Purdue University: Purdue welcomes 11 faculty through cluster hire effort in public health and health equity; advances goal to further diversify campus

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A strategic hiring effort to expand Purdue University’s focus in public health and health equity while diversifying the racial makeup of its faculty has reached a major milestone, with 11 new faculty starting their Boilermaker academic careers this fall.

These new faculty members, appointed as part of an inaugural cluster hire search in conjunction with Purdue’s centrally supported Equity Task Force, span six departments in the colleges of Health and Human Sciences and Pharmacy, and Libraries and School of Information Studies.

“This cadre of outstanding new Boilermaker faculty members will strengthen our growing public health impact and drive Purdue’s research, teaching and engagement excellence in public health and health equity,” said Marion Underwood, dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences.

Underwood developed the Purdue cluster hire proposal, which called for a major investment by the university in public health and health equity, in collaboration with Eric Barker, the Jeannie and Jim Chaney Dean of Pharmacy; Karen Plaut, the Glenn W. Sample Dean of Agriculture; and Willie Reed, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine.

An essential component of a multiyear, $75 million effort by the Equity Task Force and Purdue Board of Trustees was a set of cross-campus interdisciplinary cluster hires driven by inclusive searches designed to bring a diverse set of exceptional scholars to Purdue, said John Gates, Purdue vice provost for diversity and inclusion in the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging.

“Hiring these excellent scholars is a significant step in response to our call to become a more diverse campus. We know a more diverse faculty and student body lifts the research and learning enterprise of our entire university,” Gates said.

The hiring landscape is especially favorable in public health, with a strong pool of young, Black faculty nationwide pursuing tenure-track opportunities in the field, which also covers policy, equity and other growing areas of study and research.

“It’s an honor, truly a privilege, to be a part of the largest class of new faculty at Purdue and as a new member of the university’s Black faculty community,” said Andrea Hayes, a new assistant professor of libraries and information studies, who has expertise in public health literacy among underrepresented and underserved populations.

“We need more equity and diversified faculty positions in higher education to make the impact that’s needed in our global health community. Purdue is taking these important steps for making that happen. It may be a high, lofty goal, but we have to aim high.”

Moreover, the focus on public health aligns with Purdue’s current and future plans, drawing from the increasing numbers of excellent, diverse scholars earning degrees in public health and health equity, according to the 2020 NSF Survey of Earned Doctorates.

“Expanding and championing Purdue’s academic diversity and increasing the number of underrepresented faculty on our growing campus augments our excellence and is an important step in advancing our progress in public health and health equity,” Underwood said. “The expertise and perspectives these colleagues bring will enhance our teaching and learning environment, interdisciplinary research, and community engagement.”

Carlos Mahaffey is arriving this semester as an assistant professor of public health in Purdue’s College of Health and Human Sciences. He comes from Oklahoma State University, with plans to advance his research and scholarship in sexual health.

“We want to see ourselves as already there,” said Mahaffey, who earned his doctorate in pharmacy from Florida A&M University and a master’s degree in public health from Morehouse School of Medicine. “Just my presence here sends the message to other Black scholars looking for advancement opportunities in academia that Purdue is supporting a culture of diversity and making it a top priority.”

An emerging practice in higher education that originated during the late 1990s, cluster hiring involves adding faculty into multiple departments or colleges around interdisciplinary research topics, or “clusters.” Purdue has previously used this hiring strategy to successfully strengthen specific research areas.

The 11 faculty members arriving through this strategic cluster hire search in public health and health equity bring an extraordinary breadth and depth of scholarship and research excellence, standing out in their respective searches. Those areas of academic expertise range from mental health disparities, preventive health behavior promotion and health policy to epidemiology, biostatistics, nutrition and dietetics, and health intervention and promotion programs for marginalized communities. The faculty members beginning their Boilermaker academic careers this fall are:

College of Health and Human Sciences/Department of Human Development and Family Studies: Paul Robbins (Duke University).
HHS/Nursing: Haocen Wang (Texas A&M University) and Soojung Jo (Arizona State University).
HHS/Nutrition Science: Patricia Wolf (University of Illinois Urbana Champaign).
HHS/Public Health: Shandey Malcolm (National Epidemiologist of Turks and Caicos), Carlos Mahaffey (Oklahoma State University), Afsan Bhadelia (Harvard School of Public Health) and Bukola Usidame (University of Michigan).
Libraries and School of Information Studies: Andrea Hayes (University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences).
Pharmacy/Pharmacy Practice: Faria Chaudhry (St. Joseph Health System) and Michael Preston (University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences).
A public health and health equity cluster hire search will be relaunched this fall for three unfilled positions in the Brian Lamb School of Communication and the departments of Health Sciences and Sociology.

In conjunction with efforts by the Equity Task Force and Purdue’s expanding focus on public health and health equity, Dr. Jerome Adams, former Indiana state health commissioner and the 20th U.S. surgeon general, was appointed as a Presidential Fellow and executive director of Purdue’s Health Equity Initiatives in October 2021. He also serves as a professor of practice in the departments of Pharmacy Practice and Public Health and as a faculty member of Purdue’s Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering.

In addition, two new faculty clusters will be launched this fall, totaling eight positions:

The first of those focuses on sustainable and equitable urban environments and food systems. Hires will possibly land in one or more of five departments in the College of Agriculture (Agronomy, Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, Food Science, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, and/or Agricultural Economics).
The second is in prevention and treatment of antimicrobial resistance. The hires targeted are in the colleges of Veterinary Medicine, Science and Agriculture (Comparative Biology, Veterinary Clinical Sciences, Chemistry, Biological Sciences and Animal Science).

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