Welcome letter from Dr. Suzanne Maman

Associate Dean for Global Health

Gillings Global Health Community,

It is the first week of Fall, and while it may still feel like summer in NC, we are definitely turning a corner as we head into our autumn and winter seasons.  It means we are also almost mid-way through our first semester at Gillings.  It is great to be back in school and in the classroom to engage in person with our new and returning students and our colleagues. Think of this as a belated welcome to our new students, a welcome back to our returning students, and to our faculty and staff.  We are back!

Our returning students managed a full year of remote learning, meaning many of you were seeing the classrooms and our physical spaces at Gillings for the first time when we started classes in August. For some, the remote learning worked well and for others we know this learning format was a challenge.  You found ways to connect with each other and build community despite the barriers.  While it was disappointing that global travel was severely restricted for our students, it was amazing to see how you were able to pivot and engage in meaningful global practice and research in a remote format.  We recognize what was lost in this remote learning context—the connections that happen in the hallways, before and after classes, and in walks across campus. We are committed to working hard this year to make up for those missed opportunities.

For our new students, while we are in person, we know the mask wearing, social distancing, and the restrictions on in-person gatherings remind us that we are still living in a global pandemic. You have started your journey as the field of global health is being rocked by this pandemic. The pandemic has laid bare the global inequities in access to vaccines and other health resources.  We have seen how the virus ripped through settings that have had virtually no access to vaccines. While in the U.S it has been a challenge to achieve good vaccine coverage to control the spread of the virus. Many of you have engaged in these discussions with peers and with the public health community more broadly. We need well trained public health practitioners and researchers now more than ever to address these pandemic challenges and ones that we may face in the future. You will help solve these complex problems. We are happy you are here!

Our faculty and staff have weathered the challenges of COVID pandemic as well.  As global travel ground to a halt, and activities in our global sites have also slowed and in some cases paused completely, our faculty and staff have had to adjust. Many of our faculty did a hard pivot to apply their skills to address COVID domestically and globally. Others found ways to continue the work with collaborators from a distance.  We have heard from many faculty who found the silver linings in these challenges. They identified new ways of working remotely that they are committed to continuing in the post-pandemic world.

If we have learned anything from this pandemic, it is that predictions are hard. I will not attempt to predict what our global work and travel will look like during the remainder of this academic year.  What I do know with some certainty, is that we will not be returning to ‘normal.’  The COVID pandemic has changed us in important ways forever. We don’t yet know the full implications of these changes on our global research and practice.  However, we are prepared to embrace the new normal. We will make sure that our training programs and our research infrastructure adjust to reflect the new realities so that our Gillings community can continue to contribute in meaningful ways in the future. We are wrapping up the creation of a Gillings Global Health strategy that describes our goals related to global health research, education and practice that will guide our activities over the next five years.  When the strategy has been finalized, we will make it accessible to all on the Gillings Global health website.

We have planned many exciting global health events this year including a joint seminar series with Inclusive Excellence, a Health and Humanitarian Seminar Series, networking events for researchers and doctoral students, events specifically designed for our international student community, and global health internships and practicum. Please sign up to receive our weekly newsletter, This Week in Global Health, so you can keep up to date on our global health activities.  We look forward to supporting our global health community at Gillings.

Suzanne Maman, PhD

Associate Dean for Global Health