Ellen J. Mackenzie,
Protector and Promoter
Inside the mind of the 11th dean of the Bloomberg School.
Interview by Brian W. Simpson • Photo by Harry Giglio
A nationally recognized expert in trauma care systems and policy and a respected academic leader, Dean Ellen J. MacKenzie, PhD ’79, MSc ’75, took charge of the School on October 1. The former chair of Health Policy and Management has deep roots at the School, which has been her academic home for four decades. In this Q&A with Hopkins Bloomberg Public Health, MacKenzie reflects on her appointment as the Bloomberg School dean, her leadership style and her short- and long-term priorities.
So what’s it like being right at the very beginning of your tenure as dean of the Bloomberg School?
First of all, I’ll say it’s sort of surreal. It doesn’t seem it was that long ago when I was a student here, living in Reed Hall right down the street, and now I’m dean of the School.
I am also humbled, given everybody who’s gone before me and by the scope of the job that I’m entrusted with: providing leadership for academic programs, fostering innovation in our research and practice, connecting with our colleagues across the University, stewarding relationships here in our local community and globally. And, of course, securing a strong financial future for the School. But I am comforted in knowing that I will be surrounded by an incredibly talented team of individuals Mike [Klag] has brought together over the years.
I must admit that I also think a lot about how proud my parents would be. They both passed away several years ago. They were always incredibly supportive of me and my career, and they would just be tickled to see me in this position.
“I love the School, and I’ve been here just about my entire adult life. Helping the School embark on its next 100 years is a phenomenal opportunity and gift.”
Why did you want to be dean?
Well, I didn’t start out thinking about being dean. It was not in the grand scheme of things. In fact I had just stepped down as chair of Health Policy and Management (HPM) and was planning to dive back into my research full time.
But as I thought about the position more and more, I realized that everything I loved about being chair of HPM I could do as dean, but on a much broader scale. Bottom line: I love the School, and I’ve been here just about my entire adult life. Helping the School embark on its next 100 years is a phenomenal opportunity and gift.
You’ve been with the School since the 1970s. What’s kept you here?
First and foremost, it was being part of an extraordinary mission. Equally important have been the people, the incredible faculty and staff and exceptional students.
Also, Hopkins has a way of attracting you to Baltimore, and then the city has a way of just capturing your heart and soul. It’s hard to think of not being part of Baltimore now.
Let’s talk about your plans. What’s your approach to the first few months of your deanship?
More than anything else, I will be doing a lot of listening. I need to talk to the various constituents of the School (in and outside its walls, locally and globally) and learn more. You would think being here since the mid-1970s I’d know everything about the School, but there is a lot still for me to learn.
And your longer-term priorities?
I think in many ways my job is to be protector and promoter of the School. Above all else, I want to foster a supportive, diverse environment that leads to creative thinking that changes the world.
Look, the School is in great shape, but it’s important that we don’t sit on our laurels of the past 100 years. There are a lot of new challenges that we need to face head on. These include a changing epidemiology of disease and injury, and difficult 21st century public health problems such as violence, obesity, opioid addiction and the refugee crisis internationally. The role of data science has never been more important in defining problems and finding solutions. We are also challenged with a changing landscape of teaching and learning. We need to be strategic in what and how we teach so we can continue to meet the needs of students here at home and across the globe.
There are many more examples. I look forward to sitting down with the School community and its extended family and setting goals, including those of the big, hairy, audacious variety. We need to think big and far-reaching, and then identify measurable steps to reach these goals.
What’s your leadership style like?
I strive to be open and transparent in my leadership. I’m a good listener. I’m willing to admit when I’m wrong after hearing all sides of an argument and say okay, let’s change course. I’m also very much results-driven. I like to work from a plan; I like to be able to map something out and identify measurable goals and milestones and work along that plan. Actually, that’s true about every facet of my life. It drives my husband crazy, for instance, when we travel. [Jim Tielsch, PhD ’82, MHS ’79, is chair of Global Health at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.] He would just as soon get on an airplane and let things happen. I’ve got to plan everything from day one—what are we going to do, where we are going to stay. Well, that’s an exaggeration, but we have had to accommodate to each other’s styles and it’s worked well for 36 years.
Much of your work has been focused on domestic issues, and this is a huge global institution. How will you handle this?
I think it’s a big challenge, but one I’m very much looking forward to meeting. One person can’t be expert in everything. I intend to rely on the experts that we have across the School, rely on the relationships that they have built over these many years and use my position to help grow these relationships and make it easier for them to do their work. At the same time, I look forward to learning more about what we do internationally, and to do that it will be important for me to travel and experience firsthand what we are doing.
What’s your message to alumni of the School?
I would say first and foremost you are what makes us great. There’s no way we would have the global impact we have without our alumni working to make a difference all around the world. I look forward to engaging with our alumni early on and understanding how we can better connect with them and involve them in thinking about the future of the School.
You’re the 11th dean of the School of Public Health and the first woman to be the dean. Do you think about that at all? Is that important to you?
I’d say yes. I mean you can’t not think about it. It’s pretty great to be the first woman, it’s pretty great for our institution. As the news got out, I got a lot of emails and there was a lot of chatter on Twitter about “breaking the glass ceiling.” When I read those messages, it really struck me how meaningful my appointment was. I just hope I don’t screw it up. [Laughs.] I don’t want to disappoint the women of the world.
We’ve talked all about your work and plans. What do you do when you’re not leading a large research consortium or a large academic department or now the School?
Hands down it’s enjoying time with my family, with my husband, my son and now my growing family including my daughter-in-law and also my new granddaughter. She is obviously right now the love of my life. She just turned one, and I really enjoy spending time with her.
Those who know me well also know I love cooking. That’s my hobby, passion. If I weren’t going to be the dean of the School of Public Health, I might like to be a chef. But I think that ship has sailed.
Any last thoughts?
I do want to thank Mike Klag for all he has done for the School over the last 12 years. Because of what he has accomplished (and what Al Sommer did before him), I am left with the privilege of leading an institution that is in great shape and poised to meet the challenges that lie ahead for us. I look forward to seeking out their wisdom and advice in the years to come.
MSc in Biostatistics from the School
PhD in Biostatistics from the School; joined the School faculty
Co-authored The Cost of Injury in the United States, a principal resource on the subject
Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy
Senior associate dean for academic affairs
Ann Doner Vaughan Kappa Delta Award from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management
Authored the widely cited National Study on the Costs and Outcomes of Trauma Care
Established the Major Extremity Trauma Research Consortium (METRC)
Honored by the CDC as one of 20 leaders in the field of violence and injury prevention
Named a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor
Became the 11th Dean of the Bloomberg School