My nearly two-year tenure as interim dean of this great school of public health is winding down and it has been a pleasure and an honor to serve in this role. Thank you for your engagement, steadfast trust, and continued support! After a thoughtful search, University of Minnesota Provost Rachel Croson chose Professor Melinda Pettigrew to be our school’s new dean. I am absolutely thrilled to be passing the leadership torch to her on January 3, 2024, and I know that she will lead our school with confidence and creativity into a successful future.
As interim dean, I named six strategic initiatives that our school needed to focus on to attract a dean of Professor Pettigrew’s stature and to give that dean the strongest foundation possible for the years to come. Falling under the categories of “financial, perceptual, and cultural,” those initiatives build our fiscal stability, increase our visibility and national standing, and re-engage and unite us around our collective purpose and our commitment to antiracism.
In this issue of Advances, you’ll read about one of those initiatives, our new undergraduate public health major. We are especially excited to bring undergraduates to our school for the first time in its history and to contribute to meeting the nationwide shortage of public health workers who represent the communities they serve. You can learn about our progress in transforming our school’s culture to make all people feel welcome and comfortable. Our Strategic Plan for Antiracism (SPAR), launched in 2021, is another initiative and it leads our work as we continually adjust and assess our approach to one of the oldest and toughest challenges to public health — racism.
The cover story focuses on the work of our school to make sure people in rural areas have the opportunities for a healthy life. More than 15 percent of Minnesota’s population lives in or nearby small towns or in more remote rural areas and face challenges to their health not common to their urban counterparts. Transportation to healthcare facilities is made difficult by rough roads and very little public transit; lack of broadband access limits telehealth options; and the closing of hospitals and maternal care units puts mothers and infants at risk, to name a few of the issues. We are fortunate to have faculty and staff devoting their time to this important population.
In 2024, the School of Public Health enters its 80th year! A milestone that deserves attention and an appreciative look at what we’ve accomplished as we’ve strived to make health a human right. We’ve weathered much of the same storms as our country in the past eight decades and we are looking hard at where we can improve. We also have much to celebrate! Our future is full of promise and our potential is unlimited. I’m looking forward to where Dean Pettigrew, and our entire community, will take our innovative, diligent, and forward-thinking school in the years to come.
I hope you enjoy this issue of Advances!