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When it comes to safety, everyone deserves to have a safe place to live, work and play. But in reality, some groups face disproportionately higher risks, either because they work in more dangerous environments or because they lack access to safe living conditions.
One way we can address the inequality in safety is to make sure we seek out diverse expertise when it comes to the safety profession. A leading pioneer in bringing minority perspectives into the field is Dr. Marvin DeMond Mills Sr.
As a professor, safety advocate and member of two presidential committees, Dr. Mills helped establish the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Highway Safety Commission. As a professional at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he championed Project IMHOTEP. The program provides students interested in public health an intensive internship, where they can develop skills in biostatistics, epidemiology and occupational safety and health. As a life-long mentor, Dr. Mills was instrumental in encouraging many students of color to consider the field of safety and ultimately succeed as safety professionals.
A World War II veteran and French Legion of Honor medal recipient, Dr. Mills has left a deep legacy in his home state of Kentucky. He was one of the first African American faculty members at Murray State University, where he taught from 1977 to 1988 and helped found and grow the Occupational Safety and Health Program.
When he started at NIOSH in 1989, he brought his passion of supporting students and mentoring young professionals to a NIOSH internship program for minority college students. The program he helped establish drew more than 100 students to NIOSH over the years. He supported students in numerous ways, from weekly brown bag lunch meetings, where he instructed them on a personal and professional level, to reaching out to their mentors, checking on ongoing projects to ensure they had substance, and opening up his home to celebrate their successes. Given his dedication, the CDC recently honored Dr. Mills as a pioneer of diversity.
Although Dr. Mills was a faculty member of six different colleges and universities, his legacy is most palpable at Murray State University, where he and his wife, Eunice, established the Dr. Marvin D. Mills Emerging Scholars Institute, and the Marvin D. and Eunice J. Mills Scholarship Fund to cover the costs of tuition, room and board for 10 minority graduates of Kentucky schools each year.
In 2005, Murray University dedicated the campus multicultural center in his name. His portrait now hangs in the center that provides opportunities for leadership development and academic success to students of color.
Dr. Mills has a direct connection to the National Safety Council, where he served on the Board of Directors from 1969-1970 and was an active participant in the campus safety group.
Dr. Mills passed away Sept. 3, 2018, at 97. His work lives on in all the students he encouraged, inspiring the next generation of safety leaders to continue his commitment to community, diversity and excellence.
Special thanks to Brenda Jones at NIOSH for providing background information and photo of the late Dr. Mills.
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