A Storied Career of Transforming Global Health Through Data

Laurie Robinson - May 28, 2024

A profile of MLS alumnus Kevin Beverly, UMD INFO College graduate

INFO Alum Kevin Beverly

Kevin Beverly

Kevin Beverly comes from humble beginnings—raised in a house with no indoor plumbing. Beverly’s home on Maryland’s Eastern Shore was a testament to resourcefulness—a shanty, moved and secured by his father to a secluded spot amidst nature’s simplicity. He attended secondary school in Dorchester County, where the education system historically ranks near the bottom.  

He was motivated to do well in school by his older brother who went on to become the fourth African American four-star general in the U.S. Army. “He kept the heat turned up on me and made sure I was kind of on a pathway,” says Beverly. “He said, ‘A lot of people have room on their pathway. You don’t have any. You make a step in the wrong direction, and it could be the end of you. So pay attention, be kind to everybody who helps you in your career because when you start to fall, you want them to catch you.’” 

When he matriculated at the University of Maryland (UMD) in 1974 as an undergraduate, he struggled at first, but he took to heart the lessons from his brother: “You don’t need to be the smartest; you just need to outwork the competition.” 

The First Steps in His Career

During his time at UMD, Beverly secured a position in the mailroom of the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) where he impressed Martin Cummning, director of the library. Cumming introduced him to Mary Corning, director of international programs. Upon graduation, Corning eyed Beverly for a position with the World Health Organization, disseminating medical literature to the developing world. Thanks to his strong computer skills, he was enlisted to assist in managing and preparing documents for distribution. 

It was Cummings who proposed the idea of library school to Beverly, highlighting its focus on information management. Motivated by this advice, Beverly explored the possibility and subsequently applied to the UMD College of Information Studies, known then as the School of Library and Information Services. His application was successful, and he was awarded a fellowship.

“I went through it in a whirlwind. I started in August and finished the next August. It was a very flexible program, allowing me to take statistics courses as well as the core curriculum,” he says.

After completing his graduate studies, he joined the prestigious National Library of Medicine’s Associate Program. This program was a perfect fit for his continued interest in combining library science with technology. He worked in key areas such as acquisitions, interlibrary loans, and preservation.

Working in the Private Sector 

In 1989, he entered the private sector when he joined PSI International, a company that managed a contract with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s Center for Biologics. There, he found himself in charge of a document center crucial for regulating blood banking documents and processing biologic license applications. Despite the initial chaos—overfilled offices and frequently misplaced documents—his team managed to build a decision support system that allowed for better access to license applications and tracking documents in the center.

He continued to move through the private sector, making the transition from technical programming to roles emphasizing management, strategy, and business development. 

“My reputation started to get ahead of me and folks were calling,” says Beverly. “I ended up getting a call from a guy who truly kind of changed my life; a guy named Jim Lynch who was at the time the president of Social and Scientific Systems.” 

Social and Scientific Systems (SSS) is a public health research and service organization that provides expertise in clinical and biomedical research, epidemiology, data analytics, health policy, and program evaluation. 

Lynch and Beverly were a study in contrasts. Lynch, an English professor, was deeply versed in literature, a fervent lover of music and the arts, whereas Beverly, with his background as a wrestler and footballer, radiated an extroverted personality. Despite his reserved demeanor and risk-aversion, Lynch noted the company’s need for expansion. Despite its success, the company relied heavily on grants for its portfolio, notably in adult and pediatric AIDS networks, and it struggled to diversify further.

Beverly stepped in to spearhead business development, devising strategies for growth. Eventually, Lynch announced his departure, believing it was Beverly’s time to lead. Under his guidance as the newly appointed CEO, the company ventured into new territories, designing epidemiological studies for infectious diseases like the flu and Ebola. 

As the company’s portfolio continued to expand, they started to focus more on chronic diseases. They secured a contract with the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences in Durham, North Carolina, leading to the creation of what may be the most extensive database on women’s health available today. This project, known as the Sister Study, is a longitudinal effort that tracks women with breast cancer as well as their sisters,focusing on the environmental contributors to the disease. The study successfully enlisted around 55,000 women, and over the past two decades, it has amassed a wealth of data not limited to breast cancer alone. Participants underwent comprehensive physical exams and completed surveys, providing insights into the effectiveness of various treatments and revealing other health issues they encountered.

“So there is an incredibly rich dataset on women and women’s health. It is being used by other institutes to compare data,” he says.  

“I don’t know that I was really cut out for the government, but I really did enjoy helping them solve problems. I met some of the most committed, brilliant people who had one focus, and that was to create a health system here in the U.S. that was second to none.”

Stemming the AIDS Epidemic in Africa

SSS eventually ventured into international development, establishing data systems in Uganda to track the AIDS epidemic, including patient counts, treatment options, and support for health system infrastructure to monitor and store research data. Early efforts included field teams conducting household visits to gather data on sexual behaviors. 

Beverly spent considerable time in Uganda, immersing himself in the local culture and witnessing the challenges of babies born with HIV, often orphaned as a result. He encountered a young woman dedicated to caring for these orphans, despite losing many of them. Moved by her efforts, Beverly supported her in establishing a small orphanage, which eventually expanded to include a school. Beverly continues to maintain contact with them over the years. 

In the 2000s, his company conducted the NEVIRAPINE trial, a significant breakthrough allowing babies to be born HIV-free to mothers living with the virus.

“To me, that’s the highlight of a lot of the work that has been done over the course of this pandemic is we’ve managed to figure out how to save the babies. So that saves a generation, that creates an opportunity for the next generation,” says Beverly. 

Investing in the Next Generation 

Now retired, Beverly continues to dedicate his time to supporting children’s futures. He serves as the board chair for CollegeTracks, a nonprofit that forges college pathways for youth. Their mission goes beyond simply getting youth into college; they also pair them with coaches to ensure they graduate. Focusing on moderate to low-income students, primarily from Black and brown communities, they help those who clearly possess potential to achieve their educational goals. Beverly sees himself in these youth. 

“I had potential but didn’t have a clue how all this stuff worked,” Beverly says. “I had my own personal mentor, my brother who was wise and bigger than me. It kept me in order. He  probably used fear more than anything to keep me in order, but whatever works. He walked on gravel which allowed me to walk on pavement.” 

Beverly certainly heeded his brother and has had a successful career as a result. He measures his impact in part by how he’s been able to help his mother. He and his brother built a house with indoor plumbing for her. “People measure success in different ways. Once we built that house for my mom, I didn’t need to do anything else as far as I was concerned. It was done. And my brother and I did that, and she lived in that house until she died.”

Beverly’s advice to people interested in an information profession: “Information school will serve you in any job you are in. I can tell you from my own experience, my ability to research, to collect data, to analyze data was built around the education I got out of library school. Looking at how data moves, how it’s set up and understanding it. I don’t think you can get a better education.”