Faculty and Staff Features

10 fun facts about Dean Primack

Get to know the new leader of Oregon State’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

Brian Primach giving a TedMed talk about using video game design to create changes in health behavior. 

By Kathryn Stroppel

Actor, video game developer, doctor and teacher are just a few titles associated with Dean Brian Primack. Read on to learn more about Brian’s background and interests.  

1. He was born in New York City and fled Uganda at age 5. 

His father, Aron, an oncologist, worked for the U.S. Public Health Service, and Brian spent his earliest years in Uganda. The family was forced to flee the country in 1973 after Idi Amin came to power. His family includes wife, Jen, a social worker and fabric artist; 18-year-old son, Micah, who is a first-year student at the University of Oregon; 15-year-old daughter, Sadie, a sophomore at Corvallis High School; his mom, Karen, a retired civil rights and child protection lawyer; and younger sister, Gretchen, a poet. 

2. He has degrees from both Harvard and Yale. 

He studied human development, education and psychology for his master’s degree from Harvard University in 1993. He earned his undergraduate degrees in English literature and mathematics from Yale, where he graduated magna cum laude in 1991. 

3. He was nearly a psychiatrist. 

He enrolled in medical school at Emory University to study psychiatry, but he decided to pursue family medicine instead. He graduated first in his medical school class. 

4. He taught junior high math and physical education in Niger. 

He moved back to Africa after earning his undergraduate degree and taught at the International School of Niamey.  

5. He’s an actor. 

While teaching remedial mathematics at the University of Maryland, he was acting on the side, including playing Romeo in Romeo and Juliet and being part of a professional improv comedy group called Psychochuckles.  

6. He spent nearly 20 years at the University of Pittsburgh. 

His PhD from the University of Pittsburgh focused on public health and translational science. During his professional experience at Pitt, he was named dean of its Honors College in 2017, served as assistant vice chancellor across Pitt Health Sciences, and was founder and director of its Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health. 

7. He was a Razorback. 

He left Pitt to become dean of the College of Education and Health Professions and the Henry G. Hotz endowed professor at the University of Arkansas. The college included more than 6,000 students in public health, kinesiology, K-12 education, nursing, counseling, occupational therapy, speech therapy, adult and community education, and athletic training. 

8. He’s a fan of retro video games — and is making his own. 

He and his son built an old-fashioned arcade so they could play Tempest, Pac-Man, Galaga, Centipede, Frogger and similar games. He’s creating a video game to teach kids about ecology and biodiversity called Animal Anarchy. In 2014, he gave a TedMed talk about using video game design to create changes in health behavior. 

9. His family rocks. 

His daughter Sadie plays the ukulele and the drums, his son Micah plays the mandolin and banjo, and he plays guitar. Some favorite artists include Brandi Carlile, the Avett Brothers, Watchhouse, the Indigo Girls and Rosanne Cash. The family band volunteered monthly at senior living homes in Pennsylvania and Arkansas for many years. 

10. He may give Wordle a run for its money. 

His guilty pleasure is word games, and he created a pencil-and-paper game similar to Wordle more than 25 years ago. He’s currently developing it into an app called GoodWords.