Mike Melneck: Strengthening the Public Health System and Leaving a Legacy

Mike Melneck has led a life dedicated to strengthening the public health system. The current deputy director for management and operations of the National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention (NCHHSTP) at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), he has also held roles in academia at Emory University and in a series of progressively senior roles at CDC. And throughout his career, he has also dedicated himself to giving back in ways often inspired by those who have helped guide his path.


Growing Up with Examples of Compassion

Melneck grew up in New Jersey with his parents Michael and Gloria, and he was shaped by their altruistic worldview. Michael was a child of immigrants who was able to attend college and dental school after WWII thanks to the GI Bill, and who went on to open a family dental office. Alongside Gloria as the practice’s business manager, he often provided free or greatly discounted care—offering free annual dental check-ups at the local elementary school, checking on parents’ dental health during their children’s appointments, and providing discounted care to local police and firefighters. And because many of Michael and Gloria’s patients were factory shift workers who couldn’t take time off for appointments, Michael would work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and half days on Saturdays so that his patients could come in on their off hours.

Michael and Gloria Melneck

Michael and Gloria Melneck

Michael and Gloria Melneck

Michael was also a strong supporter of water system fluoridation, as he had seen firsthand how fluoridating the local water supply had eliminated over half of his cavity-filling business, something he considered a remarkable achievement. This passion for the importance of public health measures would live on in his son.

Of his parents and upbringing, Mike Melneck said, “I have been very fortunate in my life. I’ve had wonderful parents, overall good health, attended good schools and benefitted from the gifts others made before me.”

In fact, that school experience would be one of the foundational times in Melneck’s early career.


From Student to Shaper of Future Studies

In the 1980s Melneck moved from New Jersey to Atlanta to attend college at Emory University—where his own father had graduated dental school in the 1950s.

It was during his senior year that Melneck learned about the eradication of smallpox, and the history behind this extraordinary accomplishment. The topic piqued his curiosity about the field of public health, and he decided to stay at Emory to attend its Master of Public Health program. At the time, it was a relatively small program nestled within the Department of Community Health, which was itself a part of the larger Emory School of Medicine.

But after graduating in 1986, Melneck was immediately hired back into the MPH program to help Emory create a whole new curriculum in international public health. This program would eventually become the Department of International Health, currently known as the Hubert Department of Global Health, within the dedicated Rollins School of Public Health. While there, Melneck had the privilege of working with the late luminary Eugene “Gene” J. Gangarosa, MD, MS, EIS ’64 on developing cost models for the MPH program, demonstrating that it could be financially self-sustaining from tuition revenue alone. This information was essential to ensure the continuation of the program and prove that a school of public health at Emory would be successful.


A Storied Career at CDC

After helping to shape the future of Emory’s public health program, Melneck began a new career at CDC in 1989, as a participant in the federal government’s Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) Mobility Program. The IPA Mobility Program allows the temporary assignment of personnel between the federal government and other organizations (like universities) to work on initiatives of mutual interest to both parties. Melneck’s assignment was to work with CDC on financial management and reporting for its early AIDS program, a natural segue from his development work at Emory. And shortly thereafter, in 1990, CDC hired Melneck directly into a management position in that program.

Over the next 30+ years, Melneck would go on to serve CDC through a series of increasingly senior roles. In one of the earliest of these, he was responsible for setting up agreements with foreign countries, establishing collaborative HIV epidemiology and laboratory projects with them and CDC. These projects would eventually become platforms for CDC to launch activities around its Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and other infectious disease initiatives.

Later, in 2000, Melneck accepted a two-year career assignment to the still-young CDC Foundation, where he played a critical role in developing standard operating procedures, project management reports for the Foundation’s project officers, and launching and managing over 20 donor-funded projects. In the years since, he has also served (through a variety of titles) as the senior management official for the National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention (NCHHSTP) at CDC.

Reflecting on his lengthy career at CDC, Melneck said that he was proudest of being part of the team to initiate the international drug trials which demonstrated that providing a short course of AZT to expectant mothers just before and after birth could reduce the transmission of HIV to their babies by over 75%. His other major accomplishment, he said, was the multitude of people he mentored, many of whom have gone on to become leaders at CDC and beyond.

On that theme, Melneck said that he felt privileged to have “had the honor of working alongside incredibly dedicated folks who have made significant contributions to public health.” Humbly, he took care to note: “As a manager, I have not achieved any significant public health discovery or advance. Rather I have hopefully helped create and support the environment necessary so that CDC’s public health experts can do their work and effect change.”

Dental instruments and models from Dr. Michael Melneck’s practice

Mike enjoying his home renovation hobby, building his garage

Mike and his parents, Michael and Gloria

Continuing a Charitable Legacy

Mike Melneck’s childhood examples of charity and his career experiences of teamwork and program management are clearly reflected in his giving priorities. As someone who appreciates efficiency and maximizing impact, Melneck tends to direct his donations where there are opportunities to multiply their effects. For example, he enjoys providing funding for organizations to use as project seed funding that could attract other donors. He notes that making installment gifts towards an objective can be helpful, as can timing donations to take advantage of donor matching programs.

As one example of how his upbringing and his career path both influence his giving, in 2014 Melneck created the CDC Foundation’s Dr. Michael T. and Gloria Melneck Fund for Oral Health Promotion in memory of his parents. Being assigned to the CDC Foundation for two years had provided Melneck with an inside look at what could be done, and he was impressed by the multiplying effect his donations could have. The fund’s purpose is to support efforts aimed at improving oral health with a public health perspective—with a special emphasis on preventive and pediatric dental health, as his parents had practiced for so many years—and in its creation, Melneck hopes to support something that will make a difference in the lives of future generations.

Melneck noted that he is often awed thinking of, “…the gifts our grandparents or great-grand parents made through bond purchases that created the water and sanitation systems we take for granted. Or programs we benefitted from that were funded by philanthropists—libraries funded by Carnegie, public health programs supported by the Rockefeller Foundation or gifts that supported the universities that we attended.”

Melneck is also among the founding members of the Healthy Futures Society, an honorary group recognizing individuals and families that have included the CDC Foundation in their will or other estate plans. Explaining his decision, he said, “I learned the importance of estate planning after having to settle the affairs of my aunt and both of my parents after their passing. That process is orders of magnitude more difficult and is significantly more costly if there is not a will. If you love your family, please take the time to create and file a will.” As to designating the CDC Foundation as a beneficiary, Melneck said, “While I have been so fortunate in life, I never was fortunate enough to meet the woman of my dreams and get married and have children. So why leave where my remaining assets would go up to chance? A legacy gift lets your heirs know of your preferences and intentions.”


Display Date