Joseph C. Cappelleri, ’91, has a palpable enthusiasm for learning, research and improving the human condition.
Describing his time at Cornell as a spiritual one, he credits the College of Human Ecology with helping him find his intellectual identity and giving him the framework for a meaningful life.
“I found a foundation and home at Cornell,” Cappelleri said. “Through faculty, students and other associations, I was able to find my intellectual voice. It was the cross-fertilization of being in an intellectual climate, having the right nurturing and supportive environment to bring out the best in me, and a community anchored in the enjoyment of thought, clarity and research for a higher purpose.”
As a statistical scientist, a medical researcher, and an executive director of biostatistics at Pfizer Inc, where he has been for the past 22 years, Cappelleri is considered one of the most prolific researchers in the pharmaceutical industry; he has co-authored approximately 450 publications and 900 external presentations. He is lead author on a book on patient-reported outcomes, co-authored another book on phase 2 clinical trials and co-edited a monograph on health economics and outcomes research. As an adjunct professor, he has served on the faculties at Brown University (biostatistics), Tufts Medical Center (medicine), and the University of Connecticut (statistics), where he has taught a semester-long course on epidemiology.
Cappelleri credits Human Ecology with starting him on the path toward his proudest accomplishments. He is one of the leading researchers behind Viagra and how to measure its efficacy, and his patient-centered approach helped validate the use of Chantix for smoking cessation, Lyrica for neuropathic pain, and Sutent for renal cell carcinoma. He says that the training he received in the development and validation of measurement scales from Professor William Trochim, his major professor, and Professor Emeritus Richard Darlington had a direct influence on these achievements.
In addition, Cappelleri credits Professor John Eckenrode and research associate Jane Powers for providing a wonderful, memorable research assistantship on the Second National Incidence and Prevalence Study on Child Abuse and Neglect.
“The federal government invested one million dollars of taxpayer money to collect data on the epidemiology of child abuse and neglect in the United States,” he explained. “But no one at the time used the dataset because it was too complicated to analyze correctly. In working with John and Jane, I created a user manual on how to correctly analyze the data and, afterwards, we published a paper in the American Journal of Public Health.
“Almost everyone I came in contact at Cornell with was a lightning rod for bringing out the best of me intellectually, because they were bringing the best of themselves intellectually. It was a community of sincerity, authenticity, clarity, and some humor – you learn not to take yourself too seriously. Above all, it was a community that wanted to understand and advance the human condition.
“One of the benefits of Cornell is the type of people it attracts. They tend to be very smart, good, capable people from different fields of study. That is the power of the College of Human Ecology: students and faculty who have a passion for their respective fields and the ability to bring their research to fruition.”
Cappelleri arrived at Cornell to study statistics and biometrics, but decided it was not the best fit for him after his first year. Minoring in statistics/biometrics instead, he transferred to Human Ecology with the help of Professors Robert Babcock and Trochim.
“The time was June of 1988,” he said. “I ran into Bob Babcock, the graduate field representative, whose door was open. With a big smile on this face, Bob took me down the hall to meet Professor Bill Trochim, who embraced me as his student, and I got in. I was going to study psychometrics and applied social science research. Bill took me under his wing and he did more than that; he was most generous with his time and giving of his research and the research he thought I would like. Bill Trochim was a phenomenal advisor, is a champion of applied social science research methodology and he still remains my hero.” Based on his doctoral dissertation, he and Trochim have co-authored 11 publications on the regression- discontinuity design, which has been used in programs such as “No Child Left Behind.”
Cappelleri says the string of golden opportunities he experienced intimately at Cornell and the continued impact his Cornell education has had on his life motivated his decision to create a seven-figure endowed bequest to be divided equally between the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research and the Department of Policy Analysis and Management.
“The Cornell experience has had a profound, lasting impression on where I am today, how I think, and the opportunities I’ve had in life,” he said. “It opened gateways. Cornell was an educational mother and father to me. It is my time to give back.”