Virtual Alumni Week 2020 draws global audience

Alumni Week 2020 logo

October 14, 2020 – Alumni from around the world tuned in for Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s first-ever virtual Alumni Week, held September 29 through October 3, 2020.

Amid COVID-19 restrictions, the event shifted from its traditional in-person format, held on a weekend, to a week’s worth of online programming that featured expert panels, lightning talks from individual alumni, and the presentation of the annual Alumni Awards. This year’s theme was “Lifting Lives: Public Health Solutions for Vulnerable Populations.”

At the awards presentation on September 29, four individuals received the Alumni Award of Merit, the highest honor presented to alumni: Kathleen Kahn, MPH ’88; John Quelch, DBA ’77,  SM ’78; Judith Salerno, SM ’76, MD ’85; and Kent Woods, SM ’83. In addition, the Leadership in Public Health Practice Award went to Mandy Cohen, MPH ’04; the Public Health Innovator Award to Zain Kassam, MPH ’14; and the Emerging Public Health Professional Award to Kimberly Chang, MPH ’15.

Live panel discussions, presented September 3o through October 2 and available to watch on demand, included:

A Crisis Compounded: How the Global Pandemic Is Creating Greater Humanitarian Challenges.” Experts discussed how the global pandemic is widening health disparities and worsening health outcomes among vulnerable and at-risk populations. Panelists included Mary Bassett, director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University and FXB Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights at Harvard Chan School; David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee; and Subramaniam Sathasivam, former Malaysian minister of health, who will serve as Richard L. and Ronay A. Menschel Senior Leadership Fellow at Harvard Chan School in spring 2021. Howard Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership at Harvard Chan School and Harvard Kennedy School, was the moderator.

The Next Great Frontier: COVID Vaccine Development.” Experts discussed health equity and vaccine development, the role of the immune system in vaccine development, the race to develop a vaccine, and vaccine hesitancy. Panelists, all from Harvard Chan School, included Jaap Goudsmit, adjunct professor of epidemiology and infectious diseases and senior vice president and chief scientific officer at the Human Vaccine Project; Albert Hofman, Stephen B. Kay Family Professor of Public Health and Clinical Epidemiology and chair of the School’s Department of Epidemiology; Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology and faculty member at the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics; and Julia Wu, SD ’13, a research scientist in the Department of Epidemiology. The discussion was moderated by Sri Sastry, MPH ’90, an ophthalmologist and chair of the School’s Board of Dean’s Advisors.

Stories from Across the Globe: International COVID Response.” This panel offered a global perspective on the COVID-19 pandemic work of several Harvard Chan alumni. Panelists included Lucas de Toca, MPH ’13, A/g first assistant secretary in the Australian Department of Health; Bhargavi Rao, MPH ’05, clinical team lead for COVID and malaria and infectious diseases at Médecins Sans Frontières; and Mohammad AlSeaidan, SD ’16, head of the Environmental Health Department in the Kuwaiti ministry of health. The moderator was Jennifer Bishop, SD ’09, senior adviser in the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and member of the Alumni Weekend Committee.

The final day of Alumni Week featured prerecorded lightning talks called “Alumni Stories from the Field.” The presentations included “Why Innovation Matters,” by Jeffrey Blander, SM ’00, SM ’04, SD ’08; “Surgical Innovation Under Pressure,” by Mary Brindle, MPH ’13; “Supporting Data-Driven COVID-19 Response in Eight Countries,” by Bethany Hedt-Gauthier, SM ’05, PhD ’08; “Right to Health and Right to Home: How COVID-19 Exacerbated the Broken U.S. Housing System,” by Ferahnaz Kahyaoglu, MPH ’04; “The Intersection of Who I Am and What I Do,” by Rasha Khoury, MPH ’13; “Girls Health Champions: Youth-Led Health Education During the Pandemic,” by Priya Shankar, MPH ’17; and “COVID-19: Providing Value with Values,” by Swati Piramal, MPH ’92, a member of the School’s Board of Dean’s Advisors.

“The successful transition from the typical in-person Alumni Weekend to a virtual Alumni Week enabled alumni from around the world to view the programming and participate as speakers,” said David Rogers, director of alumni affairs. “For the first time, no matter where they were in the world, all alumni were able to celebrate the accomplishments of the Alumni Association’s award recipients, watch the live panels, and present lightning talks. The event was a wonderful global experience.”