Our Story/Frank Ahern

Frank Ahern has not only watched the Department of Biobehavioral Health evolve over the past 20 years, he has been a part of it.

A senior research associate and professor-in-charge of undergraduate programs in the Department of Biobehavioral Health, Ahern has taught thousands of students in the areas of epidemiology, research methods and applications for health behaviors, health and aging, and health services research.

“I was lucky to be involved in establishing the BBH graduate and undergraduate programs and especially for the inclusion of epidemiology as a required component of the undergraduate curriculum,” Ahern said.

While in graduate school at the University of Hawaii, Ahern received training in psychology, gerontology, and behavior genetics. After receiving his doctorate in 1980 he became a faculty member in the gerontology program at the University of Hawaii’s School of Public Health.

In 1984 he was invited to come to Penn State from Hawaii to be a member of the Center for Developmental and Health Genetics by Gerald McClearn, who was then the center’s director, and the associate dean for research in the College of Human Development, which later became the College of Health and Human Development.

In 1996, the Department of Biobehavioral Health expanded to offer a bachelor of science degree program. Ahern joined as part of the curriculum development committee for the new undergraduate program. In 1997, he accepted the role of professor-in-charge of the undergraduate program.

“In the early days of BBH the undergraduate program was relatively unknown,” Ahern said. “Now our class sizes are much larger, and we continue to grow.”

One of Ahern’s former students, Jian Ding, said Ahern provided him with support, guidance and encouragement throughout his studies.

Ding is currently employed as a health outcomes scientist at Magellan Health Services in Richland, Washington. He graduated in 2010 from the Department of Biobehavioral Health.

“As an international student, I had some difficulty following what instructors said in class at the beginning,” Ding said. “It was Dr. Ahern who not only gave me many good suggestions on improving my English, but also talked with those instructors to try to find ways to help me in class.”

Ahern also helped Ding build his own career path by encouraging him to present his work at conferences and attend workshops and summer schools at other universities, Ding said.

“These experiences together with my training under his supervision made me well prepared for my career,” he said. “His professionalism, work ethics, and wisdom will always guide me through my career and life.”