From the Dean: A Bridge to the World

From the Dean: A Bridge to the World

It was my great good fortune to move to Michigan in 1995. I never intended to settle in the Midwest. Like many of my colleagues, I came here to be part of a world-class public university—an institution with a genuinely global impact and reach. I didn’t give much thought to the surrounding state, and I certainly never expected to fall in love with it.

And then I discovered Michigan.

There’s a feeling you get in this state that you get nowhere else, and it goes far beyond the Wolverines triumphing over Ohio State on the gridiron in November. Besides the extraordinary beauty of this part of the world, Michigan is a place with tremendous creativity and a rich and diverse history. Yes, we’ve experienced our share of hardship in recent years, but this state has long been—and will long continue to be—a powerful emblem of hope, hard work, and prosperity.

Consider this: in the 19th century, Michigan was a terminus on the Underground Railroad—a place to which people with no prospects for a future, let alone a healthy future, flocked. In the 20th century, thanks to Henry Ford’s pioneering inventions, Michigan helped give birth to the American middle class and to the concept of workers’ rights. In the 21st century, Michiganders are pioneering new technologies to wean us from our dependence on fossil fuels, and researchers in our own School of Public Health are developing new solutions to age-old threats like infectious disease, environmental contamination, and natural disasters, and novel approaches to emerging health issues like childhood obesity and antibiotic resistance.

Innovation is a hallmark of this state. So is collaboration. We’re the only state in the country that consists of two peninsulas connected by a bridge. We know how to reach out, how to forge partnerships across communities and nations (we also have bridges to Canada). Interdisciplinary work is vital to the mission of both the University of Michigan and SPH, and the concept of community-based participatory research informs much of our research, teaching, and service. In this issue of Findings you’ll read about SPH partnerships with communities throughout Michigan that are helping to eliminate health disparities, increase access to care, improve health care quality, and boost savings.

The work we do here in this state reverberates throughout the world. NSF International, now a global company, started here at SPH. So did the Seva Foundation, which helps communities in nine countries, plus the U.S., build sustainable solutions to poverty and disease. Michigan played a central role in the testing of the Salk polio vaccine, the development of FluMist, the introduction of fluoridated water, and the creation of Earth Day. We are the birthplace of HealthMedia Inc., a company dedicated to improving health through the innovative use of behavioral science and information technology, and of the Center for Value-Based Insurance Design, which explores new ways to improve health outcomes and contain costs, and whose concepts have been written into the Affordable Care Act. Many of our community-based partnerships in Michigan have expanded to include global partners.

Michigan is where students come to learn about and practice public health and to launch their careers. It’s where they discover, as I did, the astonishing diversity this state has to offer. We have wilderness and high-density urban centers, manufacturing plants and high-tech research hubs—not to mention the largest repository of fresh water on the face of the planet. The health issues you encounter in Michigan are wide-ranging. Refugee health, infant mortality, fish safety, infectious disease surveillance, air quality, childhood obesity, and chronic disease: it’s all here, and more. It’s little surprise that so many of our graduates choose to stay in Michigan after completing their degrees, and to take leadership positions in state and county health departments, hospitals and health care organizations, corporations and industry, colleges and universities—or to start new entrepreneurial ventures, and in doing so to help spur the state economy.

This state offers experiential learning like no other—which is why I honestly believe Michigan is the best place to study public health. As you’ll see on just about every page of this issue, the public health you learn and practice here in the Great Lake State will take you anywhere in the world. Go Blue!

-Martin Philbert
Dean and Professor of Toxicology

Send correspondence about this or any Findings article to the editor at You will be contacted if your letter is considered for publication.