Archive -- Message from the Dean


Once again, we have wrapped up another academic year with a terrific group of graduating doctoral, masters, and undergraduate students. I would like to take this opportunity to pass along a message to our newest alumni. The faculty and staff at the school are always pleased to see students graduate. We’re excited about your future but, in some respects, sorry to see you leave. Many of us consider graduation as parallel to parents watching children leave home. In that sense, we look on our students as our “academic offspring.” Much like parents, we have tried to prepare you for your departure as best we can. Like parents, we hope you will come back to visit often and regularly keep in touch. We also look forward to celebrating your accomplishments in your chosen career path.

This spring is a bit different for me. I am scheduled to retire June 30, so it was my last time to share the stage with our graduates during May convocation and assist with hooding doctoral students. My sentiments were similar to what they always have been but interspersed with thoughts about this being the last time I get to wear the regalia; the last time sharing a few thoughts and pictures with student and their parents. It might even have been the last time I park under the KFC YUM! Center.

Lately I find myself reflecting on the last 10 years at the University of Louisville. It has been an exciting journey. Think just a moment about SPHIS 2013 and SPHIS 2023. We remain the newest school at UofL, but we are no longer the smallest. Our student enrollment has grown to over three times what it was in 2013. Our degree programs have expanded considerably, with an eye toward public health workforce needs. And, we have become extremely engaged in our community.

I’m equally proud how our research program has expanded, reflective of the interests and skills of a growing research-focused faculty and expanded doctoral programs. We have made increasing numbers of contributions to scientific literature, best practice, and policy initiatives. These expansions have provided our students with a much stronger set of experiences as they prepare for their own careers.

SPHIS is indeed a vibrant organization with very active faculty, staff, and students. I will look forward to regular updates of our collective actions through newsletters and periodic contact with friends and colleagues. I am confident that the school will successfully secure an excellent next dean. I hope that our efforts to restart an active alumni group will be successful and many of us will remain engaged as we depart the campus and community on our own paths. You can immediately help with that!

On a personal note, I am looking forward to spending many more less structured hours with Karan, my best friend and wife, and our extended families. I have several projects on the horizon—two notables include helping Karan build her “forever home” and rebuilding an old 1966 Mustang. You might also catch us on our Harleys riding a back road to nowhere—wearing our helmets of course.

Best wishes to all.

Go Cards!

Craig Blakely signature


Dr. Craig Blakely

Spring 2023


I recently attended the latest board meeting of the Council on Education in Public Health (CEPH), our accrediting body. A critical issue we are confronting this year is how to revise “Section G: Diversity and Cultural Competence” of the CEPH reaccreditation criteria. This is the part of the self-study where schools/programs define their diversity priorities and processes for addressing targets and quantifying progress. The recent flurry of actions in several states has forced everyone to reconsider the progress we have made in recent years to improve population health for all. These steps include eliminating any sort of Critical Race Theory in the classroom, diversity criteria in admissions or hiring practices, and data driven efforts to understand the factors that contribute to health disparities—long a bastion of academic public health. The near-term future will bring many challenges to what we stand for as a profession and will provoke an interesting set of conversations at the CEPH board. It will be an equally meaningful set of discussions we will have at UofL and every other educational institution across the country.

As a school of public health, we continue to do great work to make whatever contributions we can to both tomorrow’s workforce and today’s population.  One illustration highlighted in this newsletter is the HRSA scholarship funding secured by Dr. Tammi Thomas, Associate Dean of Student Affairs, Public Health Practice and Undergraduate Education. Another example is the $300,000 Genentech gift she received to advance the Jefferson Community and Technical College (JCTC) pipeline to SPHIS. Both awards are, in part, intended to increase the diversity of the public health workforce. It will be interesting to see how Kentucky addresses some of these issues in the current legislative session.

Here are a few other nods to our wonderful faculty. Dr. Brian Guinn was named a top 3 faculty favorite at UofL. We often have 20 or more instructors identified as faculty favorites, but this year we have 35. Dr. Aishia Brown is continuing her work as director of the Center for Social Justice Youth Development Research, which is generating a lot of attention with the city. Dr. Muriel Harris and alumna Baraka Muvuka recently published a book, Integrated Research Methods in Public Health, aimed at improving learning and practice. The Commonwealth Institute of Kentucky, our public health policy research center, continues to publish excellent policy briefs on topics important in the state.

Of course, our students continue to excel as well. This year, 11 public health students received prestigious Woodford R. Porter Scholarships. And, many students are now in the home stretch, expecting to graduate in a little over a month. I look forward to what we can accomplish in the next few months.

I must close by recognizing our recently departed colleague, Dr. Robert Esterhay.  Bob was one of the founding pillars of the school who contributed greatly to our work for the past two decades. He is already sorely missed. Rest in peace Bob—job well done!

Go Cards!

Winter 2022

Here we are wrapping up another academic semester and another calendar year. With Thanksgiving just behind us and the year-end holidays on the horizon, it is indeed a time to be thankful. For example, we have emerged from the worst of the COVID pandemic. As we have been sensing for a while, it seems to be heading toward long-term endemic. Fatalities are way down and hospitals are no longer overrun with cases. Immunizations still carry the day, but treatment protocols are now a critical piece of the equation as well. We still need to be careful around those most at risk. That leaves a lot of responsibility on all of us as individuals.

On a related note, be sure to put our annual Woodson Lecture on your event calendar for March 28, 2023. Leading up to National Public Health Week, Dean Sandro Galea, from the Boston University School of Public Health, will join us in-person to discuss his recent book that directly addresses the next pandemic—what we need to have learned from COVID and how we must prepare for the future. It should be a great conversation!

There are many things going on at the school. Our MS in Health Administration (MSHA) program was just reaccredited for another seven years by the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME). While there was never any question about the outcome, it is always exciting to pass the test! Congratulations to Dr. Lee Bewley, the MSHA program director, and his colleagues in the Dept. of Health Management and Systems Sciences.

We are also very excited about the Kentucky Department for Medicaid Services inviting us to submit seven full proposals to the CMS State-University Partnership program. Last round SPHIS had six major Medicaid projects operating. This coming year it looks like we will have seven. These projects all point toward major healthcare improvements and/or cost savings.

Some of our faculty and doctoral students have also been instrumental in securing a major multi-million-dollar award from the Humana Foundation to support innovative work linked to equity and social justice in our community/region. We all look forward to hearing about some of this early work. It also links directly to the new undergraduate track in health equity and social justice.

On a more personal note, I am now heading toward my final semester at SPHIS. After 10 years of working with a great group of people, I will be retiring at the end of June 2023. There are many things that I took a run at that did not come to fruition, but I feel great about some of the things that I have contributed to that have materialized. I am glad that our undergraduate program is still thriving. I am happy to have jump started that development work, but others did the heavy lifting. Similarly, I am pleased to see our health policy research institute, the Commonwealth Institute of Kentucky, has now welcomed Dr. Seyed Karimi as its third director. The literature suggests that start-up leaders bring some different skills than subsequent leaders and surviving transitions is generally a very good sign for continued longevity.

I also have a few more things to accomplish. I will be stepping down as chair of the ASPPH Data Advisory Committee after a very successful 12-year run. I have also been heavily engaged in our own public health accrediting body, the Council on Education in Public Health (CEPH). Having served as a site visitor for 15 years, site team chair for about eight of those years, and a board member for three, I will serve as chair of the CEPH board from December 2022 - December 2023. This year, the major CEPH board task that I will be directing is tied to redefining the role of an accrediting body in pushing an anti-racist agenda. I hope to champion the movement of accrediting bodies from merely affirming schools’ meeting of academic criteria to forcing some focus on external policy issues.

I look forward to an exciting final year in academia. I hope that all of you traveling your own career paths can also one day look back and fondly remember some exciting and impactful moments.

Watch a special video update and message from Dean Craig Blakely

Happy holidays all. 

Fall 2022

It's fall 2022, and the third fall semester in the COVID-era is underway. We had a wonderful graduation event in May and sent a cohort of spring and summer graduates out into the workforce. We have heard from many and are optimistic about the impact they will have on population health from a wide array of angles. We are also excited about the many returning and new students in both our undergraduate and graduate programs.

Our faculty, staff, students, and alumni have been busy over the summer. More to come in our next newsletter, but here are a few notables:

-- Dr. Monica Wendel, Chair and Professor, Dept. of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences, is leading the Health Equity Innovation Hub, a joint venture between Humana and UofL which will target strategies to reduce the systemic barriers to health equity present in our communities. Read more.

-- Dr. Trinidad Jackson, Assistant Dean for Culture and Liberation, moderated a panel discussion about reproductive (in)justice. Watch the recording.

-- The Commonwealth Institute of Kentucky released a report about the Crisis Call Diversion Program. The report found that Louisville Metro Emergency Services, the lead agency in the pilot program’s development, and Seven County Services have “laid the foundation to provide non-police responses to behavioral health crisis,” creating “meaningful paths forward to contribute to public safety in Louisville.” Read the report.

-- We're excited to relaunch the SPHIS Alumni Council and will be hosting two virtual interest sessions in November. Learn more.

I look forward to another semester of meeting and engaging with our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and partners. Please let us know how we can help you meet your academic or professional goals.

I hope to see you at one of the many exciting events we have planned this fall (see list below).

Go Cards!

Summer 2022.

Public health continues to play a visible role in many settings. Thinking first about our just completed academic year culminating with spring graduation—our students, faculty and staff were extremely well represented in annual recognition actions. Our students continue to be actively engaged in leadership positions across the university. It is not surprising that the critical thinking skills, foundational in our curricula, set our students up to be well prepared for leadership roles. Trinidad Jackson, PhD 2022, was recognized as the Guy Stevenson award winner--the highest award presented annually by the university’s graduate school. He was the student speaker at the university’s doctoral hooding ceremony. David Johnson received the 2022 TILL Teaching Innovation award, and Jenna El-Masri won the 2022 university advising award—continuing a tradition of one of our wonderful advisors taking home this prize every few years. Many others were recognized as well. See the full list of SPHIS graduation honors and other awardees.

We’re somewhere in the midst of what appears to be a COVID transition from pandemic to endemic. People are much more freely moving about the country and gathering with family and friends. This is a welcome return to some sense of normalcy. However, our community continues to live in the yellow zone (new cases). Fortunately, the combination of vaccinated, boosted, and exposed has led us to a moderate and increasing degree of immunity. Critical to the equation is the fact that Omicron, while highly contagious, seems to lead to less serious morbidity and mortality. So new cases continue, but hospitalizations are not as prevalent. Nevertheless, be careful out there. More good news with the availability of vaccines for children under age five and vaccines on the horizon retain the properties of existing vaccines but add greater immunity specifically linked to the Omicron variant. May all this point toward the best summer in two years and a healthy return to campus in fall.

Now we find ourselves facing two additional public health crises—war globally, and I guess war domestically—or gun violence. There is no doubt that war creates a public health crisis. Resources are immediately rerouted toward supporting the war machine—on both sides. In Ukraine, housing is gone, access to daily resources like drinking water, shelter, food, and clothing are all compromised. Huge behavioral health crises are generated—among those in the thick of battle as well as across family ties. Impacts will be felt for generations. The politics of war are extremely complicated particularly in this age of nuclear capabilities and deranged leaders. We are a global community and need to engage.

On the home front, following the police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (among many others), we were more optimistic that change was finally going to happen. Yet here we sit, still waiting, two years later. A few things have changed, but by-and-large, the sea change we hoped was coming has not materialized. Following the Uvalde Texas school shootings, we again saw a flurry of activity, but days continue to go by with no major legislation getting the light of day. May this be the time things change. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), who was heavily impacted by the Sandy Hook school shooting and has been one of the leading champions of various forms of gun regulation, seems optimistic that a first piece of legislation adding restrictions to purchase and registration may pass the Senate in July. That would be historic as it would require some degree of bi-partisan support.

We continue to be impacted by climate change. While we are slowly moving toward renewable energy sources, we now face dramatic increases in heat waves, fires, floods, and storms that threaten life as we are accustomed. It is always the case that those less well off are most heavily impacted by these threats—yet another set of factors that contribute to inequities in health. We hope to grow SPHIS’ strengths in the climate change arena in the coming year.

I’m pleased to announce Ryan Combs, PhD, was awarded tenure and promoted to the rank of Associate Professor in the Dept. of Health Promotion & Behavioral Sciences; Seyed Karimi, PhD, was awarded tenure and promoted to the rank of Associate Professor in the Dept. of Health Management & Systems Sciences; Scott LaJoie, PhD, was awarded tenure and promoted to Professor in the Dept. of Health Promotion & Behavioral Sciences; and Brian Schaefer, PhD, was awarded tenure. He is an Associate Professor in the Dept. of Health Promotion & Behavioral Sciences.

However, on a more somber note—four faculty members are leaving SPHIS for other opportunities: Liza CreelGiang VuSubhadip Pal and Sarah Moyer. Just as we exist to help prepare students for their careers elsewhere—so too we celebrate the opportunities afforded our faculty and staff colleagues to grow and flourish here, and at times find better opportunities. We wish them all well and hope to follow their careers in the future.

Spring 2022

Spring is in the air, our baseball team is off to a great start, and the women’s basketball team is a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and now the Sweet 16. The university has reduced mask mandates, following existing guidance. The hope is that we all return to campus and restart classes after spring break with no uptick in new cases. Should that occur, and the global data continue positive trends, we may find ourselves on the road from pandemic to endemic.

This newsletter highlights wonderful stories about students, alumni, and faculty who are doing great things. Be sure to check out the pieces on Nikka SorrellsDr. Victory Osezua, and Dr. J’Aime Jennings. The SPHIS Student Government Association collaboration with the dean’s office to host the four-part Woodson Keynote Webinar Series has been a great success. I’m looking forward to the fourth and final installment of the Woodson Series, which will cover a very interesting topic, “Preventing Human Extinction as a Public Health Priority.” Be sure to RSVP.

Another successful collaboration was the recent announcement of the new Humana-supported Health Equity Hub, which will be led by Dr. Monica Wendel, Chair and Professor in our Department of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences. Funded by a total investment of up to $25 million, the team will work to advance health equity and improve health outcomes for marginalized populations in Louisville and communities around the world. 

On the academic side, we have several new programs in the works that will expand our accelerated bachelor’s/master’s degrees; create new certificate offerings; build new linkages with HBCUs and an academic partner in Egypt; and expand student support services and public health practice settings.

One organizational change that I need to share is that Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences has been closed. EOHS faculty members were involved in discussions about this decision. The outcome does not affect our accreditation status. Dr. Rachel Neal has moved to the Department of Biology in Arts and Sciences. Drs. Qunwei Zhang and Yiqun Mo are now members of the Department of Epidemiology and Population Health. Dr. Ray Yeager returns full-time to the Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute this summer. There is one student in the PhD program in Public Health Sciences with specialization in Environmental Health who will continue their studies through degree completion.

We continue to view environmental health as a key pillar in population health. Looking forward, the school will build a presence in climate science and its impact on population health. We sincerely thank the faculty, staff, and alumni who dedicated themselves to teaching, research, and service in environmental health. We appreciate their service and contributions and will continue to work in that area.

Continue to be healthy and safe, and let’s go Cards!

December 2021,

We find ourselves winding down yet another semester at UofL. Fall semester 2021 provided an interesting window into our world as it was our first effort returning to largely in-person instruction and operations. UofL proactively made this move in response in part to students’ sentiment that we return to an as-normal-as-possible campus life as soon as possible. At that time, there was also a climate of increased confidence that we had “turned the corner” in our battle against COVID. Of course, immediately thereafter, the Delta variant took hold and dramatically weakened that foundation.

Nevertheless, we have done a remarkable job of minimizing student, staff, and faculty exposure to the virus. While population vaccine progress was slow in the beginning, we eventually achieved over 90% vaccinated status for faculty, staff and students in the campus community. The numbers of positive cases have been reasonably low while the systems in place have provided quarantine opportunities and testing support. Thank you to all who have helped with these initiatives.

We now face the newest variant that was first recognized by scientists in South Africa and has already spread to many countries across the globe. This appears to be another variant that spreads rapidly, but there is much more to learn about its properties. We remain optimistic that our existing vaccines are likely to prevent serious health complications, but that conclusion is only supported by case evidence to date. All of this clearly points toward the necessity to push global vaccination efforts to dramatically cut back on the opportunity for variants to emerge.

COVID-19 drives home the critical global parameters of our public health policies and actions. It also has overshadowed other critical global health initiatives underway such as the response to climate change. These concerns highlight the degree to which the global community, including our citizenry here in the U.S., fail to value science. This suggests our work in public health is cut out for us as we seek to educate  communities (local and global) and emphasize acting for the common good.

Please join me in recognizing the great work that is going on in the school by carefully exploring the stories in our newsletter. Dr. Doug Lorenz, for example, was recognized as our alumni fellow of the year (If you catch Dr. Lorenz in the hallway, be sure to thank him for his contributions). Additionally, our students are publishing articles and being selected for national committees —a great sign for their futures. The SGA-initiated efforts to support the Woodson Keynote Webinar Series has already had two wonderful speakers and has two more scheduled spring semester—watch for those and join in.

In closing, I’d like to offer some parting words for our students and soon-to-be graduates. In the near future you will be joining a workforce that is more well-resourced than it has been in recent years but is also overextended. As future public health leaders, we look forward to learning from you and your experiences. Please help us continually improve the relevance of our curriculum by sharing insights about your preparedness for the jobs you take on.

To those students and faculty still in the classroom—good luck with finishing up the semester.

May you all have a wonderful, safe, and healthy winter break.

Fall 2021

On August 2, a majority of faculty and staff returned to campus. Like most post-secondary institutions, the University of Louisville, and we the students, staff, and faculty, have been through a lot the last 18 months: COVID and Breonna and the related uncertainties in particular. We finished up spring 2020 in a pretty well-orchestrated scramble. We endured a slightly more predictable 2020/2021 academic year with all sorts of new challenges but survived remarkably well. And we rode the excitement and enthusiasm generated by the remarkable development of vaccines across the globe in record time in the spring of 2021 and began preparations for a return to near “normalcy” in fall.

Just weeks into the semester, we find ourselves facing new uncertainties as the Delta variant continues to spread. The good news is that the vaccines are still protective against severe disease preventing hospitalization/mortality. However, this much more viral/contagious variant has led to dramatic increases in cases, hospitalizations, and morbidity/mortality—primarily among the unvaccinated. Figures from Jefferson County Kentucky suggest that roughly half (48.2%) of all Jeff Co residents over the age of 12 have been fully vaccinated. Overall, the county has moved back up to the red category, from an average daily incidence of less than 5 to an average daily incidence of well above 25 cases per 100,000 population.

The numbers of cases have been increasing in all age groups, but the rate of increase is highest in the 20-44 group and lowest in the 65+ group. Disparities in vaccination by race are still present.  While 21.7% of Jeff Co residents are African American, only 13.3% of vaccine recipients are African American. Additionally, the CDC has advised those who are immunocompromised and received either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines to receive a third, booster dose. It is very likely that a broader recommendation for persons having received the mRNA vaccines 6-8 months or more ago will emerge soon.

More troubling is evidence that those already vaccinated can become COVID positive, typically largely symptom free, but then become vectors to the spread particularly among the unvaccinated. All of this is leading many to reconsider indoor mask mandates. This includes UofL who instituted a mandatory mask mandate regardless of vaccination status on August 9. There are no large-scale shutdown directives in play yet.

Scott Gottlieb, former FDA head and current Pfizer Board Member, provided a really good update on NPR Monday, July 26.  I shared the link with many that day. I believe it might be a good read/listen even a few weeks later.  The focus of his comments was on the increasing demand to return to masking in public indoor settings. What I found particularly interesting were his comments on private sector firms preparing to mandate vaccines as soon as the Emergency Use Authorization is removed (he projected mid-September).

The bottom line seems to be this: we need to get vaccinated. Only then will we truly be able to win this battle and return to our social selves. Thus, we all need to take that fact to heart and do our part. To quote our own Commissioner of the Kentucky Department for Public Health, Stephen Stack: “There is no debate here. There is no two sides of the story here. There is fact and there is fallacy.” 

To speak more directly to the questions being asked by many of us about COVID response in higher education, we must address the questions of mask mandates and incentives if not vaccine requirements. The political reality is that some public education institutions are afraid of what their state legislatures will do if we push too aggressively toward mandates. It is much easier for private sector business to push mandates. Some government agencies are making strong moves to require vaccination. Universities are presenting a mixed bag—and it varies greatly by state according to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s current list.

One of the things we must do is embrace the debate. These are very unusual times. Crises create opportunities. Sandro Galea, Dean at the BU School of Public Health and immediate past president of the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health, recently put out an interesting piece he called Borders in the age of Pandemics. If you have a moment, enjoy the read.  

My opening comment referenced Breonna Taylor as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. I have focused exclusively on the latter, but I assure you that our engagement in the Cardinal Anti-Racism Agenda (CARA) at both the school and university level continues. More to come in future newsletters, but for now I'll share an interesting article about the Black Lives Matter movement and what is occurring in Minneapolis.  

Best wishes for the fall. We are glad you are with us.

May 2021

Congratulations Graduates!

SPHIS celebrated our 2020 and 2021 graduates over the course of 3 days, May 6-8. It was a memorable graduation weekend. As a school, this was our largest graduation to date. Of course, it is always fun to be on the football field—except perhaps for those colleagues who got rained on Friday night. Doctoral hooding on Thursday afternoon went well and Saturday’s public health graduation event was sunny and cool. It would have been a perfect day for football!

I know our graduates are heading in many directions—some continuing their educational pursuits, some already employed, and others still looking. Remember, your colleagues here at the school and university remain supportive and are ready to lend a helping hand wherever we can.

As you transition in the months and years ahead, please be an engaged alumni member—keep us posted on your movements, send us acquaintances who might follow in your footsteps here at UofL, and make whatever contributions to support other students here at the school that you can. This year we raised considerable support for students adversely impacted by the pandemic. There is no doubt some will continue to struggle financially, and support from our alumni for emergency funds and student research/travel needs are extremely helpful.

Congratulations to all those who graduated and their loved ones on this significant achievement. If you haven’t already, please get vaccinated. If we each do our part, perhaps by this fall, we will convene in Cardinal Stadium to watch some football and reminisce about the historic 2021 graduation ceremony.

Go Cards!

Spring 2021

Change is in the air.

As you all know by now, the Derek Chauvin trial has concluded, finding him guilty on all three verdicts. Given the visibility of this event and the apparent consensus among most legal experts, this outcome may only be surprising in that it represents an enormous step in policing and judicial decision making. It is an emotional time. It was a day where accountability became visible for many—hopefully for George Floyd’s family and friends as well.

As we move forward, we are still facing greatly needed change. As noted by many during coverage of the unfolding events in Minneapolis, including President Biden and Vice President Harris, systemic racism is not gone. White supremacy is still pervasive. Health inequities remain. But these verdicts send the message that suggests change is possible. We are not united on this front, but a leap has been made. It is time to double down and continue our efforts to create a Union that centers justice.

On another note, we are beginning to see more light at the end of the COVID tunnel. Vaccination rates are up across the country. Cases are down. To a lesser degree, hospitalization and mortality rates are down, and students are finally eligible for vaccinations. The best advice remains: get the first available option. We need your help achieving a sense of herd immunity.

The university continues to ponder how to approach students coming back in the fall. No doubt classes will be returning to more traditional formats in most cases, but vaccine requirements have not been discussed. The list of institutions requiring students to be vaccinated continues to grow. Other universities have indicated that non-academic events (e.g., sports, social events) will not be accessible to those not vaccinated. There is little doubt that the “emergency use authorization” will be dropped in favor of more general access to vaccines well before fall classes start.

While this is all great news, we need to remain vigilant a bit longer. Leadership across the country is feeling increasing pressure to relax safeguards and more rapidly open the economy. As the weather continues to warm, it becomes easier to spend time outside. Even though the likelihood of spreading the virus is greater in indoor settings, we must continue to physically distance ourselves even in outdoor settings. At this point, official CDC guidance suggests we may gather in small groups of those already vaccinated, but we must continue to wear masks in public and refrain from large gatherings in public settings with others we do not know and spend time with routinely. Here’s a helpful resource from the New York Times to share with family and friends.

At SPHIS, we have had a lot of exciting things going on over the past few months. Our student organizations hosted a variety of virtual events during National Public Health Week, including generating many social media posts and videos. SGA created a video addressing vaccine hesitancy and KPHA produced a video on Instagram about “Advancing Racial Justice.” SPHIS also partnered with the Louisville Free Public Library to produce a virtual presentation by Dr. Paul McKinney that explored the history of vaccines.

Additionally, there are several new initiatives underway at the school worthy of note. First, from a COVID-19 perspective, a team of faculty who have been preparing case, hospitalization, and mortality projections for Jefferson County are now officially providing the same service for the state and the state’s 10 regions. The team comprised of Drs. Seyed Karimi, Bert Little, Sarah Moyer, and Natalie Dupré have been active in this process for much of the past year and are now being recognized by the state for the innovative work they are doing.

Likewise, Drs. Susan Buchino, Liza Creel and Executive in Residence Tony Zipple have taken on a new project working closely with the city to develop a new plan to divert a portion of 911 calls from an immediate police response to a response team linked to behavioral and clinical health specialists. This initiative may lead to a significant redefining of the way public safety responds to resident requests for help that is less likely to lead to conflict and more likely to quickly provide direct links to needed services from housing to food to behavioral health services.

Students—finish the semester strong. Alumni—keep us informed about the exciting things you are doing and reach out to a student today. Faculty and staff— lend a hand as you can. Crunch time is soon upon us. Friends of the school—thank you so much for what you do to help us meet our mission. All— stay safe and healthy. Let us continue to engage in the dialogue, advocate for the continuation of meaningful change, and support each other in whatever ways are helpful.  Change is indeed in the air.

February 2021


While 2021 started with great hope for compromise and functionality in Washington, that sense was quickly shattered when hundreds of POTUS 45 supporters stormed the Capitol building and disrupted the Congressional process of affirming the national vote tally.

In the weeks since that January 6 uprising, we have made incremental movement toward some potential collaboration occurring across the political aisle in favor of advancing a new agenda for the country.

All of this holds great promise for further advancements in the public health infrastructure, both nationally and internationally. Just one day into the new administration’s tenure, we rejoined the Paris Accords and WHO. The possibility of further advancements in access to healthcare and investments in public health is more real now than at any time in the last four years.

COVID-19 continues to reign heavy on our community, country, and world. But the two already sanctioned vaccines in the U.S. are finally beginning to lay the foundation for subsequent herd immunity. I personally have joined many other volunteers at the Fairgrounds to help advance that process. At times we have vaccinated about 200 residents of our community in a single hour. While these great strides will not likely impact our spring semester at UofL, we may be able to begin living a more traditional life at UofL next fall.

I have also participated in the local Johnson & Johnson vaccine trial. Early data have been extremely encouraging and, perhaps by the end of February, that vaccine will gain federal approval and contribute to accelerated access. The single dose vaccine that requires less extreme refrigeration will make distribution through smaller venues and in more rural settings much easier as well. 

When our turn comes to get vaccinated, we in public health need to visibly do our part. Thanks to all of you who are volunteering at any of these critical events that will collectively lead us to the end of this pandemic.

As we continue with spring semester, we will strive to remember that everyone remains in a very stressful setting, trying to make ends meet, working in a much more isolated setting that we are accustomed to, yet still committed to advancing our careers and capabilities. Please take every opportunity to share with us your concerns and stressors so that we may offer support.

Be safe, stay healthy, go Cards!

November 2020


It’s a remarkable time to be in public health.

We have witnessed a four-year attack on most of the population health infrastructure, but times are changing. Already, President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris are building their transition team with an overt agenda of taking on the COVID-19 crisis in America as the first priority. This new team is working on a vaccine distribution plan that will target frontline workers and those most vulnerable to its morbidity and mortality impacts, then the broader population. They will take on a marketing effort to help convince skeptics that the vaccine(s) are safe and effective. With the incoming administration, we will also see aggressive efforts to return the Affordable Care Act to pre-2016 levels of access and include additional options for coverage that safeguard pre-existing conditions clauses. They have also committed to taking on climate science, immediately by rejoining the Paris Accords, and then looking at long-term strategies that must be considered. Each of these actions have the support of national public health leaders and organizations and will contribute to population health in the long-term. 

COVID-19 has delivered the long-promised peak in the fall, linked to seasonal projections and the weakening of our efforts to isolate. Kentucky and Jefferson County are producing record numbers of cases almost daily. There will no doubt be a corresponding jump in hospitalizations, ventilator use, and unfortunately fatalities to follow. At the same time, we see growing evidence that the clinical workforce is increasingly exhausted and will likely struggle to meet the expanding population needs in the near term. On a brighter note, at least two of the major vaccine studies underway are producing very promising results. Many in our community are already participating in clinical trials, which include an unprecedented effort to ensure a diverse sample of participants—lending credence to efficacy findings across all subgroups of our population.

The University of Louisville has done a remarkable job of keeping case rates relatively low. However, case numbers among students, faculty, and staff have increased measurably in November, resulting in an additional push to be vigilant with mask wearing and avoiding unnecessary in-person contact. We will also discontinue in-person classes after Thanksgiving as planned. Overall, it looks like we will make it to the end of the semester, while many other universities gave up and returned to only online courses.

Typically, this time of year includes the convening of the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting. Even though it was virtual, SPHIS was still well represented with faculty, staff, students, and alumni  posters and presentations. Annual “Public Health Thank You Day,” which takes place the Monday before Thanksgiving, is also fast approaching. This year we should all seek opportunities to thank public health professionals and other first responders for their efforts on our behalf.

The end of fall semester also brings another cohort of students transitioning to alumni status. Congratulations to those of you wrapping up your studies and best of luck with next steps. Special congratulations go to John Craycroft, PhD Biostatistics, who was asked to provide the December 2020 commencement address. Unfortunately, commencement exercises will once again be a series of virtual graduation events. We hope our fall graduates will come back to campus for a traditional ceremony at the next point in time when we can safely convene.

In other campus news, the university is busy interviewing four exciting candidates who may serve as the next Executive Vice President and University Provost. If you are interested in learning more about each candidate’s vision, please explore the recorded sessions available on this website. The final candidate visited the campus on Nov. 11–12 with final deliberations occurring the following week.

For those of you preparing to return home to family for an extended holiday break, please continue to practice safe physical distancing. We look forward to you returning to campus for the spring semester healthy, refreshed, and ready to get back to work!

Be happy, healthy, and safe.


September 2020

Fall semester is underway and we are back to the business of teaching, learning, and researching. We continue working with our state and local partners and are preparing for our virtual reaccreditation site visit (Sept. 16–18) with the Council on Public Health Education.

However, this semester is very different compared to last fall or the start of any academic year I can recall. The COVID-19 pandemic has redefined how we do business and how we all operate in almost every phase of our public and personal lives. It is the most impactful infectious disease outbreak in the last century. The pandemic has contributed directly to the largest economic slowdown in 90 years and we will feel the repercussions of that for years to come. We are also witnessing a re-energized anti-racism movement in America like we have not seen in 60 years. Louisville is about to become the global epicenter of this movement as the Kentucky Attorney General is about to conclude his investigation of LMPD behavior in the murder of Breonna Taylor.

These storms are wreaking havoc on everything we know.  We have been working extremely hard to create a climate on campus that recognizes how each and every one of us are affected. We are trying to provide a redefined on-campus experience for our new and returning students. We seek best-practice strategies for the safest way to welcome students to campus, provide instruction, and create a learning environment that is UofL’s own version of post-secondary education at a community-engaged, Research 1 Urban University.

These continue to be somewhat uncharted waters, but we are heading down this road together with faculty and staff who are committed to delivering a great educational experience in a safe setting. Of course, to be successful at this effort, we will need a parallel commitment from all of you. Further, as the academic public health community, we are all called on to be the most knowledgeable and best role models for safe behavior.

We are eager to get on with the 2020-21 academic year. There are many new things going on at the school—from new academic programs to new and innovative research and service projects. We have experienced huge growth in student numbers in public health that are reflective of the national trend in the last five months. Yes, there should be many jobs in public health settings for the next several years as we finally recognize the errors in our ways as we collectively dismantled much of our post 9/11 public health infrastructure. In fact, our local health department has 74 openings right now.

Remember, masks help reduce exposure and spread. Wear yours religiously and lean on others who may choose not to do so. The University of North Carolina announced, after one week of classes and an ensuing growth in cases, that they would immediately return to fully remote instructional models. We are prepared to do the same if we must, but we have a real opportunity to make a hybrid environment work if we pull together. Two weeks into the process, we seem to be managing. Help us stay the course.

Be careful, be safe, and stay healthy.

June 5, 2020

Confronting the U.S. racism plague during a pandemic

For four long months, the news was dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. After three murders of African Americans in Louisville, Georgia, and Minneapolis, all that has changed. What it is like to be black in America has once again reared its ugly head and we must confront the very graphic reality of how bad things remain. These events have led to peaceful protests across the country and in cities around the world, but we have also witnessed violent confrontations between police and protesters. Dr. King once explicitly noted in a 1967 speech at Stanford, “A riot is the language of the unheard.”

While communities seek to quell the violence and hopefully respond to the questions and demands of our citizenry, we in academia may participate in many different ways both professionally and as community residents. We are all profoundly impacted by the plight of our communities and we recognize the need for significant changes in policies and behaviors.

We now find ourselves in a situation where three major crises have converged upon us at once: (1) the COVID-19 pandemic, (2) the subsequent economic crash, and (3) the social unrest, which is driven by 400 years of racist institutional policies and aggregate individual behavior—each differentially impact people of color. In every one of these events, there have been critical mistakes made; different decisions could have eased the stress and improved outcomes. Ultimately, we as individuals are responsible for holding our leaders accountable and doing what we can to change systems, structures, policies, and mindsets. The impact of our collective failure to adequately do so is now described daily in our newspapers and constantly on television and in social media.

Never in my lifetime have the significance of key elections loomed so large in the future of our community and country. While we must continue to take advantage of the new investment in our public health infrastructure in response to coronavirus, we also must engage in the political processes playing out, as this too will directly affect population health, equity, and social justice issues. I encourage each of you to take up that gauntlet and advance a common good agenda.

At SPHIS, our vision as a school of public health is to be a leader in advancing health equity and social justice to ensure optimal health and well-being for all. We are advocates. Our faculty, staff, students, alumni and partners support changes to structural factors to improve opportunities, especially for marginalized populations. We value equity and inclusion. Recognizing that advantages and barriers exist and that we do not all start from the same place, we seek to cultivate a community where everyone is safe, welcome, valued, and has access to the same opportunities.

We have developed several new courses that directly address the COVID-19 pandemic, its disparate economic impacts, and the social justice issues that plague our communities. In other courses, we will be infusing new material to ensure that we are engaged in discussions about these critical issues. We are also receptive to providing new forums for those interested in establishing a dialogue. We must support each other as we struggle with how best to process all this in our own way while contemplating our individual strategies to contribute to a better tomorrow.

Be healthy, be safe, be engaged—for if we are not engaged in our own ways, we are complicit in the systemic support of our country’s racist ways and lack of preparedness.


May 2020

Let me first start by offering my personal congratulations to our May 2020 graduates. Whether you are an undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral student, you’ve invested a lot of energy in preparing for your future career. This accomplishment is typically celebrated with a graduation ceremony surrounded by faculty, friends, and family. However, COVID-19 restrictions postponed our usual commencement ceremonies until December and UofL provided a virtual graduation celebration at That said, we are still are celebrating our students and their accomplishments! View the list of SPHIS graduatescommencement award winners, and watch a fantastic video that our faculty and staff made for our 2020 graduates.

In the past few months, I’ve witnessed what we can accomplish when we are working together toward common goals for the common good. I’m proud to be part of the SPHIS community and appreciate the responsiveness and flexibility of our faculty, instructors, students, staff, and administration. Be sure to read about the ways the SPHIS community is involved in COVID-19 efforts— by conducting new researchvolunteering to do contact tracing, and responding to media inquiries. We have alumni who are on the frontline working in health departments. We have also been successful in raising money to provide emergency aid to our students.

As a school, we established a small group to process and share evolving guidelines related to COVID-19. We are communicating regularly with employees and students and ensuring they have the resources and support needed. The university virtually convenes our leadership team regularly and, as a group, we have made several key decisions:

-- We moved to remote and online instruction, which continues through the summer semester.
-- We implemented a pass/fail policy for the spring semester.
-- Our faculty and staff are working remotely
-- We have postponed or canceled university-sponsored events.
-- International and domestic university-sponsored travel is suspended.
-- Students living in residence halls moved out if they were able and most of those remaining on campus housing were relocated to singles with private bathrooms. 

The university aims to return to some form of on-campus life by fall semester. Be advised that this step may include a number of new strategies, making life very different from what we knew just six months ago. That said, we are also preparing for the real possibility that such a move would not be prudent.

Due to the lack of public health infrastructure (that has been actively dismantled the past 15 years), we were woefully unprepared for this infectious disease crisis. We hope that the work that is aggressively occurring globally will lead to an effective vaccine sometime next year; and that there will be little pushback to rapid population vaccination campaigns seeking herd immunity as quickly as possible. In the meantime, we have two choices: (1) continue the stay-at-home social distancing that is in place and has saved tens of thousands of lives or (2) move toward a more targeted restrictive policy that can identify those infected and keep them at home and away from the rest of us who can carefully restart our economy. This latter strategy requires human capital and physical capacity to implement adequate case tracking, contact tracing, and lab testing to ensure containment of the virus until that time when vaccine herd immunity can “trump” this disease.

I hope that every member of the SPHIS community is actively taking the necessary steps to protect your physical and mental health and that of those around you. Stay connected and reach out if you need help.

Be safe and stay healthy!

Spring 2020

We are facing unusual times, and in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, our overarching goals are to minimize the population health impacts of the pandemic and support our students in completing the spring semester. In the last month, I’ve witnessed what we can accomplish when we are working together toward common goals for the common good. I’m proud to be part of the SPHIS community and appreciate the responsiveness and flexibility of our faculty, instructors, students, staff, and administration.

The university is virtually convening a leadership team regularly and, as a group, we have made several key decisions. Our first big step was to extend spring break and move to remote and online instruction, which will continue through the end of the semester. Our faculty and staff are working remotely and we have postponed or canceled university-sponsored events. International and domestic university-sponsored travel is suspended. Even though the campus remains open and operational, we asked students living in residence halls to move out if they were able. The vast majority have done so, and most of those remaining in campus housing have relocated to singles with private bathrooms.  

As a school, we have established a small group to process and share evolving guidelines. We are communicating regularly with employees and students to ensure they have the resources and support needed. We have developed a pass/fail policy for this semester and although commencement is postponed until December, we will still be celebrating the accomplishments of our May 2020 graduates.

I'm writing this as we begin National Public Health Week, which is our annual opportunity to promote public health. This year, however, COVID-19 has put public health in the spotlight and our message is one of gratitude. For the next month, we’ll be broadcasting the following messages on Louisville Public Media, WHAS11 and SPHIS social media. On behalf of the UofL School of Public Health and Information Sciences, I want to say thank you to:

-- our state and local leaders who are taking critical steps to make population health a priority.
-- our neighbors who are staying “healthy at home” to protect themselves and others.
-- our neighbors who are making sacrifices to provide care and keep essential services running.
-- the scientists and researchers who are seeking ways to combat this new virus.

I hope that every member of the SPHIS community is actively taking the necessary steps to protect your physical and mental health and that of those around you. Stay connected and reach out if you need help. Remember to check UofL’s COVID-19 webpage for the latest updates and Frequently Asked Questions.

Stay healthy!

Dr. Craig Blakely

P.S. In the spirit of the National Public Health Week, we hope you will consider making a gift to support current and future public health students.

Winter 2020

Welcome to spring semester 2020. As I noted a few months ago, this is a busy spring driven in large part by the school’s reaccreditation visit by the Council on Education in Public Health in late March. It is a very demanding, introspective process that documents a wide array of historic and current details as well as strategic planning. We are also launching our newest 100% online degree–an Executive M.S. in Health Administration. This degree is perfect for busy healthcare professionals with five years of healthcare experience who want to advance their careers.

There is a great deal of strategic thinking going on around town these days. Everyone should be fully aware of the new UofL strategic plan formally sanctioned several months ago. The plan builds on four major constructs: (1) great place to learn, (2) great place to work, (3) great place to invest, and (4) major focus on diversity, inclusion and equity. The university has convened several work groups to transition from plan to implementation. SPHIS is well represented in these work groups.

Another related action item is the university’s effort to identify a number of “grand challenges” upon which to focus much of our attention and resources. University research leadership and others are discussing topics such as the climate crisis, advanced manufacturing, social justice, and environmental determinants of health. It’s promising to see public/population health prominently featured in these discussions.

At the same time, Greater Louisville Inc. (GLI), Louisville’s chamber of commerce, is wrapping up their economic development strategic plan. The plan has been sanctioned by the GLI board and is in a final preparation phase before it is released to the public. It’s notable that the plan calls for private sector investment in the UofL research engine as the premier innovation economic driver in our region.

It is exciting to be part of these strategic initiatives that prioritize public health. The more we can soften barriers established by our own silos, the greater the outcomes we can achieve in our community. I am hopeful about the potential convergence of these bodies of strategic thinking and our role in putting plans into action and, ultimately, about positive impacts.

Go Cards!

Fall 2019


Those of you who live in the Commonwealth should be fully aware of the fact that Kentucky has statewide elections a year preceding the national election cycle. Thus, we will be voting on the following statewide positions: GovernorLieutenant GovernorAttorney GeneralSecretary of StateAuditorTreasurer, and Agriculture Commissioner. If you are going to be traveling the first week in November, for example, to the Annual Public Health Association (APHA) conference, please remember to take care of this civic responsibility prior to your departure.

Speaking of APHA, we are excited about the contingent of folks attending. Many are presenting posters, papers, research, and/or participating in various roundtable discussions. A list of some of those sessions can be viewed here. As usual, the networking opportunities are extensive (always a good venue for finishing students to be looking for jobs as well) and many a long-term friendship is established. While I will not personally be in Philadelphia this year, I will look forward to the reports and stories on return. Make sure to enjoy a real cheesesteak while there and stop by the SPHIS exhibit hall booth and Happy Hour reception (Mon., Nov. 4).

SPHIS just recognized Lewatis McNeal, PhD, MPH, as our Alumnus of the Year. He is a 2016 SPHIS graduate who received a PhD in Public Health Sciences (Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences). He is currently a Clinical Associate Professor of Public Health and  Assistant Dean of Administration in the College of Education at Northern Kentucky University. He is also a new member of the SPHIS Community Advisory Board, which counsels SPHIS leadership on matters related to the collaboration between the greater Louisville community and the school. He attended our fall meeting and engaged in a spirited discussion about school climate, particularly as it relates to disadvantaged populations. We look forward to working with him as we more closely examine culture/climate issues here at UofL.

Finally, many of you may recall the Council on Education in Public Health (CEPH) reaccreditation process that the school is currently undertaking. Our preliminary self-study document was submitted at the end of October. We will receive feedback from the review team and have time to make final revisions before it is returned in February 2020. Updates will follow at the outset of the winter/spring semester.

I want to encourage our students to finish the semester strong, and in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to express gratitude for our amazing community of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and partners. A special note of thanks goes out to those who participated in UofL's Day of Giving last week, which raised $12,935 for SPHIS.

Go Cards!

Fall 2019

Fall 2019 is underway. Each fall we have a few regular pieces in the newsletter — new colleagues who have joined the faculty or staff; interesting research underway; our alumnus/a of the year, etc. And, of course, celebrating the achievements of our students. You will find each of these stories and in this edition of the newsletter.

We have three new academic programs making their debut this fall. First, we are starting an undergraduate minor in public health nutrition. If you think about the array of proactive things one can do to be healthier, two stand out: diet and exercise. UofL has not had a substantial emphasis on nutrition. This program will focus on population-level nutrition issues. Second, we have a new MS in health data analytics just underway. The student numbers are small this first year, but everything points toward this becoming a very significant program. I recently participated in a National Institute of Health (NIH) meeting exploring predictive analytic modeling in order to inform their implementation research agenda. Some are describing this new analytics capability—this digital revolution—as the fourth industrial revolution (water and steam power to electric power to electronics and information technology). There is no doubt that there are some exciting career opportunities down the health data analytics pathway. Third, we have enrolled our first seven students in the Accelerated Bachelors-Master of Public Health. These undergraduates will complete a four-year BA in public health and a two-year MPH in just five years. By planning ahead and investing one additional year, students will have the potential to make a huge leap in both the level of their first job and their entire career earning capacity. We continue to develop new academic programs that meet both workforce needs and the interests of our students.

Another huge item on our agenda for this year is the school’s Council on Education in Public Health (CEPH) reaccreditation process that occurs every seven years. CEPH works under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Education. The university is reaccredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) every 10 years. Some colleges (e.g., public health, medicine, social work) elect to become accredited within their discipline as well which adds a significant level of validation that is simply not present at unaccredited schools or programs. There are currently only 64 CEPH accredited schools of public health in the country, and many more institutions that have, for example, single programs CEPH accredited (e.g., an MPH degree in social and behavioral health). The whole CEPH accreditation procedure is a fairly complex, introspective process that requires a great deal of work by many. It forces us to reconsider everything from our mission/vision to our methods of reaching out to alumni to determine whether we are meeting the workforce/career needs of our students. As a result, we have spent a great deal of time the past two years reconsidering our academic programs, the competencies critical to the success of programs and graduates, our research foci, our inclusion practices, and…this long list goes on. Our draft self-study document goes to CEPH at the end of October. We will get feedback and resubmit a final document in preparation for a three-day site visit in March 25-27, 2020. In early 2020, we will construct the site-visit schedule and will invite some students, alumni and friends to participate, so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, if any of you are interested in learning more about the process, I/we would be happy to chat some or schedule a time to talk more formally about the reaccreditation process.

Welcome to academic year 2020 at UofL and make sure to vote in November.

Summer 2019

I generally share some thoughts in our newsletters for the entire SPHIS community. However, having just graduated our largest class ever, I thought it would be appropriate to address our newest alumni directly:

What an exciting time. A significant goal achieved, a great deal accomplished, several lasting friendships, a new professional network—and hopefully a job or an invitation to another degree program.

We need public health professionals now more than ever. Apply your skills, but also take advantage of your elevated status in your community, wherever that may be. Engaging in the local political arena is also a public/population health activity.

At orientation, I typically suggest that each one of you aggressively seek to take everything from us you can during your relatively short stay at UofL. Gain all the knowledge you can, learn new processes and tools for navigating the world around us, but have some fun along the way as well.

Whether you now possess a bachelor’s degree or a graduate degree, your chosen career path is likely to require a good deal of life-long learning. Remember UofL as a potential source of some of that continuing investment.

Also, remember that we too are proud of your accomplishments to date and are equally excited about what lies ahead. No doubt you will make significant contributions in many arenas—perhaps in areas you have not even anticipated. We would like to hear regularly about your professional activities, your accomplishments, and your new opportunities. Please keep in touch and make certain we know how to send you updates about UofL and the School of Public Health and Information Sciences.

Go Cards!

Spring 2019

I am just now starting to get my feet back underneath me following a recent foray to Bayelsa State in southern Nigeria. A small group of us visited following an invitation from Governor Henry Seriake Dickson. We are working on an exciting project with the Governor and his team to assist them with the establishment of an academic health science center at the University of Africa Toro-Orua (UAT). They are well on the way to having of a 500-bed hospital that will be a cornerstone of the operation. Our colleagues in the School of Medicine and the Brown Cancer Center will work jointly with their counterparts in Nigeria on building the medical school curriculum, policies and procedures, hiring initial faculty members, and configuring a new cancer center in Bayelsa State. The hope is that these facilities will become a model for the region.

SPHIS will be engaged in two initiatives initially. First, Bayelsa State will be sponsoring 10 to 15 Nigerian students in fall 2019 who will enroll in SPHIS graduate programs at the master’s and doctoral levels. They will all be coming with full graduate assistantships, supported by the Governor’s imitative, and then be obligated to return to work in Bayelsa State for an agreed upon period of time. Next, we will likely begin at least one joint master’s program in public health with colleagues at UAT with additional collaborative projects to follow. For example, it may come to pass that the new UAT hospital will join our NSF-supported Center for Health Organization Transformation, opening access to incredible research opportunities. We hope that the Bayelsa State projects will provide opportunities for some of our graduate students in global health, health data analytics, etc.

The Vice Chancellor and Provost from UAT, Drs. Etebu and Nasidi, visited Louisville several months ago and will likely be back in a few weeks to continue discussions about details linked to these projects. We also hope to arrange for Drs. Etebu and Nasidi to meet with SPHIS students and discuss public health in Nigeria. A team from UofL, including President Bendapudi, is scheduled to visit Nigeria mid-May. Stay tuned for more details.

In addition to the recently launched MS in Health Data Analytics and new programs in biostatistics, school leadership is rolling out a new accelerated bachelor’s/MPH program (a.k.a. 4+1) —essentially enabling undergraduates who meet admission guidelines to overlap some instruction functionally allowing them to complete four years of undergraduate instruction and two years of master’s instruction in just five years. This could be a great opportunity for students who want to advance their careers quickly. Using data from a recent Association of Schools and Programs in Public Health publication, this could easily add another $1 Million in career earnings. Something to consider.

Before we know it, graduation and Derby will be upon us. The school has continued to grow enrollment at both the undergraduate and graduate levels each year. This may once again be our largest graduation class. I am looking forward to shaking hands with all the graduates in a few weeks.

Best of luck with the semester wrap-up. Enjoy the spring weather. Vote in the primaries.

Winter 2019

Some characterize winter as a time for slowing down in response to shorter days and colder weather. Nevertheless, we have been in high gear here at SPHIS with the start of a new year and looking forward to an eventful 2019. 

SPHIS began the semester with our largest group of spring students on record enrolled at both the undergraduate and graduate program levels. We have introduced several new “Cardinal Core” courses (UofL’s general education requirements) that are gaining substantial enrollment numbers. We also have a few new programs just about to launch. For example, we will offer a “4+1 program” that will allow public health undergraduate students the opportunity to obtain a 4-year bachelor’s degree and a 2-year master’s degree in only five years. Formal documents are advancing through central administration now; we will officially present this opportunity to our undergraduates in the coming weeks. 

Campus is still buzzing with excitement because of UofL’s new leadership team. President Bendapudi, now in her second semester on campus, has her bearings and has made several huge strides already. She is also leading a new strategic planning process for the university. Our overarching mission and vision as the state’s premier urban research institution are likely to remain unchanged, with the president’s emphasis of making UofL a “great place to learn, great place to work and great place to invest.” Dr. Bendapudi gathered a number of university leaders and took the first steps toward establishing our new strategic plan mid-January. Work groups will soon be formed to flesh out the details in key priority areas. The intent is to have a formal plan in place by mid-to-late summer. Keep an eye on our progress here:

This timing is perfect for the public health school. As most of you know, we are entering into our final self-study year as our regular seven-year cycle of Council on Education in Public Health (CEPH) reaccreditation is in play. We will submit our formal self-study documents this fall and host a CEPH site visit team March 25-27, 2020. Consequently, we will be retooling our own strategic plan concurrently with the university’s calendar. All of this will point toward a new array of metrics that we will use to monitor the success of our efforts as a school.  We look forward to gaining input from our alumni and partners, as well SPHIS faculty, staff, and students, as this process moves forward.

I look forward to meeting more of our current students in the coming weeks as well as connecting with prospective students at Public Health Preview Day on Saturday, Feb. 23. Of course, the highlight will be shaking hands with many on-stage at graduation in a few short months. Baseball is right around the corner. Manage the next few weeks and spring will be here before you know it. As always, I encourage all of you to pay attention to current events, become involved when you can, and vote if you are eligible. 

Have a great semester!

November 2018

Happy Thanksgiving!

Americanized holidays (e.g., Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Labor Day) were founded on principles that have a tendency to become lost. This year, rather than focusing on the early shared feasts—before the colonization of the country was complete—let us focus on what has become a traditional time of family coming together.

Here at SPHIS we are moving into the final stretch of the Fall 2018 semester. To those who are freshmen or first-year graduate students, this is a big deal—the close of the first semester. To others, it’s another checkmark in a long list of academic accomplishments. A number of our undergraduates, master’s students, and doctoral candidates will graduate in December. Reaching the finish line is a cause for celebration. Both your own family, and your academic family, are proud of your accomplishments and wish you the best in your future endeavors.

During Homecoming Week in October, we honored our public health alumna of the year, Dr. Avonne Connor.  Dr. Connor, a graduate of the Department of Epidemiology and Population Health and Assistant Professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, provided wonderful remarks at the UofL gala that honored each school’s alumni fellow. She has a strong start to her research career underway—check out the school’s website for more details.

Our faculty continue to make great inroads in our effort to build the school’s research engine. This is the second year in a row where SPHIS researchers rank second in the university in research dollar expenditures per FTE faculty member. In addition, our colleagues in the Commonwealth Institute of Kentucky (CIK) continue to build our signature policy shop – check out their latest annual report. We’ve also just announced several new collaborative projects, including two new state partnership Medicaid projectsthat will be led by Drs. Chris Johnson, J’Aime Jennings, and Bert Little in the Department of Health Management and Systems Sciences.

Even though a few colleagues have recently departed, we have a lot to be grateful for as we have hired several new faculty and staff members. Join us in welcoming the following new faculty members: Natalie DuPre, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Epidemiology, Theo Edmonds, JD, MHA, MFA, Assistant Professor, Department of Health Management and System Sciences, and Aisha Brown, Assistant Professor, Department of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences. Additionally, Jenna El-Masri, Academic Counselor, Deepti Jain, Senior Admissions Counselor, and Toya Northington, Program Coordinator, are joining us as new staff members.

We are also continuing our multi-year effort to retool the school’s academic programs. We have a brand new MS in Health Data Analytics, which is slated to begin Fall 2019. Our undergraduate program, now in its fourth year, went through a serious review and revision process last year—with input from many. We have just finished doing the same with the MPH program. We will be looking at our other MS programs in the coming months and then revisit all of our PhD programs. This timing is appropriate given the age of many of these programs, and timely given our reaccreditation review with the Council on Education in Public Health in March 2020. Later this month the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education (CAHME) will be visiting our new MS in Health Administration program to establish its initial accreditation. All of this is being done to build our school in ways that bring recognition to the school, its faculty and staff, and more importantly, its students and alumni.

Before I close, I want to share a final thought. I am penning this just a few days before the midterm elections. While we may not all have shared the same wishes for this election, it is possible for us to share hope that the divisiveness that has permeated our American political system will be impacted favorably (as in a less polarized environment). If nothing else, we can at least go back to the silly commercials we are normally exposed to on the airwaves.

Have a great finish to the semester and have a wonderful pair of holiday breaks on the horizon.

September 2018

We have an exciting year in front of us. We’ve started the semester strong and have many opportunities on the horizon.  President Bendapudi likes to share the fact that the incoming freshman class is the largest the university has ever had—and she is brand new with every one of them! I like to point out that while the university’s overall enrollment declined just a bit—public health was the only school to experience double-digit percentage enrollment gains at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. We’re happy to welcome all of our new and returning students, faculty, and staff who make this growth possible. 

This year is also going to be exciting because the university finally gets to think and act strategically after several years of struggling with the aftermath of the previous administration’s failings. This is the year that we will envision what we want to look like in years to come. A new strategic plan will be in the works. A new revenue distribution model is already under development. All instructional and research programs will be scrutinized. New initiatives are underway reaching new markets. All of this will hopefully point UofL to a new structural and fiscal foundation, which should in turn allow for bold investments in strength areas and new opportunities.

Public health is poised to be in the middle of some of those evolutionary moves. As I noted in my last message, we have a number of new programs gearing up. Our new MS in Health Administration and fully online MS in Biostatisticsare both underway and had good enrollment numbers. Several other new instructional programs will be in place next fall and will benefit from a full year’s recruitment efforts. Speaking of recruitment, we are finally replacing our recruiter. We have been without for a year, driven primarily by the hiring freeze that has been in place. We look forward to introducing you to our new colleague in the coming weeks once it is official. 

Finally, need I point out that we live in very unusual times? As we invest in data-driven policy development, and strive to teach tomorrow’s leaders in this area, we continue to struggle with those in power who prefer to ignore data and make decisions based solely on personal preference. In times like these, we need not stoop to the common denominator when engaged in discourse. We must redouble our efforts and be true to our beliefs. If you are eligible to vote in Kentucky but have not registered, the deadline to register to participate in the November 6 general election is October 9.

Message from May 2018

Thunder Over Louisville has come and gone. The marathoners had a beautiful day for the race with the overall winner coming in under two hours and 20 minutes. Spring Meet is underway at Churchill Downs, the winners of Oaks and Derby are in the record books, and Wagner’s is as busy as ever on the backside of the track. All that is to say—it’s May in Louisville and graduation time again!

This year, the School of Public Health and Information Sciences is producing its largest graduating class ever, up 71 percent from four years ago and 14 percent from last year. We continue to support the university’s efforts to increase student enrollment, placing third across the schools and colleges at the university-level in undergraduate growth (by percentage) each of the last three years. Even more exciting is the projections for Fall 2018 graduate student growth, which shows SPHIS in first place! All this is occurring thanks to the hard work of the student services team, the departments, and, of course, the academic public health programs we have available.

As we wind down Fiscal Year 2017-18, it also appears as though we will once again finish second across all UofL schools and colleges in amount of research dollars generated per FTE faculty member. Grants awarded, proposals submitted, and students supported are all up. We also continue to be among the leaders in all metrics associated with community engagement. The successful CDC-funded Youth Violence Prevention Research Center, last fall’s cover story in UofL Magazine, continues to thrive. The center will move its operation to the new Passport Health Plan building at 18th and Broadway when construction is completed in about two years. SPHIS is also coordinating the establishment of a transdisciplinary master’s degree program in community development to operate in the same location.

In addition to all of these exciting developments, we look forward to working with UofL’s new president, Dr. Neeli Bendapudi. She joins us from the provost’s position at the University of Kansas. I had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours with her in group settings. She is as energetic and articulate as you may has noticed from TV clips. Better still, she comes highly regarded by her peers and students at Kansas. The UofL community is ready for change, and Dr. Bendapudi’s experience and unique perspective will be valuable in setting a new direction.

Let me close by speaking directly to the new graduates. I wish all of you the best of times as you embark on your new career or continue the trajectory already established. We have enjoyed the opportunity to share our thoughts with you in preparing you for those next steps. We are proud of your accomplishments and look forward to watching you continue to grow. I also want to thank all the friends and family, and the SPHIS faculty and staff, who have supported you in different ways during your studies. And remember, even if you are very happy in your place in life, you’ll never know when a door might open unless you pay attention.

To all of our alumni, I ask that you please keep us informed of your movements. Participate in the alumni association and stay in touch with your colleagues and those of us still at SPHIS. Keep in mind that sometimes your greatest resource will be the growing alumni of the school. Therefore, it is best to remain engaged to ensure easy and regular access to this wonderful network of public health professionals.

Again, best wishes to all our graduates and alumni. To everyone else, we look forward to welcoming you back next semester.

Message from March 2018

If you keep up with UofL news, you know that March Madness came early for us. The UofL community is coming to terms with the NCAA’s decision to strip UofL of its 2013 National Championship title as well as vacate our wins during the 2011-2015 men’s basketball seasons. While this unprecedented decision is disheartening, we are ready to turn the page and begin a new chapter in the university’s history.

This means staying focused on growth at SPHIS. We are now enrolling students for our fully online M.S. in Biostatistics and in the final stages of approval for our new M.S. in Health Data Analytics and M.S. in Health Administration. We recently hosted our first-ever Public Health Preview Day, which gave over 45 prospective students and their families an overview of public health as well as all of the different degrees and concentrations available at SPHIS. I want to thank all of the faculty, staff, and attendees for enduring heavy rain and flooding to attend this event.

The search for a new university president is ongoing, and we’ve been engaged with the Board of Trustees to ensure we find the right leader for UofL. I’m confident we will find the right person to continue moving UofL toward our goal of becoming the leading research university in the region.

The Louisville Urban League recently released its State of Black Louisville 2018 Report, which highlights the state of affairs of African Americas in the areas of jobs, justice, education, health, and housing in Louisville. Several SPHIS faculty, including myself, contributed to the health section of this important report.

I’ve also enjoyed reading the responses to our 2018 Passions and Plans campaign, where faculty and staff are sharing how they are advancing public health in 2018. These submissions make me proud to be working in public health at the University of Louisville and inspires me to continue striving for much needed changes in our community and across the nation. We grieve for the lives lost at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and extend our deepest condolences to the victims’ families and friends. This tragedy is another painful reminder that we need to come together and encourage our politicians to take a deeper look at evidence-based public health science in regards to gun violence so we can hopefully prevent tragedies like this from happening in the future. May today’s high school students be more successful at pushing appropriate policy change than we have been!

Message from January 2018

Happy New Year!

The Office of External Affairs is asking members of the SPHIS community to share their PASSIONS & PLANS for the coming year. We will share these statements on social media throughout the year to highlight our amazing public health educators, researchers, and leaders.

Dr. Craig Blakely, Dean, is kicking things off by sharing his goals for 2018:

I want to set the vision for the School of Public Health and Information Sciences and ensure the  school receives the proper recognition for the exceptional work of our faculty, staff, students, alumni and partners.

As a school, we will continue our outstanding partnerships with Louisville Metro government and the thriving healthcare industry.

We will launch new instructional programs that directly build on our research and service engines, expand our partnerships, meet critical needs in our community—be they individual or organizational—and directly impact relevant metrics tied to health policy, systems operations, and data analytics.

We will lead by example demonstrating how to form collaborations and conduct research that leads to meaningful changes in health systems and policy, and contribute to a better climate for change.

We will remain committed to our ultimate goal, which is common across all those who work in public health.

Ultimately, we set our targets on improving life expectancy and the conditions under which people can be healthy. And, we will continue to lead the university in our efforts to recognize and foster a climate that is inclusive to all segments of our community.

Message from June 2017


I really enjoy spring in Louisville. This year my wife, Karan, and I hosted friends and family for Thunder Over Louisville (and survived the rain). Then a few weeks later I had the privilege of participating in our Graduation Celebration, Doctoral Hooding, and Commencement. I want to applaud this group for all they have accomplished thus far and thank their family and friends, and SPHIS faculty and staff, who cheered them on toward this important milestone.

Now it’s June and we are planning and looking forward. There are many things going on and I want to touch on several areas that affect all of us.

I will start with the state of the university. There is a growing sense of optimism in the President’s Office about the near term future. Clearly, we are working within a complex situation. Where state support for post-secondary education was cut 13 of the last 16 years and is flat this year. Tuition also will remain unchanged for next year—UofL is the only university in the Commonwealth working that model. And findings from the forensic audit have been released to the Board of Trustees. Leadership believes the corner is just in front of us; if we are able to meet our fiscal goals during Academic Year 2017-18, we can begin strategic investments in 2019. That would be a welcome set of events.

At the national level, the Trump administration continues to push policies that are not data driven; threaten the incredible gains Kentucky made in health care coverage and access; curtail many federally supported public health initiatives (e.g., food assistance, housing support, education, public health training centers); and roll back environmental protections dramatically. On the global scene, the Zika virus seems to have lost the spotlight of a year ago—perhaps because the world is not converging on Rio for the Olympics -- but summer outbreaks will likely be greater than last year in the southern regions of Florida and Texas. Storms continue to become increasingly violent.  And the threat of terrorism remains “huge”. The social determinants sit at the root of all of these evils. 

Is there any doubt that the need for public health professionals in leadership positions remains paramount?

It is against this landscape that we must set our course for next year. We anticipate strong enrollment numbers again this fall. This follows two substantial growth years when our overall student count is about 2 ¼ times what it was just four years ago—with most of that growth occurring in our new undergraduate programs. Our faculty are reviewing and updating program curricula and courses to ensure high quality student experiences. Our MPH concentration in global health with a specialization on maternal and child health beings this fall. The MS in Health Data Analytics is in the throes of internal university review. We are excited about all of these offerings and firmly believe they will lead to continuing student growth and meaningful community engagement.

To all of our students, alumni, supporters, faculty and staff—thank you for what you do. It is now more important than ever.

May you have a healthy and happy summer. 

Dr. Craig Blakely

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