The Gift of Friendship
Elizabeth Cochary Gross, N82, NG88, vividly remembers her admissions interview for what is now the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.
It was 40 years ago, and the school was brand new. As the late nutrition pioneer Stanley Gershoff and John Field, now a professor emeritus, shared their innovative vision for a graduate school that would bridge science with policy, Cochary Gross was intrigued and energized. “I thought if I chose to go to Tufts,” she said, “I could be part of an important and exciting adventure.”
That adventure has continued well beyond earning a master’s and PhD from Friedman. Cochary Gross has also been a researcher at the school, its first director of admissions, and co-founder (and first president) of its alumni association. Her keen sense of the school’s financial needs led her to lace up and run with the Tufts Boston Marathon team in 2003, 2004, and 2015.
Today she champions the school as co-chair of its Brighter World Campaign Committee. And in the spirit of the campaign’s forward-looking vision, she and her husband, Phill Gross, recently made a $2.7 million gift to support an interdisciplinary research fund and an endowed scholarship, adding to their generous previous support during the campaign.
The five-year research fund will be awarded later this year to an innovative project that reinforces the school’s mission to merge science and policy. The scholarship will provide much-needed financial aid, with preference to a PhD student who has an interest in translating bench research into policy. It also expresses a personal debt of gratitude. Cochary Gross has named it in honor of former Friedman dean of students Lynne Ausman, whose path at the school often ran tirelessly right alongside her own, as teacher and colleague, mentor and friend.
“We worked together really well, because Lynne was always kind and generous to me and to so many students over the years,” said Cochary Gross. “Most importantly, we felt dedicated to helping the school move forward; we believed in it together.”
Ausman is now the Saqr Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi Professor in International Nutrition and a researcher in cardiovascular nutrition at the Jean Mayer Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA). She is thrilled to be part of Cochary Gross’ legacy.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” said Ausman. “I never had anything this good happen to me! It’s meaningful especially because I know it will help so many doctoral students who want nothing less than to save the world.”
Dean Dariush Mozaffarian called both the scholarship and the research fund “enormously important to the future of the school.”
“The Friedman School has always prioritized cooperation across diverse areas to produce multi-disciplinary, translational research and education,” he said. “This visionary gift will significantly accelerate our ability to achieve these goals, strengthening our ability to bring forward new knowledge and reinforcing our capacity to attract and train the best and brightest students to become our future leaders.”
‘A Can-Do Person’
Cochary Gross grew up on the South Shore of Massachusetts, daughter of an optometrist with practices in Brockton and in West Bridgewater. At West Bridgewater High School, “I did every activity possible: president of the class, honor society, choir,” she recalled, and in college she was drawn to the sciences and math. “I am probably the one person in the world who loved organic chemistry.”
An independent study at Mount Holyoke College involving the brain’s metabolism of tryptophan, the amino acid that creates the neurotransmitter serotonin, kindled her interest in learning more about how nutrients influence behavior. “There was a lot of opportunity for original research,” she said.
Ausman, for her part, came to the Friedman School after earning a doctorate at Harvard School of Public Health. She was drawn by the chance to pivot from the lab to the classroom and to work with Stanley Gershoff.
“His thinking was along the same lines as my own: having research and policy together is the way to go if you want to have an impact, if you really want to make a difference in people’s lives,” she said.
Cochary Gross and Ausman met in the fall of 1981, when Ausman stepped in front of the school’s first class to teach nutritional biochemistry. The course was tough, Cochary Gross recalled, but Ausman was friendly and approachable. “She was always there if you needed help. And we were such a small group, we felt like a team.” And with only a handful of students in the first class, “there was an inspiring atmosphere of ‘let’s put this school together and make it work.’”
After graduate school and postdoctoral fellowships, Cochary Gross joined the genetics lab at the HNRCA as a research scientist. That position included a faculty appointment at the Friedman School, where she chaired a volunteer admissions committee on which Ausman also served. By the mid-1990s, having discovered she loved admissions and working directly with students, Cochary Gross became the school’s first director of admissions.
In that new role, she worked alongside Ausman, by then the school’s first dean of students. They made a good team, often traveling together to colleges and graduate school fairs to recruit the best graduate students.
“All the years I’ve known Liz, if anyone said, ‘We can’t do that, it’s impossible,’ she was the first to say, ‘Oh yes we can!’” Ausman said. “Liz is a can-do person–she was always ready with a new idea about getting things done and in a way that was professional and that advanced the school.”
In 2005, Ausman returned to the laboratory, and Cochary Gross opted to devote more time to her family. She stayed engaged with the school, though, by starting up its alumni association. That same year, she became the first graduate of the school to be recognized with a Distinguished Alumni Award by the Tufts University Alumni Association.
A Model of Philanthropy
Cochary Gross is an active volunteer and philanthropist. She serves on the board of trustees for both Tufts and Mount Holyoke College, the Friedman School’s Board of Advisors, and on the boards of nonprofits focused on arts, education, social justice, and medical research. She and her husband are among the founding members of Strategic Grant Partners, a consortium of family foundations that supports projects to improve the lives of struggling individuals and families in Massachusetts.
“We want to show our children we’re giving back to society, that they too can find meaning and value in giving back,” she said. She hopes to help the Friedman School “grow as the leading institution for science and policy.”
Ausman said the scholarship named in her honor will allow the school to attract and retain deserving students who bring talent, drive, and optimism to their studies.
“I see time and again how intensely interested these young people are in the world,” she said. “I am always energized by them. Their motivation to make the world a better place speaks to what is so vital and great about the Friedman School.
“Thank goodness we have people like Liz who want to encourage careers in nutrition. We need people like her who recognize the importance of nutrition in the lives of people everywhere. We need people like her who say: ‘Let’s do better. Let’s get things done.’”
Elizabeth Cochary Gross continues to find ways to use her philanthropy to move Friedman forward. To help the school assist students affected by the COVID-19 crisis, she has issued a matching challenge for the Friedman School Emergency Fund. She will match dollar for dollar gifts or pledges made to the fund by June 30, 2020, or until the match capacity is reached.