Date September 27, 2023
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With a proclamation from the State of Rhode Island, Brown’s School of Public Health celebrates 10 years

At an anniversary kickoff event, public health faculty, staff and students were joined by government and community leaders in commemorating the school’s 10-year milestone and looking to a future of continued impact.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — It was perhaps the ultimate anniversary gift: During a celebratory event to honor a decade of impact by Brown University’s School of Public Health, Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee presented the school with an official proclamation, signed on behalf of the state.

In a surprise announcement to a crowd of hundreds of members of the public health community, McKee explained that he was offering congratulations and good luck on behalf of not only state leaders, but also the people of Rhode Island.

“So understand that all the people in the state are backing this proclamation tonight,” McKee said. “Personally, I get to sign it in recognition of Brown University School of Public Health’s 10th anniversary and gratitude for your mission towards improving the health of all populations — especially those most vulnerable — by producing world-class public health scholarship, forging strong community partnerships and educating the next generation of diverse public health leaders.”

In addition, McKee reaffirmed the state’s commitment to supporting the mission of the school into the future, and to continue partnering with faculty and students to fulfill one of his top priorities, which is to improve the health and fitness levels of people in Rhode Island.

The governor was one of the community voices and partners to join Brown leaders, students, faculty, staff, alumni and others to celebrate the impact of the School of Public Health. The Wednesday, Sept. 27, event included a discussion on the past and future of public health and a showcase of the school’s research in Rhode Island and beyond. It served as the official kickoff to a year of public health-themed conversations, seminars, lectures and community gatherings.

The Corporation of Brown University recommended a graduate program in public health in 1916, but it wasn’t until 2013 that the Corporation voted to unite the University’s public health programs into a unified School of Public Health. The school has had four deans over its inaugural decade, all of whom attended the celebration: Dean Terrie "Fox" Wetle, Dean Bess Marcus, Dean Ashish K. Jha and Ronald Aubert, who served as interim dean in 2022 and 2023.

The event marked Jha’s first public appearance at Brown since resuming leadership of the School of Public Health after serving for 14 months as White House COVID-19 response coordinator.  As the enthusiastic host of the event, he showcased the breadth and depth of the school’s impact by highlighting the innovative work of a range of faculty researchers and engaging in a discussion with Brown President Christina H. Paxson about the past, present and future of the school.

Paxson had been president of the University for two years when the School of Public Health was founded under her leadership — yet she explained that plans for the standalone school had already been well developed by the time she arrived at Brown.

“Deciding to form the School of Public Health was not a hard decision,” Paxson said. “The decision was easy because of all the work that went into developing the plans… And I'm looking at Terrie Fox Wetle here, and thinking of the many other people who really understood the importance of having an individual school. Not that there was anything wrong with being part of Brown’s medical school, but we know that for accreditation reasons, for visibility reasons, for attracting the best faculty and students… having an independent school of public health was just going to be a much better model for Brown. All I had to do was take it to the Corporation, and I don’t think anybody objected.”

By the very nature of being part of Brown, the school is truly integrated into the campus, said Paxson, who conducted her own public health research before coming to Brown. That’s what makes Brown’s School of Public Health different from those at other universities, she said: “Our School of Public Health is engaged in teaching undergraduates, graduates, master's students and Ph.D. students. It's not a siloed professional school — it's integrated into the campus in a way that is very distinctive.”

In conversation with Paxson, Jha highlighted the interdisciplinary nature of the school. While other universities talk about having an interdisciplinary culture, he said, that quality is woven into Brown’s DNA.

“The reason why that ends up being really important, and the pandemic totally showed this, is if you think about the big pressing problems of public health, they are not going to be solved by people who work inside the classic structure of public health,” Jha said. “They're going to require people working across disciplines with economics, sociology, human behavior, psychology, etc. We do that effortlessly. I think that is very, very hard elsewhere. That was one of the major things that really attracted me to this great School of Public Health and thinking about what else could we be doing with it and how do we take it to the next level.”

School of Public Health at 10


To honor the 10th Anniversary of Brown's School of Public Health, faculty members discuss the exciting past and future of public health at Brown.

At the milestone celebration on Wednesday, which took the place of the dean’s annual state of the school address, Jha shared plans and aspirations for the school, prompted by a future-oriented question from Paxson on where he saw opportunities for growth.

Jha cited climate change, public health misinformation and disinformation, pandemic preparedness and artificial intelligence as key areas of institutional focus. These would be in addition to the fundamental departments of epidemiology and biostatistics, he said, because the School of Public Health needs to be thinking long-term but also retain the ability to address emerging and enduring issues, and put resources behind them.

“We are small enough that we can say we are going to pivot our growth — a chunk of our growth, not all of it — into those new areas,” Jha said. “So part of our strategy is leaving a little bit of flexibility built in so that as new topics emerge, we can shift to those.”

Jha also restated his ambitious goal of changing the face of public health leadership in America, the impetus for the Health Equity Scholars scholarship program for master of public health students the school initiated in 2020.

Paxson has her own goals for the school for the next decade: to see Brown’s School of Public Health considered among the top five in the country; and to continue to do exceptional, highly impactful science that can be translated into the lives of people in the city, state and world.

Jha concluded the event, fittingly, with a toast to good public health.

“Please join me in raising a toast to the next 10 years of Brown’s School of Public Health and to making the world a healthier place.”