Dean’s Message – January 2023
Welcome to 2023!
With the start of the new year, I am both saddened and happy to announce several key changes in the school. First, as you may have already heard, Dr. Laura Vandenberg has been named associate vice chancellor for research and engagement starting January 30th. We have been fortunate to benefit from her excellent organizational and management skills, leadership, and mentorship of our students in her role as the associate dean for undergraduate academic affairs. We wish her much success in this new position and are delighted that EHS and SPHHS will always be her academic home.
With that vacancy, we requested applications for this leadership position in SPHHS, and I am very pleased to announce that Dr. Gloria DiFulvio has been selected as our new associate dean. Gloria has previously served as the undergraduate program director for the Public Health Sciences program and in that role she has developed an in-depth understanding of undergraduate student advising, administrative responsibilities, and curriculum development. She has also led the school in its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts related to curriculum development and mentoring through a Mutual Mentoring team grant received in 2022-23 and through training as a TIDE Ambassador (Teaching for Inclusiveness, Diversity and Equity) in 2020-21. She will be an excellent addition to the leadership team in SPHHS. Please joining me in welcoming her to this new position.
Because of this transition, I have appointed Dr. Megan Patton-Lopez, senior lecturer in Nutrition and the Public Health Sciences program, as the interim undergraduate program director. Megan recently joined our faculty from Western Oregon University. Her expertise is in community nutrition, and she has an extensive track record of practice-based public health work. Thank you, Megan, for agreeing to step up in this manner.
Second, Joanna Miles, Assistant Director for Career Planning, will be leaving the SPHHS community to join the UMass Amherst Career Development and Professional Connections team in Goodell Hall in a new role as their Associate Director of Professional Transitions. We are thrilled for Joanna as she advances to this new opportunity and are grateful for all her outstanding work with our students, staff, and faculty.
Third, we lost a dear friend and former staff member in our school recently, Nicola Usher. Nicola worked in the school from April 2106-October 2019, first as a student success advisor and then as the Undergraduate Advisor for Communication Disorders before leaving for an academic advising position in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. She was instrumental in the creation of the Center for Student Success, and then moved to Communication Disorders where, besides being a well-loved resource for our students, she established a peer advising program and helped create processes to increase graduate school acceptance rates among ComDis students. Nicola is fondly remembered by staff and faculty who worked alongside of her for her intelligence, competence, and resourcefulness, and above all for her grace and kindness. Our thoughts are with her husband Dominick Usher, Senior Assistant Dean in the Commonwealth Honors College and their daughter.
As our thoughts turn toward the spring semester, I also want to note a few special events that took place during the winter session. First, several of our students had a chance to participate in the 2023 Student Forum hosted by the Massachusetts Health Policy Forum on January 10–11 on Beacon Hill. The forum is designed to give advanced graduate students in public health, medicine, and health policy direct access to the workings of state government and includes a visit to the state capital and visit with legislators. Risa Silverman, Director of the Office of Public Health Practice and Outreach in our school, accompanied the students on this trip. They summed up the experience by saying it was inspiring, informative, and comprehensive. Now that sounds like a great experience and I am delighted that our school works very closely with the Massachusetts Health Policy Forum to provide these transformational experiences to our future leaders.
Another transformational experience provided to our students during this past month was a three-week Ghana practicum. This experience provides graduate students an opportunity to actively participate in public health practice fieldwork in urban and rural areas of Ghana. Over the course of their visit, the students work on practicum projects based on the needs of their host communities. Projects are determined upon arrival in Ghana following meetings with Ghanaian health officials, community health workers, and community leaders who helped shape and determine the scope of their work. The ten students who participated will deliver short presentations about their experiences in a virtual webinar on February 13 and 15 at 8 pm EST. If you’d like to attend, please register here.
I look forward to the beginning of the upcoming semester and to seeing all of you at some point during our spring seminars or other events hosted by the school, such as the Health Innovators Challenge on March 8th and the SPHHS Research Day on April 14th.