Bess Marcus


Bess H. Marcus, PhD served as the second dean of the Brown University School of Public Health from 2017-2020, succeeding inaugural dean Terrie Fox Wetle. In 2020, she returned to a full-time teaching and research role as Professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences.

Under her leadership, the School created a comprehensive and inclusive strategic plan, Advancing Well-Being for All, that positioned the School to fulfill its mission, vision, and values by impacting urgent health challenges, improving health equity, and optimizing the health outcomes of future generations.

She led the expansion of the School’s research portfolio as it rose to the number six ranking among public health schools in National Institutes of Health funding. Some of the other signature research achievements during her tenure included the appointment the School’s inaugural Associate Dean for Research, a new catalyst grant program to inspire innovative interdisciplinary projects, expansion of the Mindfulness Center, and the School receiving the largest grant in the history of Brown University to develop the IMPACT Collaboratory.

Dr. Marcus helped the School establish a large and diverse community of supporters and team of community partners, including strong relationships with the Rhode Island Department of Health, an actively engaged Advisory Council and Community Advisory Board, and a network of proud and energized alumni.

She also made it a priority to enhance the School’s profile and impact through an increased number of events and co-sponsorships with groups including other Brown schools and departments, news media outlets, and local nonprofit organizations. One of her key initiatives was to grow the School’s suite of programming to celebrate National Public Health Week, which includes the annual Barnes Lecture, panel presentations, community wellness offerings, and the flagship Public Health Research Day.

The School’s accomplishments under Dr. Marcus culminated in a ranking among the top 10% of schools and programs of public health by US News & World Report the first year it was eligible for the rankings in 2019.

Dr. Marcus first arrived at Brown as a postdoctoral scholar in 1988 after earning her master’s degree and Ph.D. in clinical psychology at Auburn University. After five years as an assistant professor, she became an associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior in 1995 and then a full professor in 2000. In 2004, she became director of the Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine at the Miriam Hospital, an affiliated hospital partner for Brown. In 2007, Marcus joined the faculty of Brown’s Department of Community Health and remained on the faculty when the department became the School of Public Health in 2013.

When the opportunity arose in 2011 for Marcus to become chair of the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California San Diego, she remained an adjunct professor at Brown to facilitate ongoing collaborations with Brown researchers. UCSD appointed Marcus as the School of Medicine’s inaugural senior associate dean for public health in 2014.

In that role, she created the Institute for Public Health, promoted public health research and education activities across campus, and supervised the medical school’s public health degree offerings. She oversaw the establishment of a bachelor of science in public health, the first undergraduate degree offered by the School of Medicine, a doctoral degree program in biostatistics, and a master of public health program.

For more than 30 years, Dr. Marcus has conducted research on physical activity behavior, and she has published more than 275 articles on this topic. Throughout her career, she has supervised, mentored and advised scores of students and taught hundreds more. Dr. Marcus developed a series of assessments for understanding the stages and processes of exercise behavior change, and has also developed interventions to promote moderate-intensity physical activity in community, workplace, and primary care settings.

She has regularly participated in panels for the American Heart Association, American College of Sports Medicine, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and National Institutes of Health, which have created recommendations and guidelines on the quantity and intensity of physical activity necessary for health benefits. Dr. Marcus serves on the Board of Directors for the National Physical Activity Plan Alliance, the Editorial Board of the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, and the International Editorial Board of the Journal of Mental Health and Physical Activity. Dr. Marcus is actively involved as Principal Investigator or Co-Investigator on 8 NIH grants on physical activity behavior. Her work increasingly focuses on promoting physical activity in underserved and vulnerable populations.

In addition to her master’s and doctoral degrees from Auburn, Marcus holds a bachelor of arts in psychology from Washington University in St. Louis.