The Shortell Era: Defining Moments of a Transformational Decade

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The Shortell Era: Defining Moments of  Transformation Decade

Dean Stephen Shortell served as the School’s ninth dean from July 2002 to June 2013, a period marked by challenge and resilience. During this time, UC Berkeley and the School of Public Health experienced some of the most severe budget shortfalls in the history of the University.

“By far the greatest challenge was dealing with the financial cutbacks during the period of 2008 to 2010,” says Shortell about his time as dean. But the hardships only made the accomplishments more remarkable. Under Shortell’s leadership and with the contributions of faculty, staff, students, and key advisers, the School emerged from the global recession stronger, more focused, and prepared to address the emerging health challenges of the 21st century and beyond.

Without question, one of Shortell’s defining achievements over the past 11 years was the successful recruitment of 21 faculty members across all disciplines in public health. Together with professors already in place, these scholars form the face and the future of the School.

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Professor Emeritus Sheldon Margen speaks at the naming ceremony for the Sheldon Margen Public Health Library. (2004)

“When I was first considering the School, one of the things that impressed me most was the extraordinary faculty,” says Dean Stefano Bertozzi, who began serving as the School’s 10th dean in September 2013. “The people Dean Shortell brought in during his tenure have the potential to be transformational.” Some of the faculty members were brought on board to replace retirements or other separations, while others filled new positions on the growing faculty. The successful recruitment of Barbara Laraia and Kristine Madsen in 2011 reinvigorated the School’s Public Health Nutrition program—an area that had previously been without full-time faculty for several years.

“Faculty are the lifeblood of any School and I am extremely proud of each of the 21 faculty members that I and my colleagues had the privilege of recruiting over the past eleven years,” says Shortell. “It has been great to see their careers develop at Berkeley.”

Many of the professors recruited under Shortell’s tenure have already risen to positions of leadership within the School. Associate professor Lisa Barcellos, who joined the School in 2003, chairs the School’s Committee on Teaching Excellence, and Henry J. Kaiser Professor of Health Economics William Dow, also a Shortell recruit, is the current head of the Division of Health Policy & Management. The two of them served as faculty representatives on the Dean Search Committee last year.

“A powerful comparative advantage of the UC Berkeley School of Public Health compared to other major schools is its close intellectual linkage with the larger campus—in my case the relationships with other social scientists on campus have been a tremendous asset,” says Dow. “This is something that Steve Shortell helped to sell me on when he first recruited me, and I appreciate how hard he worked to continue to strengthen these ties.”

The School’s student body has continued to impress and, importantly, it has grown substantially more diverse. When Shortell became dean in 2002, underrepresented minorities made up only 9 percent of the student body. By 2012, that figure had increased to 25 percent.

“A primary motivator was to better meet the needs of California, one of the most diverse states in the country,” says Shortell, with regard to the focus on diversity in enrollment. “Another was to reduce inequities in access to higher education, and increase the opportunities to improve public health by drawing on the skills of all people who are qualified to do graduate-level work.”

“Many of us felt at the time that an undergrad major would stimulate interest in public health among the students. And I think it has done that.”

Shortell credits the joint efforts of students, staff and faculty members for this success. “And in particular, director of diversity Abby Rincón and the Center for Public Health Practice have played an important role in this increase,” he says.

The changing face of student education

A number of advancements in student education, large and small, occurred during the past 11 years. Many involved increased collaboration with others on the Berkeley campus, including the establishment of a concurrent degree program with the Graduate School of Journalism in 2011. But two advancements stand out in particular as cutting edge, visionary, and truly exemplary of the Shortell era: The reestablishment of the undergraduate major in public health and the creation of the On-Campus/Online Professional MPH Degree Program.

2005 The School's Volunteer Mobilization Day was established in 2005 to give incoming public health graduate students the opportunity to be involved directly with the Berkeley community and begin their leadership training as soon as they arrive. Before the start of each academic year, new students spend the afternoon performing public service at nonprofit organizations throughout Berkeley.

The School’s Volunteer Mobilization Day was established in 2005 to give incoming public health graduate students the opportunity to be involved directly with the Berkeley community and begin their leadership training as soon as they arrive. Before the start of each academic year, new students spend the afternoon performing public service at nonprofit organizations throughout Berkeley. (2005)

The School had been without an undergraduate major for decades before the development of a new undergraduate program in 2003. Under the leadership of Professor Steve Selvin, the major was reinstituted, with the goals of increasing the School’s presence on the UC Berkeley campus and enhancing the School’s training offerings.

“Many of us felt at the time that an undergrad major would stimulate interest in public health among the students,” said Professor Bill Satariano, who chairs the Undergraduate Management Committee. “And I think it has done that.”

The major was immediately popular among the undergraduate students, and in fact one of the biggest challenges the program faced was how to keep up with the growth in demand.

“The enrollment limit was first intended to be 100 students, which at that time was considered enough to meet demand; however, since then it has grown to 350,” says Tony Soyka, who has served as the academic adviser for the program since its inception. “We’ve also added courses to keep up, the latest being a very popular biostatistics course.”

Since 2003, more than 1,200 students have graduated with bachelor’s degrees in public health. Soyka plans to work with Satariano and Bertozzi to secure more financial support for the program to be able to offer additional courses and internships for hopefully an increasing number of students.

“I believe it’s an ideal undergraduate major,” says Satariano.”It’s multidisciplinary and addresses important topics, such as the relationship between science and policy. It really is a great program.”

The impetus to create a largely online degree program was similar—to enhance the School’s training offerings. But this degree would be designed mainly for professionals already working in the field of public health to continue to work in their fields while receiving training from UC Berkeley.

“Given the state is no longer going to provide additional funding to increase our enrollment, the only way to meet the severe shortage of trained public health professionals in the state—and nationwide—is by developing this kind of program,” says Shortell.

The On-Campus/Online Professional MPH Program, established in 2011, was UC Berkeley’s first largely online degree program, so the School and its leaders were operating in uncharted territory for the campus. To lead the effort, Shortell and then executive associate dean Tom Rundall chose Dr. Nap Hosang, a 25-year clinical veteran of Kaiser Permanente, who had been chairing the School’s Interdisciplinary MPH program. “When we learned Nap was interested, we felt we had lucked out,” says Shortell. “He has a wonderful combination of being being a creative thinker with the ability to execute.”

“I had planned to retire from clinical practice in 2010,” says Hosang. “When Dean Shortell asked me to spearhead the program, we saw it as an opportunity to refine our pedagogy with twenty-first century digital capability.”

From the beginning, Shortell and Hosang had a vision of a degree option that was as highly valued as the on-campus degree programs. “Our greatest challenge was the approval process. It was burdened by inevitable resistance to change and fear on the part of the seasoned faculty members that this endeavor could negatively impact our UC brand,” says Hosang. “We took those brand concerns very seriously, and we wanted to demonstrate that high quality online public health education is possible. After lengthy discussions, eighty percent of the School’s faculty voted in favor of proceeding with our plan.”

To develop a high quality program, the School partnered with UC Berkeley Extension, the campus’s continuing education branch, which began testing online learning in the mid 1990s. The program admits students three times per year. The first cohort, admitted for the Spring 2012 semester, was intentionally kept small.

“In the first year, we had greater than 80 percent satisfaction from the students with the curriculum offered,” Hosang says.

2007 Three deans converge as Dean Stephen Shortell talks with former deans Joyce Lashof (center) and Patricia Buffler at an event honoring the legacy of Earl Warren Hall, which housed the School of Public Health from 1955 until the building's demolition in 2007.

Three deans converge as Dean Stephen Shortell talks with former deans Joyce Lashof (center) and Patricia Buffler at an event honoring the legacy of Earl Warren Hall, which housed the School of Public Health from 1955 until the building’s demolition in 2007. (2007)

Just over 100 students are currently enrolled in the program, and the first cohort of students will graduate in May 2014. As the program moves forward, Hosang would like to add electives and areas of concentration, increase global enrollment, and explore a possible hybrid on-campus/online doctoral program. The program will also offer more workshops and tools for faculty members who want to learn how to teach effectively online.

“If we want to stay relevant, we must make this transition,” says Hosang. “These new adult learners are increasingly digitally competent, and our teaching is still mostly analog. It’s a challenge for seasoned classroom instructors who are on the other side of the digital divide, but we must embrace a new and possibly better process of knowledge transfer for the next generation of Berkeley graduates.”

Shortell agrees. “I expect that our experience with the online program will feed back positively into our on-campus classes, and the distinctions between the two in the future will become increasingly blurred,” he says.
 

A successful fundraising campaign

In 2008, the School launched The Campaign for the School of Public Health as part of a larger campuswide effort, The Campaign for Berkeley. The School set an ambitious goal of $110 million. The global economic recession hit almost simultaneously, and California made deep cuts to education funding. The School was facing severe budget cuts and an uncertain future while trying to raise the most money in its 66-year history.

2008 An installation on Dwinelle Plaza features portraits and quotes from members of the Cal community expressing their pride and gratitude. The exhibit was unveiled at the kickoff event for The Campaign for Berkeley.

An installation on Dwinelle Plaza features portraits and quotes from members of the Cal community expressing their pride and gratitude. The exhibit was unveiled at the kickoff event for The Campaign for Berkeley. (2008)

“Many thought this was a ‘stretch’ goal we could not reach,” says Shortell.

The School needed private philanthropic support more than ever. Under the guidance of Patricia Hosel, assistant dean for external relations and development, the Campaign moved forward.

“Thanks to Pat Hosel’s tireless energy, Don Francis’s leadership of the Campaign Steering Committee, the work of the Policy Advisory Council, faculty members, alumni, and others, we ended up exceeding our goal,” says Shortell.

After the 2007 demolition of Warren Hall, the School of Public Health’s historic home, the School was scattered across seven buildings on campus and numerous off-campus sites. Administrative offices and some faculty moved to University Hall. Although giving was strong in areas of research and student and faculty support, a lead gift for a new building remained elusive.

“Unfortunately the ‘ultimate prize,’ sufficient funding for our new home, escaped us,” Shortell says. “But we are all working with Dean Bertozzi to help make this a reality as quickly as possible.”
 
External funds for research reached record highs under Shortell’s leadership. The School also funded two endowed faculty chairs under the Hewlett Challenge, the Edward E. Penhoet Distinguished Endowed Chair in Global Health and Infectious Disease and the Leonard D. Schaeffer Endowed Chair in Health Economics and Policy.

Giving to support student scholarship was also very strong under the Campaign. The Kalmanovitz Foundation donated $1 million in support of doctoral students. Notably, Kaiser Permanente made a signature gift of $5 million to found the Kaiser Permanente Public Health Scholars Program, which provides financial aid to 15 students a year who plan careers in improving the health of underserved and vulnerable populations. This allowed the School to expand enrollment for the first time in well over a decade, without impacting the School’s declining budget.

2011 Kaiser Permanente Public Health Scholars are joined by Dean Shortell and representatives of Kaiser Permanente and the East Bay Community Foundation at an annual reception held in the scholars' honor.

Kaiser Permanente Public Health Scholars are joined by Dean Shortell and representatives of Kaiser Permanente and the East Bay Community Foundation at an annual reception held in the scholars’ honor. (2011)

“Investing in the training of these future leaders is a critical step toward addressing the growing health challenges in California and the nation,” said Raymond J. Baxter, senior vice president for community benefit, research, and health policy at Kaiser Permanente, at the time of the program’s inception. To date, 83 students have been supported at the School as Kaiser Permanente Public Health Scholars.

Thanks to the generosity of private donors, at the close of the Campaign, the School had raised over $116 million, exceeding the initial goal by $6 million.

“It demonstrated, for the first time, the School’s ability to raise a significant amount of money—it’s the most we’ve done over that amount of time,” says Shortell. “So that sends a very positive message to all stakeholders interested in the School. The success of the Campaign meant a lot for our students and faculty. It enables us to maintain and enhance our role as one of the leading Schools of Public Health in the world and provides a great foundation for our future achievements.”

Ken Taymor, who has chaired the School’s Policy Advisory Council since 2004, credits the success of the Campaign, and the School as a whole, to Shortell’s leadership. “Steve’s leadership was essential to the School thriving over the past decade,” Taymor says.

“We are all fortunate to have had the benefit of his energy and expertise during what was a very challenging time for universities nationwide.” founders-swirl-16px

Milestones of the Shortell Era

2002
Stephen M. Shortell begins service as the School’s ninth dean.

2003
The School reestablishes an upper-division undergraduate major in public health.

2005
The first Berkeley-Barcelona Advanced Health Leadership Forum convenes, bringing health leaders from around the globe.
(It is now called the Global Health Leadership Forum.)

2007
The School establishes the Center for Global Public Health and the Center for Exposure Biology.

2008
The School launches The Campaign for the School of Public Health, with a goal of $110 million. The Center for Health Leadership is formed with the help of donor support.

2009
Two more centers are established: The Berkeley Center for Health Technology and the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry.

2011
The School establishes the first-ever online degree program on the UC Berkeley campus, the On-Campus/Online Professional MPH Degree Program.

2013
The Campaign for the School of Public Health comes to a successful close, having raised over $116 million in 5 years.

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