Q&A with Interim Dean William H. Dow


August 31, 2018

Incoming President of the Public Health Alumni Association Board of Directors Marta Cieslak MPH ’10 recently interviewed the UC Berkeley School of Public Health’s interim dean, William H. Dow, on behalf of our alumni community. Dean Dow began his tenure July 1, 2018.


Q. How long have you been at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health and what brought you here?

A. I joined the Berkeley Public Health faculty in 2004, so I am in my 15th year at Cal. The caliber of the faculty and the students is what most attracted me. Berkeley has an extraordinary reputation for thought leadership on the big issues in public health, and the students graduating from Berkeley Public Health have contributed to the field in extraordinary ways as well.

Q. What are the particular strengths of being based at UC Berkeley, in terms of the work you’re doing and your research?

A. One of the things I enjoy most about being on the Berkeley campus—and I’m sure this is a common sentiment among the faculty—is being surrounded by so many vibrant, brilliant people who are tackling the big, complex problems we face as a society from so many different angles. Berkeley as a whole has long emphasized “comprehensive excellence,” and with the School fully embedded on the Berkeley campus, it has been easy to collaborate with outstanding colleagues across many disciplines. For example, I direct the Berkeley Center on the Economics and Demography of Aging, and the center includes star faculty from economics, demography, business, sociology, psychology, public policy, natural resources, etc. In August we jointly sponsored a UC Berkeley Aging Research and Technology Innovation Summit, partnering with colleagues from biology, engineering, CITRIS, and OLLI, and we were thrilled to have 350 attendees from across campus as well as from the Bay Area tech community. These intersections create such a rich environment for innovative progress on the public health challenges and opportunities of aging societies.

Q. What do you think are the biggest opportunities/challenges for the School of Public Health over the next year?

A. The School will continue full-steam ahead this year in advancing our long-term strategic priorities, promoting high impact research and preeminent education to advance population health in partnership with diverse communities locally, throughout the state, nationally, and globally. We’re fortunate that the Berkeley campus strategic planning efforts have identified key initiatives related to health, inequality, climate change, and data science that dovetail well with the School’s strategic emphases on health equity, global changes in population and climate, and harnessing new data and technology innovation towards precision public health. This presents an excellent opportunity for the School to expand our impact through further in-depth collaboration with other units as the campus refines its new strategic initiatives for future fundraising and investment.

Also the School just moved into our fabulous new home in the Berkeley Way West building this summer. Our phenomenal staff have been working on all cylinders to help us settle in, and now we are working with faculty and students to take full advantage of this interactive new space to be able to further collaboration and cutting-edge educational experiences. We share the building with the School of Education and the Department of Psychology, so we are working with them to take advantage of new opportunities to engage with their faculty and students as well

Q. What are your goals as interim dean?

A. My number one goal is to promote conditions in the School for successfully recruiting an outstanding new dean. Thanks to outgoing Dean Stef Bertozzi’s excellent work the School is now projecting a budget surplus for the coming year, allowing us to turn our focus to positive investments in our strategic initiatives. This includes both research as well as expanding access to our education programs such as through growing the Online MPH program. The Chancellor has also articulated a goal of 25 percent Hispanic student enrollment within ten years, which echoes the School’s own goal of training a public health workforce that better reflects California’s diversity, so we will be working on strategies to further expand our student diversity as well as continuing our focus on equity and inclusion throughout the School community more generally.

I also highly value our alumni community, and want to hear more from you on how we could expand your ongoing engagement with the School. There are many opportunities for internships, networking events with alumni and students, supporting our 75th anniversary campaign, volunteering to serve on the PHAA board, and more.

Q. How do you plan to increase the School of Public Health’s visibility as a leader in research and education?

A. The good news is there are truly great things happening at the School of Public Health every day. But I’m not sure our news and stories are reaching everyone they should be. Moving forward, I am investing resources to expand our ability to share our success stories and highlight the amazing accomplishments of our students and faculty, across campus, the public health community, and to broader audiences. If alumni have ideas on how to help, please reach out!

Q. What steps are being taken in the search for a new dean?

A. The Provost’s office has appointed a committee to conduct a global search for the next dean of the School of Public Health, and the formal search announcement should be released in September. Our goal is to have her or him in place by July 1, 2019.