Faculty, staff, students and administrators gathered on Wednesday afternoon in the STEPS building concourse to welcome Whitney P. Witt, inaugural dean of the College of Health. Witt, formerly the director of the Center for Maternal and Child Health Research at IBM Watson Health in North Carolina, assumed her role at Lehigh on Jan. 31.
Lehigh Community Welcomes Whitney P. Witt, Inaugural Dean of the College of Health
Members of the Lehigh community gathered at a reception to welcome Witt and hear her vision for the College of Health.
“A big part of starting any new endeavor is getting the right kind of leadership on board,” Farrell said. “That often takes quite a while, both for us to figure out what kind of leadership we are looking for and what we think we need, and then, how do we find the right people out there, the right person, who can see the opportunities we see, [who] probably sees more opportunity than we see? Of course, that’s what you really want in leadership: not just what I might have thought was possible, but beyond what I might have thought was possible. We’re really lucky to have found Whitney, and we’re lucky that she’s decided that this is the place she wants to come and help us.”
Witt, who will oversee the continued development and eventual launch of the College of Health, a critical element of Lehigh’s Path to Prominence strategic plan and a core funding initiative for GO: The Campaign for Lehigh, shared her appreciation for the commitment of the Lehigh community.
“Many of you have given time, attention and hard work to the development of the College,” she said, acknowledging the select faculty committee that identified the College’s two priority areas—innovations in value-based care and the biological and social determinants of health—and the six working groups that conducted interviews and generated recommendations.
“I was really struck by the [working groups’] thoughtfulness and thoroughness and their commitment to serve as a resource and a support for the College in this next phase of development,” Witt said.
Witt then discussed her working vision for the new College, which, she said, is informed by three factors: an increasing awareness of the non-clinical factors related to health outcomes, the availability of a growing abundance of data on the factors that produce health, and a push to enhance workforce development for biomedical data science. This third factor, Witt said, is particularly timely as Lehigh prepares to launch a new College to focus on producing population health scientists.
Population health, Witt explained, is the science of understanding the multiple determinants of health, and it allows for the examination of “a wider range of risk factors for the outcomes from cell to society, as opposed to just focusing on health care.”
Lehigh’s College of Health, Witt said, will respond to the need for a “new generation of students educated about the multiple determinants of health and data analytics and the translation of this research into practice.” The College, she said, will be just the second in the U.S. to offer an undergraduate degree in population health science, and it will be unique in its incorporation of a global health perspective. It will purposefully build on Lehigh’s existing strengths in engineering, education, humanities, the arts and business, and will focus on health innovation and technology. The College of Health will also develop productive external partnerships, Witt said.
Witt said she plans in the coming year to hire new faculty, develop curriculum and establish partnerships, “with the goal that Lehigh will become a leader in education, research and service in the field of population health.” She also encouraged the involvement of the campus community.
“I do want to add that the College of Health is not my College,” she said. “It’s our College. And so...for those of you who have been involved in the College of Health and [its] development, I want to encourage you to stay involved, and for those of you who have not gotten involved, I invite you to join us, because it is our College and we are one Lehigh.”