and Occupational Health concentration at Saint Louis University School of Public Health and Social Justice, with a secondary appointment in the Department of Internal Medicine’s Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Occupational Medicine. He was also founder and Co-Director for the Midwest OSHA Educational Training Center at Saint Louis University.
Dr. Sterling was a member of the American Conference of Governmental and Industrial Hygiene, the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology and the International Society for Exposures Science.
In 2011, he was appointed to the National Board of Public Health Examiners’ committee overseeing design of the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) Certification in Public Health (CPH) exam.
He regularly served on National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other grant peer-review committees and served on the editorial board of the International Journal of Food Safety, Nutrition and Public Health.
His numerous publications have focused on topics including asbestos-exposed workers; Parkinson’s disease in welders; air pollution and health; and NICHD-funded National Children’s Study research into the effects of environmental exposures on health from birth to age 16.
In what has been called one of the most comprehensive studies into environmental contamination from metal mining, Dr. Sterling and a team of physicians, scientists and students conducted five years of research into La Oroya, Peru, where a metal smelter mining lead, copper, zinc, silver and gold has been in almost continuous operation since 1922.
Of all his achievements, Dr. Sterling seemed most proud of his work in mentoring students to their own personal success. Over the years, he provided guidance and support to lead students toward meaningful careers in public health and research, as well as academic honors, national awards and publication in many peer-reviewed journals.
“We all hope to leave behind a legacy,” said UNTHSC School of Public Health Dean Dennis Thombs, PhD, “and one of the true measures of a person’s success is what is given to others during our lifetime. Dr. Sterling will be greatly missed by the campus community and all those he touched over his life and his career.”
Messages and condolences for the family can be delivered to the School of Public Health Dean’s office, EAD 749.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that those wishing to honor Dr. Sterling’s memory consider a contribution to the Asthma 411 program. Please visit https://www.unthsc.edu/give, choose “Give Now,” then use the “Designation” drop-down box for “Other” and specify “Asthma 411 in memory of Dr. David Sterling.”