Tuesday, April 09, 2002

Doctor to head learning program

By Allen Howard ahoward@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Dr. O'Dell Owens, an internationally-known fertility specialist, is giving up the practice of medicine to help inner-city youth get a jump on education.

        The North Avondale doctor has been named president and chief executive officer of Rise Learning Solutions, a Cincinnati-based not-for-profit organization that specializes in early childhood education and literacy.

        If education is your first love, Dr. Owens said in accepting the position, fame and fortune will not keep you away from it.

        “I have always been involved in education in some way,” Dr. Owens said. “This is not that much different from what I do as a doctor.

        “As a physician, I deal in disease, in helping people overcome unease. I cannot imagine a more important mission right now, for our nation and our city, than helping inner-city children and all of our families and children to reach their fullest potential as educated citi zens.”

        As an in-vitro fertilization specialist, Dr. Owens said his office averaged about 250 pregnancies a year between 1982-1998.

        He said he is giving up the practice to devote full-time to Rise.

        “I am closing the door to medicine and opening up this door,” he said.

        Dr. Owens is president of the board of trustees of Project Grad, a program that works with inner-city students to raise achievement and graduation rates.

        “If we had inner-city chil dren graduating at a higher rate and engaged in fruitful activities in the city, we wouldn't have riots. I just want to do my part to help bridge the gap,” he said.

        Education has always been first on his agenda and he sees the position with Rise as an opportunity to follow his passion, he said.

        “As a kid who grew up in the West End, I was taught the value of education, that you can get what you want if you get an education,” Dr. Owens said.

        He said his many years of serving on different boards in Cincinnati enables him to bring a wide range of experiences to this program.

        Dr. Owens, 54, was a member of the board of trustees at the University of Cincinnati for nine years, including time spent as board chairman.

        For seven years, he was on the Cincinnati Public Schools Superintendent's Citizens Advisory Com mittee, a group which developed the in-school suspension program.

        He is a graduate of Woodward High School. He earned a bachelor's degree from Antioch College and his degree in medicine from Yale University Medical School. He also has a master's degree in public health from Yale.

        Dr. Owens taught at Yale before returning to Cincinnati in 1982 to establish the first division of reproductive endocrinology at UC Medical Center. He established an in-vitro fertilization program and became known internationally when in 1988 he announced Cincinnati's first pregnancy from a frozen embryo.

        He was vice president of Women's Health Services for the Franciscan Health System of the Ohio Valley Inc.

        Dr. Owens succeeds Debra S. Pinger, a co-founder of Rise who retired Monday. Ms. Pinger created the professional development model at Rise for adults who work with children.

        “There could be no more exciting time for a person of Dr. Owens' vision and history of service to lead Rise. It is a huge coup for us,” Ms. Pinger said. Rise has moved from its smaller office downtown to its full-service, two-studio television facility in Woodlawn. The budget has grown from $2 million in 1999 to $4.8 million in 2002.

        The group produces Heads-Up Reading, the nation's largest college course on early literacy teaching practices to early childhood teachers. As a joint project with the National Head Start Association, the program is used in 90 colleges with an enrollment of more than 10,000 students each quarter.

        It produces the UC's Early Childhood Learning Community, the first nationally accredited associate-degree program delivered solely over direct-broadcast satellite television and the Internet.

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