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Pioneer in Helping Special Needs Children Gives Convocation Speech

Phyllis Magrab

“It has been the rich associations with colleagues across the campuses that have shaped my thinking, given me moral courage and inspired my scholarship,” says Phyllis Magrab, a pioneering scholar of pediatric psychology.

March 21, 2012 – Renowned pediatric psychologist Phyllis Magrab told a Georgetown audience of faculty, students, staff, and donors yesterday that a meaningful life of learning isn’t complete without courage, generosity and authenticity.

Sharing knowledge across disciplines is vital, she explained.

“One important lesson in my career has been that the academy cannot tolerate intellectual isolationism,” said Magrab, director of the Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development (GUCCHD).

Considered a pioneer in changing systems of care for children with developmental disabilities and other special health care needs, the psychologist gave the annual Life of Learning speech at Spring Faculty Convocation March 20.

Finding Courage

“For me, courage took the shape of challenging assumptions – assumptions about emotionally, physically and intellectually different children and adults,” said Magrab, who holds the Phyllis R. Magrab Endowed Chair in GUCCHD, part of the Georgetown University Medical Center. “[These] assumptions … marginalized their existence, devalued their humanity and denied their dignity.”

Quality of life for vulnerable children has been her focus for the nearly 45 years she has been at Georgetown.

“With her leadership, [GUCCHD] has provided service, conducted research, shaped policy and trained future professionals in all 50 states – benefiting thousands of children and families,” said Georgetown President John J. DeGioia during the convocation, which also recognized recipients of this year’s Vicennial Award and inductions into the 1789 Society.

Rich Associations

Magrab contributes much of her center’s success to intellectual generosity across campuses and broader research community.

“It has been the rich associations with colleagues across the campuses that have shaped my thinking, given me moral courage and inspired my scholarship,” she said. “The free, open sharing and consideration of these diverse points of view usually results in a more optimum outcome – a better diagnosis, a better intervention plan, a better life for a child and a family.”

Scholarship in the academy should be driven by a purpose and staying true to that purpose, the professor of pediatrics said.

“I believe we in the academy have a responsibility to use our agency, our high-level agency, to make a difference,” she said.

Health Here and Abroad

Magrab’s current projects include working with the university’s cross-campus Initiative to Reduce Health Disparities and the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, for which she serves as vice chair.

The council, a public-private partnership housed at Georgetown, connects the U.S. and Afghan governments, the private sector, academia and non-governmental organizations to develop and implement initiatives in support of Afghan women and children.

“The authenticity of serving these women of great courage – women who dared to have hidden schools for girls when they were forbidden, dared to stand up for their neighbors who had been beaten and oppressed, dared to speak out and become entrepreneurs – has been such a privilege,” she said.

The health disparities initiative will consolidate existing scholarship at Georgetown and foster new work to maximize efforts to health disparities locally and globally.

“Whether advocating on behalf of children and families with mental health issues … or engaging partners nationally and internationally …, her commitment to social justice and to the communities she serves has only strengthened,” DeGioia said. “We are proud to have Phyllis’ leadership in our community.”

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