Ex-Altoona resident finds her calling
It took Maureen Black some time to figure out her calling — but once she did, she made a major impact on the lives of many children around the world.
Black, 73, has two jobs. She is a Distinguished Fellow at RTI International in North Carolina and she is the John A. Scholl and Mary Louise Scholl Endowed Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. She is also director of the Growth and Nutrition Clinic, an interdisciplinary clinic for children with growth and/or feeding problems from across Maryland; she is considered one of the pioneers of pediatric psychology.
“Being called a pioneer makes me feel old. Pediatric psychology has been a wonderful professional home for me,” Black said.
In 2010, Black was recognized as a Distinguished Alumni of Altoona Area High School.
In 2012, she was named to the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame and in 2018 she was named by The Daily Record to Maryland’s Top 100 Women, which recognizes high-achieving Maryland women who are making an impact through their leadership, community service and mentoring.
Black, the daughter of Larry and Ann McEvoy, was born in Tacoma, Wash. Her father worked for Sylvania and was transferred to Altoona when Black was 5.
She attended Eldorado Elementary School and Roosevelt Junior High School before graduating from Altoona High School in 1963.
Black remembers her high school days with fondness. Her interest in global issues stems from an 11th grade trip to Monterrey, Mexico, with two classmates to study Spanish.
She recalls the life changing advice that she received from her high school math teacher Roscoe Wareham, who said to her “you are good at math and like it.”
“It made a dent on me. I got my undergraduate degree in math and I continue to use math in the statistics I do,” Black said.
She went to Penn State and graduated with a degree in mathematics and computer science in 1967.
After graduation, she married her high school sweetheart Bob Black and they moved to Philadelphia.
She worked as a systems analyst at IBM in Endicott, N.Y., Philadelphia, London and Los Angeles.
She then decided it was time for a career change.
“I knew that I would be working my entire life, and when I looked around my office at IBM, I did not see any 50-year-old women. I knew that some day I would be 50, maybe even more and I wanted to find a career that would retain my passion throughout life. I decided to become an occupational therapist and got a master’s degree at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles,” Black said.
She worked with children with disabilities at UCLA and soon discovered that she was really interested in investigating interventions that promoted early development. She and her husband moved to Atlanta and she obtained a doctorate in psychology at Emory University with a desire to obtain a strong background in intervention research related to child health and development.
Her next stop was a two year move to Bangladesh with a professor in the Department of Psychology at Dhaka University.
“I learned about the disastrous effects of nutritional deprivation on children’s development, a topic that subsequently defined my career,” Black said.
In 1980, Black moved to Baltimore and joined the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
“My formal introduction to pediatric psychology occurred when we moved to Baltimore. My initial role involved strategies to promote the health and development of children with developmental disabilities,” Black said. “I became involved in the Society of Pediatric Psychology and eventually became president.”
Throughout her career, Black has been interested in global child development. She has conducted intervention trials with children exposed to environmental threats including prenatal drug exposure, failure to thrive, nutritional deficiencies, poverty, food insecurity, HIV, poverty and risk of obesity. She has conducted her work in low-income communities of Maryland and in low- and middle-income countries throughout the world — Bangladesh, India, Guatemala, Swaziland and Eswatini.
Black writes about her work with more than 300 publications, including three influential series of papers on global child development published in a widely acclaimed British Journal, The Lancet, in 2007, 2011 and 2017.
“The papers provided the scientific evidence for why investing in young children benefits not only the children and families, but entire societies,” Black said.
Jay A. Perman, president of the University of Maryland/Baltimore, speaks highly of Black.
“Our youngest, most disadvantaged citizens have a tireless advocate in Maryland. Dr. Maureen Black has dedicated her life’s work to improving the nutritional care of women and children in need,” Perman said. “She is also a world-class scientist, and her groundbreaking research on factors that affect child development has had an impact on nutrition, food, and child development programs worldwide. I cannot overstate what an incredible contribution Dr. Black has made toward promoting the well-being of women and children not only in the state of Maryland, but globally.”
Black is proud of the many students she has trained. She said she has had many role models and mentors over the years and working with students enables her to “pay forward.” She also credits her mother’s work.
“My mom was a special education teacher. Teaching children with special needs was important to her. She was not a great house cleaner and neither am I. I had to find a meaningful career and child development made sense,” Black said.
Black remembers growing up in Altoona, but rarely gets back to the area since her family is no longer there. She came back for her 50th high school class reunion in 2013.
“I had a great childhood. I had a good education. When I was in school, I learned to play the piano, I learned Spanish, I was a majorette. There weren’t girls sports before Title IX. If you wanted to participate in athletics you had to be a majorette or a cheerleader,” Black said.
She also remembers walking to elementary school.
“The school was on 58th Street and I lived on 51st Street; it was hilly. I tell my kids that it was uphill both ways. It was about a half mile. We didn’t have busing back then, they were all neighborhood schools. I walked to school in the morning, walked home for lunch, walked back to school after lunch and walked home after school. We did not need fitbits to track our steps — we were all very active. We learned to look after ourselves,” Black said.
She said she fondly remembers the beautiful mountains around Altoona, Meadows Frozen Custard and Baronner’s sweet corn.
Deedee L. Cass is a close friend; they have known each other since elementary school.
“I most remember Maureen’s infectious laugh and her curiosity about everything. Her love of playing games and having fun made her a great childhood friend. She has always had a recognizable aptitude for learning and she was an avid reader. She encouraged me to read as well” said Cass, now of Greenville, S.C.
Cass said she is not surprised by Black’s success.
“That Maureen has been recognized for her excellence in pediatric psychology is no surprise to me. In our later years I sent Maureen a birthday card. There was a picture of a young girl walking along. It said, ‘I always knew you would grow up and do something great.’ — I thought it a perfect card for my childhood friend,” said Cass, who has written two Christian books.
Black, who likes to sail on the Chesapeake Bay and bike ride, isn’t ready to retire.
“I am a professor in the School of Medicine and I am a Distinguished Fellow at RTI International. I telecommunicate and go to North Carolina once a month,” Black said. “I am too young and I am not ready to retire yet, maybe in a few years.”