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Kenneth Olden

Cell biologist and biochemist Kenneth Olden was born in Parrottsville, Tennessee. He graduated from Knoxville College in 1960 with his B.S. degree in biology. In 1962, Olden enrolled at the University of Michigan and graduated from there in 1964 with his M.S. degree in genetics. He went on to earn his Ph.D. in cell biology and biochemistry from Temple University in 1978. Upon graduation, Olden served as a postdoctoral fellow and instructor in the physiology department at Harvard University Medical School where he worked from 1970 to 1974.

From 1974 to 1979, he was employed as a researcher in the laboratory of molecular biology at the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In 1977, he became the first African American to be awarded tenure and promoted to the rank of independent investigator at the NIH. From 1979-1991, he held several positions at the Howard University Cancer Center, including Director, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Oncology. Olden served in several positions at Howard University between 1979 and 1991, including associate professor of oncology in the Medical School as well as professor and chairman of the Department of Oncology.

In 1991, Olden was named Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the Nation Toxicology Program (NTP) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service. He was the first African American to become director of one of the NIH Institutes. Olden then served as Chief of the Metastasis Group in the Laboratory of Molecular Carcinogenesis at the NIEHS. He was appointed as the Yerby Visiting Professor in the Harvard School of Public Health from 2006 to 2007. In 2008, Olden became founding Dean of the School of Public Health at the City University of New York.

Olden has received four of the most prestigious awards in public health: the American Public Health Association Calver Award in 2002, the Sedgwick Memorial Medal and the Laurenberg Award in 2004, and the Julius B. Richmond Award in 2005. He also received three of the highest awards for a public servant in the executive branch of the U.S. Government: the DHHS Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award in 1995, the President’s Meritorious Executive Rank Award in 1997, and the President’s Distinguished Executive Rank Award in 1998. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Science from the University of Rochester and an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the College of Charleston. Olden was elected to membership in the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 1994.

Ken Olden was interviewed by TheHistoryMakers on May 21, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.123

Sex

Male

Interview Date

5/21/2013

Last Name

Olden

Marital Status

Married

Organizations
Schools

Knoxville College

University of Michigan

Temple University

Tanner High School

Allen Chapel School

First Name

Kenneth

Birth City, State, Country

Newport

HM ID

OLD01

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Tennessee

Favorite Vacation Destination

Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

Favorite Quote

Genetics loads the gun, the environment pulls the trigger.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

North Carolina

Birth Date

7/22/1938

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Durham

Country

USA

Favorite Food

All Food

Short Description

Cell biologist and academic administrator Kenneth Olden (1938 - ) became the founding Dean of the School of Public Health at the City University of New York in 2008. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

Employment

United States Environmental Protection Agency

City University of New York

Harvard University Medical School

National Caner Institute of the National Institutes of Health

Howard University Cancer Center

National Institute of Health (NIH)

United States Department of Health and Human Services

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Kenneth Olden's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Kenneth Olden lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Kenneth Olden describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Kenneth Olden talks about his mother and about Newport, Tennessee

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Kenneth Olden describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Kenneth Olden talks about his parents attending church while growing up in Newport, Tennessee

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Kenneth Olden talks about visiting his hometown in Newport, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Kenneth Olden talks about his parents attending school in Newport, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Kenneth Olden talks about his parents as his role models

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Kenneth Olden talks about his siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Kenneth Olden describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Kenneth Olden describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up in Parrotsville, Tennessee

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Kenneth Olden describes his experience in elementary school

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Kenneth Olden describes his early interest in reading and in pursuing higher education

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Kenneth Olden talks about successful African Americans in his community and his role in church while growing up

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Kenneth Olden describes his experience in high school - part one

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Kenneth Olden describes his experience in high school - part two

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Kenneth Olden talks about graduating from high school, attending Knoxville College, and his interest in becoming a scientist

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Kenneth Olden describes the difference between research laboratories and teaching laboratories

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Kenneth Olden describes his experience at Knoxville College and talks about his chemistry teacher and mentor, Dr. Mertin

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Kenneth Olden describes his experience in the undergraduate research program at the University of Tennessee before it was integrated

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Kenneth Olden talks about graduating from Knoxville College, working for a year, and starting graduate school at the University of Michigan

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Kenneth Olden describes his decision to attend the University of Michigan to pursue his master's degree in biology

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Kenneth Olden describes his experience at the University of Michigan

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Kenneth Olden describes his experience as a researcher at Columbia University, and his decision to pursue a Ph.D. degree at Temple University

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Kenneth Olden describes his doctoral dissertation in bioenergetics, and the characterization of the P503 pigment

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Kenneth Olden talks about his family's reaction and understanding of his career as a scientist

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Kenneth Olden talks about his experience in Knoxville, Tennessee during the Civil Rights Movement, and the peaceful integration of businesses there

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Kenneth Olden describes his experience as a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University, and the characterization of a cell-wall mutant of E.coli

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Kenneth Olden describes his postdoctoral work on characterizing a cell-wall mutant of E.coli

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Kenneth Olden talks about ATP is the source of energy in protein degradation, and being cited in the 1972 Nobel Prize lecture

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Kenneth Olden describes his appointment at the National Cancer Institute in 1974, and becoming tenured in 1977

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Kenneth Olden talks about protein secretion

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Kenneth Olden describes his discovery that protein secretion does not require a carbohydrate tag

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Kenneth Olden describes the scientific community's reaction to his discovery that protein secretion does not require a carbohydrate tag

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Kenneth Olden talks about the Nobel Prize winning discovery of the peptide signal sequence that facilitates protein secretion

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Kenneth Olden talks about his research in finding a possible cure for melanoma, and the challenges that prevented it from being a feasible cure

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Kenneth Olden talks about the problems with chemotherapy as a treatment for cancer

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Kenneth Olden describes his decision to join the Howard University Cancer Center in 1978 - part one

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Kenneth Olden describes his decision to join the Howard University Cancer Center in 1978 - part two

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Kenneth Olden describes his service as the scientific director of the Howard University Cancer Center

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Kenneth Olden talks about his appointment as the director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in 1991

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Kenneth Olden describes his tenure as the director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Kenneth Olden discusses the problems of holding positions of power for too long

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Kenneth Olden talks about the state of the Howard University Cancer Center after he left in 1991

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Kenneth Olden talks about his appointments at Harvard School of Public Health and the City University of New York [CUNY]

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Kenneth Olden talks about his appointment as the director of the National Center for Environmental Assessment at the EPA

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Kenneth Olden talks about the role of the National Center for Environmental Assessment at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - part one

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Kenneth Olden talks about the role of the National Center for Environmental Assessment at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - part two

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Kenneth Olden talks about the role of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and his service there

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Kenneth Olden talks about environmental justice

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Kenneth Olden talks about the dual role of genetic predisposition and environmental triggers in the manifestation of chronic diseases

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Kenneth Olden describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community today

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Kenneth Olden reflects upon his career

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Kenneth Olden reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Kenneth Olden talks about his family

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Kenneth Olden talks about how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

6$4

DAStory

3$9

DATitle
Kenneth Olden talks about his appointment as the director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in 1991
Kenneth Olden talks about ATP is the source of energy in protein degradation, and being cited in the 1972 Nobel Prize lecture
Transcript
So when they were looking for a director of NIEHS [National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences], I had the experience. And, and they were looking for somebody who could kind of bring NIEHS back, find its, it had lost its way. And that was NIEHS's thinking. And so they wanted somebody who, who had very rigorous standards to come in and restore--bring NIEHS back. And so when I interviewed, they figured I was that person. And so I got the job.$$Hold on one second [coughs]. I'm sorry, all right.$$And again, NIH [National Institutes of Health] had never had a non-Caucasian. Not only African American, there was never a non-Caucasian and the only woman was the wife of one of the inside guys. So that was it. So when I showed up, there were seventeen institutes and, and around the conference table and all of them were white males except a Caucasian woman and me. And so to, to think that, that NIH would do that was not, was not you know, it was--I almost didn't apply because I said what the hell, I'm wasting my time, this is not gonna happen. And no one would thought it, thought it would happen, in the black community thought it would happen. But one person called me at the NIH who was my mentor and said look Ken, you know this is a different time. And, and I'll promise you I will do, make sure the playing field is level. I, I'm not gonna sub--you know, tilt it towards you or anybody else, but I'll make sure and I'm in a position to do that, that the playing field is level. If the Search Committee comes back with your name at the top, we'll take a serious look at it. That's what the Search Committee came back with and that's exactly what happened.$But so then what I did is became a instructor [Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts]. And then I got a Macy Faculty Fellowship, Josiah Macy Foundation. And, and my project was to look at protein degradation. And that's when we really hit the, the, the jackpot. So we decided that--it was known that cells degrade proteins, but nobody--and we had thought that it required energy. But we didn't know what type of energy. And so I worked out and demonstrated that, that not only did you need energy to break down a protein, but you needed a special kind of energy. It had to be ATP [adenosine triphosphate], it couldn't be other forms of energy. And it turns out that that was a major, unknown in the way that cells degrade proteins. The people who were competing with us when I was at Harvard, won the Nobel Prize, [Avram] Hershko [won the 2004 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation], Hershko and--the Nobel Prize was given in protein degradation and showed me how important it was. And I was at--working with Fred [Alfred] Goldberg. Fred Goldberg and myself and a few others were working on protein degradation. My part was to figure out that ATP was required. Hershko and I forget the other guy's name. Anyway, they won the Nobel Prize, they are Israelis.$$This is in, in 19--$$That was in, yeah '72 [1972], '72 [1972] I'd say.$$'72 [1972].$$Just before I came to NIH [National Institutes of Health]. So it worked. So we, we--well it turns out that when the Nobel Prize was given and the Nobel Prize lecture was written, one of the, you know there are certain seminal discoveries and, and the ATP linkage was one of them, and that was my paper. So because Hershko got the Nobel Prize for figuring out how proteins are degraded, and, and that was what Goldberg was interested in. I was not interested in that per se. But the source of energy was ATP. So in the Nobel Prize lecture publication in Science [journal], our paper is cited, and--$$Okay, okay.$$So it was important.$$All right, so, so it changed the field.$$Yeah, yeah, yeah.$$Made a major contribution to the field.$$Yeah, that's absolutely right. And that's never been refuted. That's the source--for many, many years everybody knew that was the source of energy. But what is--what's the source nobody knew. So we designed a set of experiments to show what the source of energy was.