Melissa Perry '88
Chair, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, GW University
- By Megan Morley Thomas
"Can you imagine ever driving in Burlington?" Melissa Perry '88 remembers asking her high school friends as they prepared for their learner's permit test. The consensus among the Highgate Center, Vermont, natives accustomed to dirt roads and few traffic lights: "No! That would be so scary."
Burlington's "big city" status in Perry's young eyes made the transition to college at UVM an intimidating one. "The students I was encountering were so much more worldly and educated and affluent; it was a startling experience," she recalls. Enter George Albee, a nationally celebrated UVM psychology professor who, despite his reputation as a pioneer in his field, made Perry feel at home at the university. "I was really starstruck by this famous professor being so welcoming and reassuring that I could not only keep up but do well in this college environment."
Until his death in 2006, Albee was a close friend and mentor to Perry throughout a career that's taken her to bigger cities still. From Baltimore to Boston to D.C., Perry has brought to bear the potential Albee saw, studying at Johns Hopkins, teaching and researching at Harvard, and now chairing the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at George Washington University.
Perry says the spark for her career began from Albee's thoughts on the need for a shift in psychology from treatment to prevention. While Perry said she had thoughts of going into clinical psychology, "George really turned me on to health issues at the population level rather than at the individual level," she says. That propelled the psychology major to pursue public health and epidemiology in graduate school.