Dr. Michelle A. Williams

Jamaica-born epidemiologist and educator Michelle Williams, distinguished for her pivotal studies on maternal and child health around the globe, has been name the new dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Her appointment begins July 1.

Williams has served as the Stephen B. Kay Family Professor of Public Health and chair of the Epidemiology Department at Harvard since 2011.  She’s also the faculty director of the Harvard Catalyst’s Population Health Research Program and the Health Disparities Research Program, and was previously a professor and administrator at the University of Washington.

A prolific researcher, Williams has led numerous international research projects and National Institutes of Health grants aimed at training members of groups that are underrepresented in science fields and training aspiring epidemiologists and other public health investigators in dozens of countries.

Her work has been hailed for its creative integration of different scientific disciplines in finding solutions to public health challenges, and has been recognized for outstanding mentorship by several entities, including the White House.

“Michelle Williams is an eminent epidemiologist, an outstanding teacher and mentor, and an energizing leader and institutional citizen, impassioned about the power of public health to change people’s lives for the better,” said Harvard President Drew Faust in announcing the appointment.

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

Dr. Williams is a 1984 graduate of Princeton University in New Jersey, where she majored in biology. She went on to obtain a master’s degree in civil engineering from Tufts University and a master’s degree and a science doctorate in epidemiology from Harvard University.

In 1992, she joined the University of Washington faculty as an assistant professor of epidemiology and rose to the rank of professor by 2000. As she gained an international reputation as an epidemiologist and educator, Williams became highly active in the Center for Perinatal Studies at the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, rising to become co-director from 2000 to 2011, with broad responsibility for a multidisciplinary research program involving clinical investigators, basic scientists, and epidemiologists. From 1992 to 2010, she held an appointment as an affiliate investigator at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, and from 2008 to 2011 she held a joint appointment in global health at the UW. In 2011, she was recruited back to Harvard.

In accepting her new appointment, Williams said she was excited by the possibilities.

“As an alumna and faculty member, I have witnessed the transformative impact that this institution can have in education, research, and discovery related to the health of communities in need,” she said in a statement. “We have an imperative to lead and to serve, and I am looking forward to working even more closely with the School’s faculty, students, staff, and alumni to build on the School’s achievements under Julio Frenk’s remarkable leadership and to advance our collective commitment to understanding and confronting public health challenges worldwide.”