Ronald Aubert, visiting professor of the practice of race and ethnicity at the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America and the School of Public Health, began his role as interim dean of the SPH on April 6. Aubert temporarily takes the place of Dean of the SPH Ashish Jha while Jha takes a special assignment as the White House coronavirus response coordinator, announced in a community-wide email March 17.
At the University, Aubert directs the Presidential Scholars Program, where he “focuses on attracting and mentoring high-performing undergraduate students from historically underrepresented groups who are interested in STEM,” Provost Richard Locke P’18 wrote in a March 25 Today@Brown announcement. He also served as the SPH’s interim associate dean of diversity and inclusion, where he helped increase the SPH student-body diversity and advance its partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
As interim dean of the SPH, Aubert will oversee the school’s budget and personnel matters, Jha wrote in a March 17 email to the School of Public Health. “Ron will work closely with the school’s leadership team … to ensure that the school’s infrastructure supports operational excellence through enhanced philanthropy, improved financial practice and expanded physical space,” he wrote.
“I am very honored and excited about the possibility of leading the School of Public Health,” Aubert told The Herald. “It’s a great group of people — both faculty, staff and students in the school. This is a tremendous opportunity for me.”
Before coming to the University, Aubert served as a chief of epidemiology and commander in the U.S. Public Health Service with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, according to the March 25 announcement. Aubert has also held appointments at the University of North Carolina, Rutgers University and Emory University.
Still, “there’s a number of things for me to learn in (this new) position,” Aubert said. “I get to understand how decisions are made at this level and get to work more closely with the leadership team, which is really outstanding.”
Aubert recently attended a Public Health Departmental Undergraduate Group event, where he was “very excited” by the number of undergraduate students thinking about concentrating in public health. At the same time, serving as interim dean “is a chance for me to get closer to some of the graduate students as well,” he said.
Aubert hopes to continue diversifying the school’s students and faculty in his new position.
Since September 2021, the SPH has had an outside consultant observing its diversity, inclusion and equity activities to “give us some feedback on what we’re doing well (and) what areas we need to improve,” he said. “We are taking (their feedback) under advisement and being more aggressive and consistent with our approach.”
Aubert also remains dedicated to meeting the goals outlined in Jha’s agenda for the SPH.
The school has been “hiring pretty aggressively” in areas including pandemic preparedness, global health and health equity, he said, “to really boost what we offer in the school and to build out what we’d like to do going forward.”
The SPH Health Equity Scholars Program — which was initially focused on increasing partnerships with HBCUs — has expanded to include Hispanic-serving institutions, according to Aubert. This will “bolster our relationship and service with the state,” he added, and “is an attempt to change the face of public health over the next decade.”
“Public health is in vogue right now,” Aubert said. “We are going to be, as a school, in the middle of a lot of big things.”
Jha wrote that he is grateful to Aubert for taking on the role during “such an important time in the school’s history.” “I know that our research, educational and service initiatives will be in excellent hands,” he added.
This job “is a call to service,” Aubert said. “Just as Dean Jha was called by the nation to serve, … I feel like this is a call to serve the University and the School of Public Health.”