University of Minnesota

“It Isn’t Always Fun.” – Cheryl Perry

Distinguished Women Scholars Award

University of Minnesota

Minneapolis, MN, January 2001

Cheryl Perry is a superb candidate for this award and distinction for several reasons. She is a distinguished woman scholar and one who has effectively forwarded the scholarship of women on this campus. Moreover, she is a model whose experience, endeavors, public demeanor, and influence both informs and inspire faculty and graduate students of this university.

Beginning with her early experience as a teacher and school administrator, Dr. Perry entered into academic pursuits with a direct and intimate knowledge of youth education and behaviors. This shines through in her ability to comprehend young people and their problems and to relate to them and their parents and teachers. Now, combine this experience with her immersion in the scholarly ferment of Stanford in the 1970s, with its central role in the development of theory and intervention strategies about youthful behaviors and social learning. By the time she was recruited to Minnesota in the early 1980s, she was already a leader in the study of and the modification of adolescent health and social behaviors, at the classroom, school, and community level.

She began at the frontier of “alternative schools” and soon came to look at truancy, destructive behaviors, and discipline through knowledge and theories about learned social behavior and peer influence. By the late ’70s she was an experienced expert and innovative researcher on teen-age smoking and drug use, their modification and prevention, collaborating with the leaders in that field such as Maccoby and McAlister, Coates, and Nader.

We recruited Cheryl Perry to Minnesota to develop the youth health promotion component of the Minnesota Heart Health Program, a controlled community demonstration project supported by NIH in communities of the upper Midwest. Her programs of “Hearty Heart” became international models of the use of peer influence and youth-parent-school activities in community-wide health promotion strategies. The Class of ‘89 Study, comparing adolescent smoking prevention strategies in Fargo-Moorhead and Sioux Falls, was a breakthrough into successful efforts now widely adopted. By the end of the 1980s, Dr. Perry and colleagues had synthesized cardiovascular behavioral research and youth health promotion and moved on to direct a national trial, CATCH, a landmark study of school community health promotion.

Her activities then took a vast experience in theory-based community research into broad areas of adolescent behaviors generally: smoking, drinking, drinking and driving, eating and obesity, and social competence. They went beyond demonstration to diffusion, and then beyond the United States to cross-cultural studies under the aegis of the World Health Organization. The national CATCH trial that she headed, in eating, activity and smoking behavior, and Project Northland to reduce adolescent drinking in the community, were so effective that they have become classics of intervention.

Throughout this rich 20 years of research at Minnesota, Dr. Perry’s work has been characterized by sound theory, strong empirical testing, quantitative analysis, and a happy balance of research, editorial synthesis and review, by popular and academic presentations, and by teaching programs and textbooks. In the middle of this productive research she took on administrative roles in the School of Public Health that, with great energy and innovation, have redefined community and adolescent health education and their academic programs at Minnesota. She has recently summarized that field for the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, in their report, “Capitalizing on Social Science and Behavioral Research to Improve the Public’s Health.”

Stepping from this academic scene into the arena of public policy, Dr. Perry was the Senior Scientific Editor of the 1994 Surgeon General’s Report: “Preventing Tobacco Use Among Young People,” and then became principal witness for the Minnesota Attorney General’s Case against the U.S. Tobacco Industry. In part because of her analysis of the industry’s dealing with the issue of addiction of youth to tobacco, her testimony resulted in that case being settled and the sweeping national settlement to follow, arguably one of the more significant public health happenings of our time.

Dr. Perry’s contributions and stature have been recognized in several academic areas and many arenas, from our school’s highest teaching award, the Schuman Award, to those of the University of Michigan, the American School Health Association, the Institute of Medicine, the American Association for Health Education, the American Academy of Health Behavior, the Bush Faculty Award, and Delta Omega.

Meanwhile, her research productivity remains remarkable, along with her full and consistent responsibility for teaching programs and mentoring. She is an international leader in bringing future generations of scholars through their formal education and into rigorous and original post doctoral and faculty careers, all of which are documented in the record.

It would be difficult to find a more balanced, innovative, and productive career in social sciences, or one more influential in the community, than that of Dr. Cheryl Perry.

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