Dean's Update

January 26, 2022 - Aron Sousa, MD


Today, Michigan State University and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation announced a transformational, $25 million grant from the foundation to the College of Human Medicine to expand the college’s public health program in Flint, Michigan. This grant will create an endowed fund to increase named faculty positions and expand opportunities for students, faculty, and our Flint community partners. This is the largest donor grant in the history of the college.

The new money will lead the division to add about 18 new, tenure-system faculty including more than eight named professorships. These new faculty will join the seven tenure-system and eleven fixed-term faculty collaborating with Flint area organizations and agencies on public health research and programming.

Michigan State University is the nation’s premier land-grant university and has been in Flint for more than 100 years. The College of Human Medicine is one of the first community-based medical schools in the country and has been in Flint since its founding more than 55 years ago. This grant reflects the very heart of that history and identity. The successful partnerships forged between our students and faculty with the residents of Flint have created new knowledge, new programming, and new opportunities. By helping the people of the community reach their goals, the college and its faculty are successful.

Importantly, this grant is the result of the successful collaborations and partnership of community and university colleagues over many years. Between 2007 and 2012, the college held a series of meetings with the Mott Foundation, local hospitals, and other community organizations to design an expansion of the college’s work in Flint. Based on those conversations, the foundation, Hurley Medical Center, (Ascension) Genesys Hospital, and McLaren Flint all provided funding to support the creation of the College of Human Medicine Division of Public Health dedicated to community-based, participatory research in Flint. The Mott Foundation led this effort with nearly $12 million in grants plus the cost of refurbishing the Flint Journal Building.

Following those agreements, Jerry Kooiman and Jeff Dwyer, among others, participated in more than 100 community meetings and collected nearly 4,000 surveys to engage the Flint community in the direction of the new division. The college provided that input to the Flint Public Health Research Advisory Committee, composed of Flint residents and university members, to determine the focus for the new unit.

The Advisory Committee recommended three areas of focus and direction for public health research in Flint: healthy behaviors, behavioral health, and chronic disease that address health disparities. We remain committed to this work and process, and with the new funding, the Advisory Committee will review our progress and provide new guidance.

Building on that original groundwork, the division hired C.S. Mott Professors of Public Health, Global Impact Initiative positions, and distinguished principal investigators and educators for Flint. These faculty have aided in the response to the Flint Water Crisis, created numerous innovative programs in the community, initiated the Flint Registry, and have been awarded more than $90 million in research and program funding since 2015. Between 2015 and 2020, the college’s activity in Flint has created more than 80 jobs in the college and 30 positions in partnering community agencies.

Also, since the founding of the division, the team moved the Master of Public Health (MPH) degree program to Flint and successfully guided the program through its initial accreditation site visit. Under the direction of Wayne McCullough, PhD, the MPH is one of the first online programs in the country to successfully enter the accreditation pathway, and the degree continues to provide opportunity to people in the state and around the country. This year, the MPH will congratulate its 700th graduate since its founding by Michael Rip and Kathleen Oberst.

This expansion will increase the size of the division to more than 25 tenure-system faculty and approximately 70 faculty overall. The college has long planned to convert the division into a department to provide an academic home to faculty of the division – this expansion makes the creation of the department even more important.

Today, I have sent the College of Human Medicine College Advisory Committee (CAC) a proposal to convert the division to a department named the Charles Stewart Mott Department of Public Health. As the college and unit develops, the Charles Stewart Mott name will help tie the future department to the Flint community and commemorate the leadership and generosity of the Mott Foundation. If and when this proposal is successful, the Charles Stewart Mott Department of Public Health will be among the first named departments in the university. Upon approval of the department, our college will begin a national search for a founding chair of the new department.

A link to the announcement recording will be available tomorrow on the college website. On Friday, we are dedicating the College of Human Medicine’s weekly Town Hall to this grant and the expansion of our work in Flint with the vice president of the Mott Foundation, Neal Hegarty, and interim division director Wayne McCullough.

Over the last decade, the college has grown its public health science, outreach, and education dramatically in units beyond the current division. Most of our departments have at least a few researchers focused on questions of public health, and it is important this work continues to expand and develop in these departments. In particular, our Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics has a long and distinguished record of success across all of its missions, and the expansion and continued success of Epi-Biostats is key to the growth and success of the college. As we hope to come out on the other side of the pandemic, the integration of public health and medical care is more important than ever, and the college has the opportunity to become a national leader in this interdisciplinary effort.

This grant and our next steps are possible because of the extraordinary work and vision of so many people. The first conversations between leaders in Flint, MSU, the College of Human Medicine, and the Mott Foundation stretch back to at least 2007. Along the way the college’s research, business, communications, advancement, human resources, and educational staff have pulled us through tight spots and over rough terrain. None of this would be possible without the staff members who find and implement solutions to each new challenge we face.

Creating and delivering community integration and collaborations that advance education, discovery, and health are at the founding heart of the college. Because of the talents and hard work of our staff, students, and faculty, the college helps children thrive, provides hope and opportunity to families, advances science and understanding, and helps our community partners reach their goals. Thank you for all that you do to support the people of the College of Human Medicine and for making the college such a special place.

Serving the people with you,


Aron Sousa, MD
Interim Dean

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