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Letter from the Dean

A Century of Leadership

In 1914, Columbia University made the visionary commitment to be one of the first universities in the United States to formalize the science, education, and practice of public health. An influenza pandemic struck soon afterward, and Columbia’s Institute of Public Health launched in 1922. Its mission: to develop the scientifically based knowledge needed to prevent disease, disability, and injury and to improve health; to partner with society to create solutions; and to educate a superb workforce.

It is humbling to think that what began with a single student has grown to be one of the world’s most highly regarded and impactful schools of public health. Along the way, we have educated generations of scientists and leaders, advanced groundbreaking discoveries, and developed solutions to protect and improve the health of diverse communities across cities, countries, and continents. The lessons we’ve learned locally and globally have benefited the world and our beloved New York City.

Public health is responsible for adding 25 of the more than 30 years of increased life span humans have enjoyed in the past 100 years. Columbia Mailman School has made countless contributions to this success. Our community of changemakers— scientists, educators, practitioners, and advocates—has led global efforts to advance health at every age, launched the world’s first multicountry HIV care and treatment program, identified thousands of emerging pathogens, exposed the dangers of pollutants, improved maternal and child survival, prevented chronic diseases, and developed advanced analytics to predict and control the spread of COVID-19. But our work is far from over.

This great school of public health has the power to create solutions to grave 21st century challenges, while continuing to lead on entrenched issues. From the health impacts of the changing climate and food systems to the need for transformed pandemic preparedness, prevention, and response; from threats to mental health, resilience, and social capital to the need to ensure access to health equity and enable our now-longer lives to be lived in good health—the world’s most pressing public health challenges are no less than existential threats. These threats are, notably, human-created and require science-based solutions at scale.

The Columbia Mailman School is steadfast in our commitment to building the necessary knowledge and science and to developing solutions for these threats and much more. We are preparing future leaders to think expansively, to work across disciplines, and to harness the rapid changes in science to transform health.

Public health, from discovery to practice, is the basis of a successful society. We need all sectors—and all of you—to join us as we take on the challenges of our School’s second century. If we succeed, we could change the trajectory of health and health resilience on Earth. Humans and our planet would thrive. As we reflect on our School’s Centennial, it is clear that our incredible history has prepared us to meet this extraordinary moment in public health.

Dean Linda P. Fried, MD, MPH