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Administrative Director Melanie Elliot exemplifies what makes YSPH special

June 27, 2022
by Fran Fried

Melanie Elliot, quiet and low-key by nature, is not one to seek the spotlight. She prefers to go about her business and let the students and faculty she works with shine.

Come November, Elliot will mark her 20th anniversary as the Yale School of Public Health’s administrative director for graduate student affairs. In all, she has worked at the university for more than 27 years – as a career counselor in the Office of Career Strategy (then called University Career Services) and in human resources as a staffing representative for the library system.

Director of Graduate Studies Christian Tschudi said Elliot’s dedication and concern for students at the Yale School of Public Health (YSPH) have led her to be known affectionately as the ‘mother’ of the program.

“Melanie is one of those rare individuals who carry out her job with unconditional dedication and passion,” said Tschudi, the John Rodman Paul Professor of Epidemiology (Microbial Diseases). “Melanie is a core example of what makes YSPH special. She builds rapport between students, she cares deeply about them, and she is a reliable source of institutional knowledge and support. She does a million things behind the scenes that allow the PhD and MS programs to excel.”

Sappho Gilbert, a PhD candidate in the Department of Chronic Disease Epidemiology, also cited Elliot’s passion, especially in planning events for students and faculty.

“Melanie is an irreplaceable font of positivity, creativity, and institutional knowledge for those of us in the PhD and MS programs,” she said. “She supports us from the time we are merely YSPH applicants, over each and every hurdle throughout our coursework and research, and all the way to graduation. Melanie's care for the YSPH community is infectious and creates the most inviting, inclusive, and invigorating space for students, staff and faculty alike.”

When asked what her everyday duties entail, Elliot said, “It’s difficult to answer this question. This is why I love this job. I learn something new almost every day. The students, faculty, and staff at YSPH are the best colleagues I could ever imagine having.”

Her core duties center around students.

“My day-to-day responsibilities include overseeing the students’ academic progress and ensuring they are meeting the requirements of their degree and working with faculty and students if there are issues to resolve regarding their progress,” she explained. “Chris [Tschudi] and I meet regularly to discuss student issues, student progress, etc. Chris is one of the best directors of graduate studies at the university – he cares about the students and spends a lot of time getting to know them so that they feel comfortable coming to him with their concerns.”

Elliot also oversees the Teaching Fellow program at YSPH. She helps MS students secure internships if they need one and she works closely with the Office of International Students & Scholars helping to resolve any issues international students might face in coming to YSPH.

“I spend a lot of time meeting with students – sometimes as a ‘sounding board’ because they are having a difficult time and they are not sure how to handle it,” Elliot said.

It is a job that has expanded exponentially in terms of the number of students who come through her office. When Elliot started at YSPH, she said there were 60 students in both the PhD and MS programs, five degree-granting PhD programs, and one degree-granting MS program – Biostatistics. This fall, approximately 250 students will be enrolled in six degree-granting PhD programs and four MS programs.

Helping students navigate their graduate studies while balancing the demands of everyday life is both challenging and rewarding, Elliot said.

“Our PhD students are here for 4-6 years and have a lot of life issues while here – marriage, children, aging parents, etc. – so there is a multitude of events that we help them through,” Elliot said. “Many of our MS students are international students, which allows me to learn about different cultures. During the peak of the pandemic, students living in their home country were challenged with virtual learning in a different time zone. Helping these students with these challenges was our priority and it has been rewarding to see their progress as we return to normal.”

Elliot said she finds great satisfaction in helping others achieve their goals.

“Getting to know the students and faculty is the most rewarding aspect of my job,” she said “Students and faculty at YSPH are brilliant, and at the same time, great people who care about others and like to enjoy life. It’s very rewarding to see the students’ progress and the excitement they have when a paper is published, or they receive an award for their work.”

Submitted by Colin Poitras on June 27, 2022