Welcome Back from Dean Williams

Dear Members of the Harvard Chan School Community:

Welcome back from what I hope was a relaxing summer! This is always my favorite time of the year: a time to reconnect with colleagues, meet our newest class of inspirational students, and reaffirm our shared passion for the ever-more vital work of public health.

Before we begin a new academic year, I wanted to take time to celebrate some exciting developments that have taken shape since we last communicated in May. These developments mark a new chapter for this great school of public health.

 NextGen Public Health

“You chose the path of most resistance.”

Those words, spoken by Convocation speaker Cecile Richards back in May, have stayed with me this summer as I have worked to help our faculty and staff solidify a series of new initiatives for the School. The work—the movement—of public health demands that we always push ourselves towards finding innovative, cross-disciplinary solutions to address health challenges.

In that vein, we will be launching a series of initiatives this academic year that embody NextGen Public Health—the technologies and innovations that will propel our field through the next century. Two examples of these new initiatives are:

The Public Health Technology Hackathon and Roadmap, led by Rear Adm. Susan Blumenthal, a senior fellow with the Health Policy Program at New America, is a new collaboration with the New America Health Innovations Lab, the MIT Media Lab, the Broad Institute, and global design company IDEO. This project will convene multidisciplinary teams of diverse experts and organizations across the public, private, and academic sectors to brainstorm, generate, and prototype bold ideas and then work to move them into the real world for testing and evaluation. The overarching goal of the collaboration is to determine how technological innovation might speed the reversal of health disparities in the United States.

The Healthy Cities Initiative is a project led by Jack Spengler, Akira Yamaguchi Professor of Environmental Health and Human Habitation, and Patrick Whitney, our new professor in residence in the Department of Health Policy and Management and one of the world’s leading design experts. As part of this initiative, we are working to help design a new city outside Bangkok that incorporates sustainable practices to help model healthy urban environments for the 21st century.

These initiatives reflect my belief that seemingly intractable public health problems demand new tools and ways of thinking. They add to many ongoing collaborative projects here at the School, such as the Delta Directions Consortium, an interdisciplinary network focused on improving public health and economic development in the Mississippi Delta Region; the Biobank for Microbiome Research in Massachusetts, the goal of which is to accelerate the discovery of diagnostic and therapeutic tools for health promotion; and the NIEHS Center for Environmental Health, which studies the effects of complex environmental exposures on health.

New OER Leadership

Last month we welcomed Kristen Rozansky to Harvard Chan as our new Vice Dean for External Relations. In her role, Kristen is working with me, School leadership, and the Office of External Relations (OER) team to articulate a sustainable fundraising strategy and inspire an expansion of high-quality engagement with alumni, donors, and key public health stakeholders. She will also conceptualize new strategies for reaching out to prospective donor constituencies and work to create effective engagement opportunities for alumni, donors, and friends of the School.

Kristen’s arrival marks the cementing of a new senior leadership team in OER, as she joins Chief Communications Officer Kara Peterson. I am excited to see the vision of these two leaders come to fruition over the course of the school year.

Faculty and Staff Updates

Eric Rubin, Irene Heinz Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases (IID), has been named editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) and NEJM group. Eric will formally begin in the new role this month.

This fall we will launch new efforts resulting from the School’s Research Strategy. Over the course of the last year, many faculty and administrators have been involved in implementation planning for the Research Strategy, and I look forward to sharing more about the new strategies, platforms, and resources that we will advance.

We recently welcomed nine new faculty members to our community. They are:

Our incoming faculty for 2019–2020 are:

  • Smita Gopinath, assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases;
  • Adam Haber, assistant professor of environmental health; and
  • Sheng (Tony) Hui, assistant professor of genetics and complex diseases.

Relatedly, I am delighted to announce the launch of the new HOME (Harvard Onboarding Made Easy): Grant Concierge Program, which integrates the efforts of the Office of Faculty Affairs, the Office of Research Strategy and Development, and Research Administration with those of mentors and academic departments to provide an individualized research development support system for each new faculty member. The goal of the program is to provide a more streamlined and supportive onboarding process that will guide new faculty through their first grant submission at the Harvard Chan School. Through this program, faculty will establish strong relationships with key administrative departments, receive support and guidance to navigate the funding landscape, and garner the tools and resources needed to succeed as members of the Harvard Chan research community.

With respect to our outstanding staff, congratulations go to David Samson, senior audio-visual engineer in the Department of Information Technology, who is the winner of this year’s Summer ACE Award. David was honored for his instrumental involvement with the MPH Field Practice E-Poster Night, which he helped pilot, as well as his “dedication to the student experience” and his “calm under pressure.”

I am also pleased to announce that our Lunch and Learn Program will continue this fall. Now in its third year, this program for underrepresented minority staff is part of the School’s commitment to developing an open and inclusive environment. More information about the theme of this year’s workshops will be forthcoming.

We convened the first meeting of the Landmark Task Force in June. Members of the task force include faculty, staff, and administrators. They will collect input, identify priority areas, and develop recommendations for solutions regarding our space and administrative programs at Landmark.

New Student Fund

One of the highlights of the academic year for me is welcoming our newest class of public health scholars. Last week I had the great pleasure of speaking to our incoming class of 401 students, hailing from 37 countries. Meeting this next cohort reminded me anew how lucky we are to teach some of the world’s brightest, most inquisitive minds.

I am also pleased to announce the creation of the Harvard Chan Student Emergency Fund, a new  pilot program for the 2019–2020 academic year. The Student Emergency Fund is designed to provide temporary, short-term financial assistance to students in degree programs who are managing demanding academic requirements while struggling with emergency financial situations. This latest funding initiative goes to my strongly held belief that we must always work to remove barriers to student learning.

New Events

This year, our School will launch a series of new events that reflect the breadth and depth of our research. Our event programming begins on September 27 with a screening of The Price of Free, the award-winning documentary that follows Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi in his mission to end child labor, trafficking, and slavery. The screening will be followed by a conversation with Kailash himself. On October 10, we will host “Stigma and Access to Treatment,” the second half of a two-part summit on opioids that reflects a joint partnership between Harvard President Larry Bacow and University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel. And on October 28, we welcome New York Times Magazine contributing writer Linda Villarosa—one of the contributors to the Times’ recent, extraordinary #1619Project—and Evelynn Hammonds, chair of Harvard’s Department of the History of Science and former dean of Harvard College, for a roundtable discussion on the 400-year anniversary of U.S. slavery.

Next spring, we will also launch a new Frontiers Symposium series, featuring deep dives into our five core areas of research at the Harvard Chan School. The inaugural symposium, taking place on April 15, 2020, will be “Confronting the Climate Crisis: Choosing a Healthier Future,” featuring keynote speaker Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

These events are free and open to the public; I encourage you all to invite your friends and family.

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This summer we were confronted with some of our biggest public health threats, from gun violence to reemerging infectious diseases to the growing climate crisis. But we have all chosen this “path of most resistance” with the understanding that change is both possible and inevitable. This idea will guide us as we work to lead the broader public health conversation, proposing concrete, achievable solutions to some of our most pressing problems.

Thank you for all that you do in the service of making the world a healthier, more just, and more equitable place. I wish you all the very best for this new academic year.

Sincerely,

Michelle A. Williams, ScD
Dean of the Faculty, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health