Whitney P. Witt received a Lehigh medallion as she is installed as dean, pictured here with Provost Pat Farrell

Whitney P. Witt Installed As Inaugural Dean of the College of Health

Provost Pat Farrell presented Witt with a Lehigh medallion during a dinner at the President's House.

Story by

Kelly Hochbein

Photography by

John Kish IV

Family, Lehigh colleagues and members of Lehigh’s Board of Trustees gathered at the President’s House on Thursday evening as Whitney P. Witt was installed as the inaugural dean of Lehigh’s new College of Health.

Provost Pat Farrell introduced Witt to attendees and presented her with the Lehigh medallion.

“The college that [Witt] will help create here will be innovative and competitive. It will launch the next generation of leaders in health care and will have the potential to change millions of lives for the better,” said Farrell. “This is a time of great opportunity, and we’re so excited about what Lehigh will be able to accomplish under Whitney’s leadership.”

Prior to her arrival at Lehigh earlier this year, Witt served as director of the Center for Maternal and Child Health Research at IBM Watson Health in North Carolina, the division of IBM that leverages advanced technology to help improve health outcomes and systems for hospitals and patients, as well as providers, insurers and researchers. A widely respected leader in public health, Witt brings to Lehigh 25 years of experience in both academia and industry. Previously, she held faculty positions at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and the Northwestern University School of Medicine. She earned both her Masters of Public Health and Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and later completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Harvard University School of Medicine. She has a B.A. from Hampshire College.

As inaugural dean, Witt will oversee the continued development of the College of Health, which will launch in Fall 2020.

Whitney P. Witt and her family talk with Lehigh President John D. Simon

Lehigh President John D. Simon talks with Witt and her family.

After expressing gratitude for the warm welcome she’s received from the Lehigh community, Witt shared her vision for the College of Health, which will be the second in the United States to offer an undergraduate degree in population health sciences.

“The stakes are high,” said Witt of the current state of health and health care, and the context into which the College of Health will be built. “We’re facing significant health and health care challenges both here in the United States and around the world.”

The development of the College, 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 is where population health comes in, where we can examine a wider range of factors that are related to health, from cell to society,” Witt said. “And population health science is really dedicated to advancing our understanding of these multiple determinants and their interactions and how they affect outcomes over one’s life course and even over generations. We need a new generation of students to be educated about these multiple determinants of health, data analytics and the translation of research into practice.”

The mission of Lehigh’s College of Health, Witt explained, will be “to understand, preserve and improve the health and well-being of populations and communities through excellence, innovation, research, education and service. My priorities and goals for the College of Health align with this mission and the university’s mission of truly interdisciplinary research and service.”

Whitney P. Witt speaks at her installation as dean.

The College of Health will incorporate cutting-edge and innovative coursework, distance learning and experiential learning, said Witt, with educational programs in epidemiology, biostatistics, social and behavioral health, and health innovation and technology—all of which will build on Lehigh’s existing strengths in bioengineering, health systems, health economics and early childhood health. The College also will leverage Lehigh’s “robust experiential and international academic culture as it prepares students for the global workplace,” she said.

“The spirit of innovation and technology will be woven into all aspects of the educational and research programs,” Witt explained. “We will make the results of our work accessible to the populations we study to facilitate deeper understanding and clear decisionmaking through creative data visualization. We also seek to draw upon the humanities to better tell the stories of our communities and the health experiences of our population through narrative and visual arts. Our students will be equipped with the knowledge, skills and expertise that they will need for leadership in health related organizations, including nonprofit organizations, governmental agencies, the private sector and academia. In the coming year, we will work together and build on the foundation to hire faculty, develop curriculum and establish meaningful partnerships, all with the goal of Lehigh will becoming a leader in education, research and service in the field of population health.”

To read more about Lehigh’s innovative new College of Health, click here.

Story by

Kelly Hochbein

Photography by

John Kish IV

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