November 3, 2022—Amanda Jahan, special projects manager in the Dean’s Office, received Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Summer 2022 Acknowledging Commitment and Excellence (ACE) Award. Presented twice each academic year, the award acknowledges a staff member or team who has made an extraordinary effort in the workplace. Jahan was recognized for her many contributions during a year when COVID-19 made everything more challenging. Nominations are now open for the Winter award.
What first drew you to Harvard Chan School?
I remember visiting Harvard on a middle school trip and just falling in love with it. Later, when I learned more about the School of Public Health specifically, I thought it sounded like a special thing to be part of—a place with a powerful mission, where I could really see the impact every day.
How long have you been here and what have your roles been?
Since January of 2014—first in the Dean’s Office, where I supported Dean Frenk, Acting Dean Hunter, and Dean Williams, and then in the Office of Communications. I came back to the Dean’s Office in the spring of 2020 to help our academic dean Jane Kim and former administrative dean Katie Hope get started in their new roles in the middle of COVID craziness.
You joined the School’s COVID-19 working groups early in the pandemic. What was the role of those groups?
When I joined, we were responsible for helping guide the process for units to return to campus. The wet labs came back in June 2020, then the dry labs and the student facing units followed, and finally our administrative staff. We helped develop and manage policies around things like testing protocols and how labs should structure their schedules to meet distancing requirements. Guidance was always changing, so I had to stay on top of it and help folks understand what each new policy meant. It was a lot, but it was fascinating.
The whole pandemic period was obviously unsettling and difficult in a million ways. Being connected to a group of people who have been guiding us all towards better health was empowering and stabilizing. It felt like a lifeline in a time when I really needed it, and I imagine that a lot of other people did, too.
Were you surprised that you got the ACE award?
I was very surprised —and deeply honored. It was actually announced during a COVID working group meeting. I really love that people take the time to celebrate each other here.
The nomination statements for your ACE Award highlighted your work on last spring’s graduation, where we had not only the usual School and University ceremonies, but also special on-campus events to celebrate the pandemic Classes of 2020 and 2021. Also challenging was that Dean Williams tested positive for COVID-19 just days before everything began. What stands out for you during that hectic time?
This year was my first time working on graduation! I got to work alongside Mary Jane Curran and Operations, and folks in Communications, Education, Alumni Affairs, Security, IT, the Registrars Office, and Student Affairs. It was a powerful reminder to me that we’ve got really good people here. Everyone was so committed to making it special for the students.
COVID was very much a reality, as it still is. So, the week before, at a planning session, we talked about contingency plans specifically for our speakers. What would happen for instance if, God forbid, Dean Williams fell ill? In that case, Dean Kim would deliver the remarks, Dean Driver-Linn would step in for Dean Kim’s prior role, and so on. So, I asked for a backup version of the remarks, modified for Jane, with the Dean’s personal anecdotes taken out. We received them on Monday morning, and that afternoon we found out that Dean Williams had tested positive. It was wild, but the team was able to pivot so quickly. Dean Williams delivered powerful remarks to our graduates as she recovered at home and Dean Kim led the ceremonies beautifully. But, yeah, that drove home the importance of always having a contingency plan.
It’s something amazing to be able to look back on. At the start of the ceremony at the Reggie Lewis Center, I was upstairs with the faculty watching the students process out, looking so proud. I thought, ‘This is why we do what we do.’
Were you able to take some time to recover over the summer?
After graduation was over, my husband and I went to California for two weeks to visit family. And we’ve been going on day trips. I love just picking a town and wandering around a neighborhood with no plans. But I always plan my road trip playlists. I’m very good at making them very specific to the time of day and the vibe.
What are you excited about working on this academic year?
Right now, at the Harvard Chan School, we’re recalibrating for the hybrid environment. That’s the reality now for meetings, events, and classes, but what does that look like when we do it well? How do we design an equally dynamic experience for those physically present and those remote? And what do these changes mean for community engagement at large?
I’m in a part-time evening MBA program at Boston University, which I started in January 2020, so I’ve seen what it’s like to be a student going from 100% in person to 100% remote and then hybrid. You have to be intentional about it and think about how people are engaging with the material and with one another. My undergraduate degree was in education, so I’ve been excited to look at these questions around what works and what doesn’t.
Photo: Kent Dayton