For years, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine researchers in the Division of Public Health have been working with Flint community partners to improve the health of the community, improve access to health care, reduce health disparities and advance policies and interventions that aim to eliminate structural racism in health care.
And every step of the way, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation has been a visionary partner by providing the funding for space and endowed faculty positions. The support from the Mott Foundation has allowed MSU to invest in public health researchers seeking community-minded solutions to tackle issues like the Flint Water Crisis and the coronavirus pandemic. Over the past seven years the MSU’s Division of Public Health has brought in more than $115M in federal research funding for these efforts.
Now, the university is creating its first fully philanthropically named department in recognition of this long-term support, as MSU seeks to expand its efforts to recruit top talent. The expanded academic unit in Flint will allow for significant growth in faculty as well as increased community programming. Today, the MSU Board of Trustees approved the new department during its Dec. 16 meeting.
“We appreciate Charles Stewart Mott Foundation’s partnership as we work together with communities to improve the health and well-being of our residents in Michigan and across the nation,” said MSU Interim President Teresa K. Woodruff, Ph.D. “Coupling education with medical research to improve health outcomes in underserved communities is a critical part of MSU’s Health Sciences mission. This expansion of our program will further groundbreaking discoveries and help expand the number of Spartan health care experts ready to provide quality, compassionate care to patients everywhere.”
“We’re proud to acknowledge the Mott Foundation’s commitment by announcing the newly named Charles Stewart Mott Department of Public Health,” said Aron Sousa, M.D., dean of the MSU College of Human Medicine, which houses public health. “This new department further elevates our public health research profile, expands facilities, and strengthens our ability to recruit the best and brightest to MSU.”
Until now, public health has been a division within the college. This change in designation to a department allows for the direct hire of tenure-track faculty, which administrators say is key to attracting and retaining a core of National Institutes of Health researchers, enticing talented early career investigators and encouraging community-participatory research interventions.
The effort is also important for the university’s strategic plan, said Norman J. Beauchamp Jr., M.D., executive vice president for MSU Health Sciences.
“We have discovered that the best approach to expanding health and healing is to work in partnership with communities,” Beauchamp said. “Our charge across Health Sciences is to build and deepen trust with those we work to serve, research to identify solutions and assist in implementing those ideas.”
“We hope this new department, and the talent it will help recruit, will allow us to expand our work, serve more people and replicate our model of community-engaged research in more communities across Michigan,” Beauchamp added.
A year ago, the Mott Foundation granted $25 million to MSU to expand its presence in Flint with the goal of securing about 18 tenure-track faculty, increasing the total number of faculty in Flint to nearly 70.
In 2012, MSU’s College of Human Medicine received $2.8 million in grants from Mott to pursue the expansion of medical education in Flint and to discover areas of research interest for the community’s most pressing public health needs. Later, Mott added $9 million in endowment grants, which were used to recruit the first six endowed faculty in the public health division. Additional grants from Mott to the Foundation for the Uptown Reinvestment Corporation supported renovation of the former Flint Journal Building, which houses MSU faculty and staff from the then-Division of Public Health, the Master of Public Health Program, and the College of Human Medicine Flint campus for medical education.
“Departmental status opens growth opportunities to serve the community of Flint and other communities throughout Michigan. Michigan State University will continue to promote health equity for all, focusing on community-identified research interventions, developing a diverse and inclusive public health workforce, and influencing national policy that affects health outcomes,” said Wayne R. McCullough, Ph.D., interim chair of the new department.
“Public health has become increasingly important. With so much work yet to be done eliminating health disparities, this division becoming the Charles Stewart Mott Department of Public Health is empowering and exciting.”
The new department will continue to work on the areas of focus established by the Flint Public Health Research Advisory Committee, including research on behavioral health, chronic disease management and health behavior — all through a health equity lens.