Message from the acting dean: Maintaining the momentum

Acting Dean David Hunter

As I begin my new role as Acting Dean of the Faculty of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, I feel extraordinarily privileged to be leading an institution with such tremendous momentum behind its work. Much of this forward movement derives from the visionary leadership of former Dean Julio Frenk. But even as the President conducts a search for a new dean, we will not let our momentum flag.

The word “momentum” comes from Latin roots meaning “to move,” “a moving force,” “an impelling strength.” Defined in these ways, public health is the embodiment of momentum. Its cumulative research can nudge individuals toward healthy behaviors and choices. Its data-driven insights can advance policy toward the goal of equitable well-being for all. And public health’s success builds on itself, making it a formidable and trusted force that can guide wise action in times of crisis.

Our cover story on the aging society reflects the School’s growing body of research—from basic biology to social epidemiology to health policy—on a demographic trend that will bring profound changes across the world. The feature on Ellen Agler, MPH ’04, describes how an alumna’s passionate commitment to ending neglected tropical diseases has persuaded individuals, foundations, and governments to address the issue. Our interviews with Xihong Lin, our new chair of the Department of Biostatistics, and with Barbara Burleigh, professor of immunology and infectious diseases, illustrate how breakthroughs in big data and genomics have generated scientific momentum on both chronic and infectious diseases. And Harvard Chan students’ ongoing response to this spring’s earthquakes in Nepal has spurred a momentum in on-the-ground logistics and public awareness that is aiding the long recovery process.

In every department at the Harvard Chan School, the scientific enterprise carries a momentum that will not be reversed. When the search process for a dean is over, that trajectory will carry us into a new era of leadership. In the interim, I see my role as centered on the “acting” part of my Acting Dean title—focused on sustaining our momentum to improve the public’s health.


David Hunter, MPH ’85, SD ’88
Acting Dean of the Faculty
Vincent L. Gregory Professor in Cancer Prevention
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health