Alumni Week 2020

Lifting Lives

Public Health Solutions for Vulnerable Populations

2020 Alumni Awardees


Established in 1992, the Alumni Award of Merit is the highest honor presented by the Alumni Association to an alumna/us of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Kathleen Kahn, MBBCh, MPH ’88, PhD
Professor of Public Health and Head, Interdisciplinary PhD Program in Public and Population Health, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa; Chief Scientist, MRC/Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit (Agincourt)

Kathleen Kahn has devoted 30 years of public health practice to advancing the health and well-being of often-marginalized rural populations in South Africa and beyond. She partners with communities, public-sector departments, and collaborating investigators to undertake excellent, ethical, and community-sensitive research and elevates rural priorities to policy and decision makers. She has been a senior adviser on issues of rural health and equity and has investigated and shed light on such divergent problems as HIV prevention, mental health, and metabolic disease, focusing on vulnerable adolescents and how to mitigate risk and foster resilience. She has highlighted issues that others have overlooked, such as the problem of young children dying before their parents—a global concern magnified in the epidemic period of HIV/AIDS. Kahn has contributed substantially to building the next generation of African researchers and is acknowledged as among the most accomplished epidemiologists and health scientists in Africa.

John Quelch, DBA ’77,  SM ’78, MBA
Leonard M. Miller University Professor and Vice Provost, University of Miami; Dean and Professor, Miami Herbert Business School; Professor, Department of Public Health Sciences, University of Miami School of Medicine

John Quelch is a bridge builder between the worlds of business and public health, leveraging his positions in business school leadership to promote his public health insights into corporate boardrooms where consideration of public health and medical issues is usually minimal. He has demonstrated a lifelong commitment to public health and applying business and marketing principles to improving public health outcomes, notably through a distinguished 30-year career as a marketing professor at Harvard Business School and later as a health management professor at the Harvard Chan School. His joint primary appointment at the two schools was a first and enabled him to design curricula that gave students from both schools, mingled together in the same classroom, an opportunity to integrate two differing mindsets in approaching important problems at the intersection of business and public health.

Judith Salerno, SM ’76, MD ’85
President, New York Academy of Medicine

Throughout her career, Judith Salerno has created and implemented strategies to improve public health and address health disparities in research, access, and treatment. In her role as president of the New York Academy of Medicine, she oversees the fellows program of several thousand health professionals elected by their peers and a research, evaluation, and policy team on topics across the lifespan, from maternal and child health to aging. True to her personal service ethic, she recently volunteered as a palliative care physician at New York’s Bellevue Hospital during the coronavirus epidemic. Among her many roles, she has served as executive director and chief operating officer of the Institute of Medicine, deputy director at the National Institute on Aging/NIH, and chief consultant for geriatrics and extended care at the national Veterans Administration, and was a decorated commissioned officer of the U.S. Public Health Service.

Kent Woods, MA, MD, SM ’83
Emeritus Professor of Therapeutics , Department of Cardiovascular Sciences, University of Leicester, U.K.

A renowned institutional leader, professor, researcher, and clinician, Kent Woods has made substantial contributions to public health, medicine, and society throughout his career. He worked in academic medicine at the University of Leicester for 20 years, investigating the efficacy, safety, and uptake of new treatments in cardiovascular medicine through both randomized and observational research designs, including important randomized trials of intravenous magnesium in acute myocardial infarction. Woods combined clinical research activity with leadership roles in the National Health Service (NHS) Research and Development Program at both the regional and the national levels. He left clinical practice in 2004 to become the first chief executive of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, a position he held until 2013. In 2011, he was knighted for his service to health care.


Kimberly Chang, MD, MPH ’15
Human Trafficking and Health Care Policy Fellow, Asian Health Services, Oakland, California; Family Physician

Kimberly Chang has spearheaded a movement and effectively created systemic change to address human trafficking as a health care issue, particularly through the federally qualified health centers (FQHCs). Chang’s practicum, which offered recommendations for FQHCs in caring for victims of human trafficking, became a springboard to motivate policymakers to implement her recommendations. Because of her work, there will now be federal government oversight on FQHCs for new quality measures on human trafficking and a new National Cooperative Agreement (the National Health Network on Intimate Partner Violence and Human Trafficking) to provide training and technical assistance to FQHCs. Chang’s compassionate vision in serving and advocating for marginalized and vulnerable populations, her critical and strategic thinking in creating change in the health care delivery system, and her ability to inspire, motivate, and uplift are having a direct impact on countless vulnerable patients at risk of or affected by human trafficking nationwide and across the globe.


Mandy Cohen, MPH ’04, MD
Secretary of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, State of North Carolina

Mandy Cohen is known for her technical and scientific knowledge, vision, communication skills, ability to influence key decision makers, compassion and empathy, commitment to inclusion and diversity, and mentoring. She tackles issues with thoughtful, collaborative, and data-driven decisions to support the health and well-being of the people of North Carolina, always leading with transparency and a commitment to operating through her values. Among Cohen’s achievements is the improvement of North Carolina’s Medicaid program, including a first-of-its-kind program to analyze social determinants of health to improve outcomes. Her strong leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic response, including her use of data and ability to communicate calmly and with empathy, compassion, and transparency, led many North Carolina citizens and elected officials to band together, such that the state has avoided any large surge in cases seen in other parts of the country.


Zain Kassam, MD, MPH ’14
Chief Medical Officer, Finch Therapeutics

Zain Kassam has meaningfully impacted public health delivery by both innovative practice and science. As the founding chief medical officer of both the nonprofit OpenBiome and spin-out Finch Therapeutics, Kassam has built the next generation of public health startups, intertwining an innovative public health approach to address a gap in care with an open-source research platform to catalyze novel science. OpenBiome is a nonprofit that provides screened, processed, standardized and ready-to-use frozen human stool for fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT). Finch Therapeutics is a public health–centric company that aspires to bring FDA-approved microbiome therapeutics and microbiome-based vaccines to patients. Kassam is a gifted educator, able to distill complex topics into simple, teachable pearls, and a compassionate human being who inspires others with his seemingly endless supply of passion and infectious enthusiasm.