By Amber Kennedy
a headshot style photo of Li-Wu Chen, Ph.D

Li-Wu Chen, Ph.D., will serve as the founding dean of the proposed ONE School of Public Health to be housed at Old Dominion University.

Li-Wu Chen, Ph.D., will serve as the founding dean of the proposed ONE School of Public Health to be housed at Old Dominion University (ODU), offering collaborative degree programs and experiential learning opportunities for students at ODU, Norfolk State University (NSU) and Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS). Chen, who was selected following a national search, will assume his duties effective March 10, 2023.

“The founding dean needed to be a respected leader in public health policy and research, but also a coalition builder with a clear vision for leveraging our combined strengths to assist in addressing health disparities across our community and the Commonwealth,” said ODU President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D. “In Dr. Chen, we have found a proven leader who will be fully dedicated to building a solid foundation for this important initiative.”

“Li-Wu Chen is a respected and widely published researcher in the field of public health, with extensive experience studying rural health policy,” said Austin O. Agho, Ph.D., provost and vice president for academic affairs at ODU. “Under his leadership, the joint School of Public Health will be the premier training ground for the next generation of public health professionals in the commonwealth.”

In this new role, Chen will oversee a school designed to educate future public health experts by offering collaborative degree programs, developing research addressing public health challenges, and creating and enhancing partnerships. The school will offer a Master of Public Health and a Ph.D. in Health Services Research.

Chen will help guide the process to earn accreditation from the Council on Education for Public Health.

“It is my great honor to be selected as the founding dean of the Joint School of Public Health, a tremendous opportunity to apply my academic leadership and scholarship to significantly improve public health outcomes,” Chen said. “I look forward to collaborating with the talented faculty at ODU, EVMS and NSU to create a center for training, research and community engagement that will fulfill the public health workforce needs of the community and secure a healthier future for the region.”

“The establishment of the proposed joint School of Public Health initiative builds on EVMS’ long history of collaboration with ODU and NSU and our commitment to health equity in Hampton Roads,” said Alfred Abuhamad, M.D., EVMS president, provost and dean of the School of Medicine. “The selection of a founding dean of Dr. Chen’s caliber is an important next step in an exciting and necessary effort to expand the local healthcare workforce pipeline and create a healthier future for the communities we proudly serve.”

“The proposed joint School of Public Health initiative positions NSU, ODU and EVMS to go beyond a focus on health care to eliminate health disparities and promote conditions that enable our communities to thrive,” said NSU President Javaune Adams-Gaston, Ph.D. “With Dr Chen’s leadership of this ongoing partnership, we anticipate unprecedented strides in disease prevention, health promotion, public health scholarship and community engagement for the benefit of this region.”

Chen brings more than 20 years of academic leadership experience in the field of public health. Since 2020, Chen has served as a tenured full professor in the Department of Health Sciences in the School of Health Professions at University of Missouri-Columbia. He is a member of the board of directors for the Missouri Institute for Community Health, an editorial board member of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice and a former member of the AcademyHealth’s Education Council.

As a member of the Health Inclusivity Index Project Steering Committee for The Economist Group’s Economist Intelligence Unit, Chen works alongside members from global health organizations, including United Nations and the World Health Organization, and scholars across academia. The steering committee provides strategic guidance for the Economist Impact’s Project Team and its partners to develop a comprehensive health inclusivity and equity index for 40 countries.

Before joining the University of Missouri-Columbia, Chen was department chair of Health Services Research and Administration in the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC). In Nebraska, he oversaw the UNMC Center for Health Policy Analysis and Rural Health Research, served as deputy director of the HRSA-funded Rural Policy Research Institute (RUPRI) Center for Rural Health Policy Analysis and was founding co-director of the RWJF-funded Nebraska Public Health Practice Based Research Network. Chen was the founding director of the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Ph.D. program in Health Services and Policy Research and led development of a Master of Health Administration program at UNMC.

A widely published scholar, Chen has an established track record of scholarly work in the areas of health services and policy research, rural health research, health economics and public health services and systems research. He has published sixty-four peer-reviewed journal articles, fifteen policy briefs, 20 research finding briefs, 34 reports to public health agencies and three book chapters. Over the past 20 years, he has secured or helped secure grants and contracts totaling more than $10.4 million as principal investigator, co-principal investigator or co-investigator.

Chen earned a Ph.D. in health policy and administration from Pennsylvania State University and a master of health services administration degree from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.