Halcyon G. Skinner, a highly respected leader in the fields of population health, epidemiology and health data analytics, has joined Lehigh’s College of Health as associate professor and associate dean for research.
Skinner will bring to Lehigh an extensive background in both academia and industry, and joins the College after most recently serving as director of data strategy at IBM Watson Health.
“I am thrilled to welcome Dr. Hal G. Skinner to the faculty and our leadership team in the College of Health,” said Whitney P. Witt, inaugural dean of the College of Health. “He is an internationally recognized cancer epidemiologist and a leader in the development and implementation of artificial intelligence applications to address critical and emerging issues in health and healthcare. As associate dean for research, Dr. Skinner will work with college faculty and external partners to launch a robust and innovative research enterprise to support our faculty in winning extramural funding in population health. I have every confidence that his strong experience and connections across academia, government and the private sector will establish Lehigh as a leader in population health research.”
The College of Health aims to leverage population health science to understand, preserve, and improve the health and well-being of populations and communities through excellence and innovation in education, research, and service. The College will be among the first in the nation to offer an undergraduate degree in population health.
“[Dean Witt’s] vision for the College of Health is one that I believe in. At Lehigh, we have already got a great university with talented people doing a broad range of interesting work, many of whom are experts in health,” said Skinner. “The College provides a nexus for their interests, and also brings in new faculty to expand that community of scholars to share resources to do greater things. Then we will have students coming in to learn and share their perspective, igniting the interest in health further. It's really exciting to start the College from scratch and build it the way you think it should be done.”
Skinner said he appreciates the college’s focus on the teaching, research and scholarship of population health, independent of the teaching of medicine.
“All the thought and resources can go into the mission of studying, understanding, and disseminating information about population health through engagement with the community” he said. “I think that the decision to focus the College on the science of population health is tremendous advantage. And then the other advantage is we can take what has been traditionally graduate education and graduate scholarship and extend it into the undergraduate teaching realm.”
A Wealth of Experience
Skinner’s more than two decades of research have centered on the two focus areas of the College of Health: the determinants of health, and value-based payment. His early career focused on molecular epidemiology, a field of population health concerned with identifying biological determinants of disease. His more recent work at Truven Health Analytics and IBM Watson Health saw him taking on a variety of roles: He served as a consulting epidemiologist across contracts and partnerships for the U.S. and foreign governments and for private organizations domestically and internationally; was a scientific evaluator of the real-world performance of Watson for Oncology and Watson for Genomics, two artificial intelligence-based precision medicine decision support tools; and was responsible for data strategy for IBM Watson Health. In that role, Skinner evaluated IBM Watson Health’s health data portfolio and identified ways to enhance and expand it.
Previously, Skinner held positions at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Northwestern University Medical School. He earned his master’s of public health from the University of Miami and his Ph.D. in epidemiology from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He later completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard School of Public Health. Skinner has a B.A. from Wesleyan University.
“Lehigh is extremely fortunate to welcome Hal Skinner, whose background as a scholar could not be more well-suited for our focused vision for the College,” said Provost Pat Farrell. “He shares our belief that this College will become a driver for innovation and change in population health, and his leadership will be essential as we continue our efforts to build out our research infrastructure.”
Skinner said he looks forward to opportunities for interdisciplinary work with Lehigh’s colleges.
“I think that you can already see the opportunities in work that's already happening at Lehigh: There are people working on epidemiology, there are people working on community health, there are people working on health education and behavior, health policy, across the campus,” he said. “Health is an interesting realm to work in, regardless of what your original discipline was. There are additional opportunities to work across campus, because population health research shares many tools with work in other disciplines, and we share scientific values. Our data collection, data management, data analysis techniques are the same offering natural opportunities to bridge disciplines. Lehigh has the additional advantage of talented faculty with expertise in design and in manufacturing, and in dissemination of information, that will help to take ideas from the initial discovery phase into a more useful application phase.”
Skinner is also interested in leveraging cross-campus collaboration to “tell the stories” of health.
“I'm really interested in talking with people in the humanities and getting at telling the stories of the people behind the statistics,” he said. “When I talk about 40,000 people dying of pancreatic cancer in a year, that’s a big number, but what does that really mean? What is each person's experience? How do we make sense of that? Although we try and capture the narrative in science, but I think the folks in the humanities really have that nailed down a lot better. So I'm hopeful that we can bring those things together.”