Harvard Names Michelle A. Williams Its First Black Faculty Dean

The epidemiologist will lead Harvard's School of Health.

Photo Courtesy of Harvard Gazette

Photo Courtesy of Harvard Gazette

Harvard University has tapped epidemiologist Michelle A. Williams to lead its T.H. Chan School of Public Health. This makes Williams the first African American faculty dean in Harvard’s long history, as well as the School of Public Health’s first female dean.

Williams will succeed interim dean David J. Hunter, who replaced Julio Frenk when he departed the School of Public Health after six years to become the president of the University of Miami. The news comes a week after Wellesley College named Dr. Paula A. Johnson, another renowned local public health expert, its first black president.

“She is a skilled builder of bridges—between the theoretical and the practical, the domestic and the international, the different disciplines that drive the School’s academic endeavors, and the different communities that shape its identity and aspirations,” Harvard president Drew Faust said in a statement. “I know she will approach her new role with the intelligence, dedication, integrity, and humane spirit that she brings to all she does.”

Williams currently serves as the chair of the school’s epidemiology department, a post she’s held since 2001. She received her undergraduate degree from Princeton University in 1984, and her masters degree in civil engineering from Tufts University in 1986. Williams continued her studies at the Harvard School of Public Health before joining the University of Washington School of Public Health and Community Medicine in 1992.

“As an alumna and faculty member, I have witnessed the transformative impact that this institution can have in education, research, and discovery related to the health of communities in need,” Williams said. “We have an imperative to lead and to serve, and I am looking forward to working even more closely with the School’s faculty, students, staff, and alumni to build on the School’s achievements.”

Williams received White House’s Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring in 2012, and remains actively involved in planning and advisory roles with the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Diabetes Association, the March of Dimes, and Meharry Medical College.