Dear YSPH Colleagues,
I am extremely honored to serve as Interim Dean of the Yale School of Public Health at the request of President Salovey. This is a critical time in the history of YSPH, and I am excited to have this opportunity to work with all of you as we move the school forward. We have much work to do.
I would like to start off by acknowledging that none of us would be here today if it weren’t for the foresight and generosity of the family of Anna M. R. Lauder. Their historic 1914 gift established the Department of Public Health at Yale (the first in the country) and the Anna M. R. Lauder Chair of Public Health, originally held by Charles-Edward Amory Winslow, the founder of the school and of the field of public health. It was a tremendous honor for me, therefore, to be named the Anna M. R. Lauder Professor of Epidemiology last year. I must also thank Dr. Curtis Patton, Professor Emeritus of Epidemiology. Dr. Patton was one of the first faculty members that I met when I arrived at YSPH in 1993 as a PhD student in what was then the Division of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases. When there is more time, I would love to tell you the story of how Dr. Patton recruited me back to YSPH as a faculty member in 2002. An outstanding researcher and early proponent of diversity, equity, and inclusion, Dr. Patton created opportunities for students, faculty, and staff of color to thrive at Yale University. I am grateful too for Dr. Paul Cleary’s mentorship. A former Dean of YSPH and now Professor Emeritus, Dr. Cleary, among many successes, affirmed and illuminated the identity of the Yale School of Public Health to our campus leaders and partners. I must also thank Dr. Sten Vermund, who empowered me to build and lead the Office of Academic Affairs over the past five years. Dr. Vermund’s enthusiasm and passion for public health education and practice have had an indelible impact on the culture and climate at our school. As the most recent Dean of YSPH, Dr. Vermund served during an incredibly challenging time, putting YSPH at the forefront of the university’s and region’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, all while establishing a world-class distance learning program and garnering unprecedented development funds in excess of $88 million. These individuals and so many faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends have laid the foundation for YSPH’s historic transition to an officially independent professional school at Yale.
Some of you may be wondering about my goals and vision for the next year. As Interim Dean, I promise I will support and advance the school’s academic, research and practice enterprises. Our work moving forward will focus on mapping out strategies for a successful transition to an independent professional school and on securing an additional $50 million in endowment funds that will allow us to obtain the maximum benefit from the university’s investment and confidence in public health at Yale.
I have been a member of the YSPH faculty for twenty years. I consider many faculty, staff, students, and alumni to be friends. As Interim Dean, I will strive to create and sustain an environment where our faculty, staff, and students feel part of a community and are empowered to discover, innovate, and affect change. We will continue with a strong and unwavering commitment to combatting racism as we will never achieve health for all until we address the injustices of racism. We will work together on navigating the transition of SARS-CoV-2 from a pandemic to endemic virus. We will expand our efforts to advocate for equitable global health responses to newly spreading pathogens such as monkeypox, “old” pathogens such as tuberculosis, and population displacement due to political instability, climate change, and war. We will continue to address planetary health, focus on chronic diseases such as cancer, and advance public health prevention across the lifespan. None of these efforts will be possible without ongoing efforts to develop and apply innovative data science approaches and methods to optimize and improve health outcomes. We need to expand the evidence base and be at the table to advocate for improved policies surrounding gun control, healthcare, and environmental pollutants. The implications of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which held that the U.S. Constitution does not confer a right to abortion, reinforce the critical importance of our work in gender and racial health equity, reproductive and sexual health and rights, and social justice. And all of this will take place with a focus on people and the context of the communities in which they live.
We will have the most impact when our teaching, practice, outreach, and advocacy efforts involve our community partners and align with our research strengths, mission, core values, and the goals and science strategy of the university. I look forward to working with you to further refine our distinctive academic, research, and practice vision and its impact on the field of public health and the communities we serve. I have ideas and I am especially interested in hearing yours. As I mentioned, we have much work to do, and I cannot think of a better and more dedicated group to engage with in this important effort. The passion of You. The promise of Yale. (our new brand identity) has added meaning as we enter this new phase together.
Melinda Pettigrew, PhD '99 (she/her/hers)
Anna M. R. Lauder Professor of Epidemiology
Interim Dean, Yale School of Public Health