Message from the Dean: Thought and Action

Photo of Dean Williams
Ben Gebo / Harvard Chan

This issue of Harvard Public Health highlights problem solvers: distinguished faculty and alumni from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who are applying their knowledge on the front lines, delivering practical solutions to some of today’s most challenging issues. Their efforts underscore the timeless public health mission of translating science into action. Put simply, they are not only thinkers, they are doers.

Their work also happens to reflect the five Harvard Chan Frontiers, the School’s target areas for generating breakthroughs that will lift lives on a world scale. As California’s first surgeon general, Nadine Burke Harris, MPH ’02, is launching a revolution by putting in place universal screening in doctors’ offices for early childhood adversity—a vision that places her at the Frontier of Cultivating Well-being and Nutrition. John Rich, MPH ’90, has staked out the Frontier of Overcoming Violence, with decades of work on healing the complicated effects of trauma among black youth. At the Frontier of Conquering Epidemics, Caroline Buckee, associate professor of epidemiology, has tracked the spread of lethal epidemics and has rigorously calculated the public health toll of natural disasters, using both high- and low-tech tools. Christopher Golden, assistant professor of nutrition and planetary health, is carving out the Frontier of Confronting Climate Change with his long-term collaborations in Madagascar. And at the Frontier of Reimagining Aging, Robert Farese, Jr., chair of the Department of Molecular Metabolism, has conducted bench science and genomic research that has illuminated the connections between lipids and aging.

These thinkers and doers are changing the face of public health. In our profession, of course, we need not construct a false dichotomy of thinking versus doing. As our field evolved, it always kept these two areas of activity close to each other. Our success springs from clear and dynamic links across the spectrum of disease assessment, study design, implementation, and outcome evaluation. Indeed, public health shines when its practitioners work harmoniously across the thinking-and-doing continuum.

In this annual donor issue of the magazine, I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to the School’s many contributors, whose generosity has made possible both the science and the actions that fuel public health. Every day, I feel a sense of urgency about our shared mission. Part of that urgency stems from the fact that there is no time to waste in solving the myriad problems that the Harvard Chan School has chosen to address. Part of it also stems from the energy, enthusiasm, and commitment that our students bring to the public health enterprise. As our challenges multiply, they are the thinkers and doers of the future.

Michelle A. Williams, ScD ’91
Dean of the Faculty, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Angelopoulos Professor in Public Health and International Development, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Kennedy School