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David A. Sterling, Ph.D.: 1955-2020

by Maggie Rotermund on 02/03/2020
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Maggie Rotermund
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David A. Sterling, Ph.D., a former public health professor at Saint Louis University, died Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020. He was 65.

Dr. Sterling arrived at SLU in 1993. He was a research scientist at the Institute for Biosecurity and had a secondary appointment with the Department of Internal Medicine’s pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine division. He also served as division director for the graduate program in Environmental and Occupational Health at the School of Public Health.

David A. Sterling

While at SLU, Dr. Sterling created the Center for Environmental Education and Training and co-directed the Midwest OSHA Training Center.

For 18 years, Dr. Sterling led the Asthma 411 initiative, a comprehensive, school-based program to improve outcomes for children with asthma. He began Asthma 411 in 2002 while at SLU with support from the CDC. Further study in Texas led to program implementation in 10 school districts with over 230,000 students supported by a consortium of area health care partners.

“No one could have a better friend and collaborator than David,” said Roger Lewis, Ph.D., a professor of environmental and occupational health at SLU’s College for Public Health and Social Justice. “He gave so much to his students, to the communities he lived in, to those looking for help in preventing their asthma, and to me.”

SLU students remember Dr. Sterling as a favorite teacher who left a mark on their lives.

Onyemachi Nweke, Ph.D., a scientist at the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice, remembers Sterling a supportive and encouraging force who “brought the world of practice into the classroom, preparing students in ways we could only understand in retrospect for our careers.”

Dr. Sterling left SLU in 2008 to become chair of the Environmental and Occupational Health Department at the University of North Texas Health Science (UNT), while continuing to advise doctoral students and collaborating with faculty at SLU as an adjunct professor through 2016.

Over the course of his career, Sterling developed and directed environmental and occupational health graduate programs at Old Dominion University, Saint Louis University and the University of North Texas Health Science.

Born in 1955 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Dr. Sterling moved to St. Louis, where he attended University City High School. He earned his bachelor’s degree at University of Oregon, Master of Science at the University of Cincinnati, and Ph.D. in Environmental and Occupational Health from the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston.

Dr. Sterling was a prodigious scholar and researcher. He authored numerous publications related to environmental and occupational exposures, including: childhood lead exposure in the Big River area of Missouri and La Oroya, Peru; air pollution and childhood asthma; asbestos exposure and disease progression outcomes of workers; perceptions of physicians knowledge for handling terrorism incidents; exposures and controls for agricultural workers; user barriers of powered air respirators in health care work settings; exposure of infants in hospital NICU’s to isocyanates; and the epidemiology of parkinsonism in welders.

Donations may be made to the Asthma 411 program created by Dr. Sterling. 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.