Skip to main

Dean’s Blog: Our quest for a healthy planet

Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm

In 1872, a collection of physicians founded the American Public Health Association (APHA). And in 1995, the APHA created a National Public Health Week (NPHW) to discuss important issues impacting our nation’s health.

This year’s NPHW week is very special as it’s the first for Mason since the creation of the university’s new, and the Commonwealth of Virginia’s only, College of Public Health which has planned a number of events and activities based on NPHW themes to engage the Mason Nation.

Were you aware biology is the largest major in our College of Science? And a significant number of those studying biology, chemistry/biochemistry, or neuroscience at Mason are pursuing a goal of a medical degree or researching ways to improve human and ecosystem health. In addition, a good number of both our atmospheric, oceanic and earth sciences and our environmental science and policy faculty, students, and researchers are also focused on major issues affecting the health of our world, including its climate.

In fact, the recently formed Virginia Climate Center at Mason is working diligently to build community partnerships and research the changing climate effects on public health and the economy.

One of the most significant recent collaborative contributions to local health was the ability for our college and partners to scale up services and research during the recent COVID-19 pandemic. This was possible due to the innovative scientific approach driven of our Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine (CAPMM) colleagues to test for COVID-19. Their development and application of the PCR saliva test allowed Mason's Laboratory for Advanced Testing to analyze 10,000 tests a week at the height of the COVID pandemic. This has positioned Mason to be at the forefront of the next diagnostic challenge. I encourage you to take a moment to view this video recap to hear details of the heroic effort from some of our Mason Scientists.

There are days it seems so long ago that we were faced by such a daunting challenge. Yet, it was just three short years ago when we were able to address this unimaginable situation. During NPHW, please take a moment to thank our colleagues who worked tirelessly to accomplish this important contribution for the Mason Nation and surrounding community.

Despite this amazing effort, we are not resting on our laurels as there is still important work to be done. Mason scientists continue to research vector-borne illnesses, like Lyme Disease, Zika virus, and Dengue fever, negatively impacting the health of local, regional, and global populations. Our experts form and lead collaborations to study dust storms and weather patterns causing flooding, infrastructure damage, drought, along with food spoilage, and even some of my research on global water scarcity, while working to build resiliency to address their negative effects.  

Recently, Mason scientist, Karen Akerlof led a collaboration with the National Academies and other academic partners to review opportunities for co-production and identify opportunities to leverage community member and practitioner expertise, diverse points of view, and insights to “better understand causes and remedies of environmental stressors.” We know that many of these public health challenges disproportionally impact historically disadvantaged communities. By coming together, we can better understand causes and identify best practices and policies as possible ways to address our shared challenges.

As we celebrate NPHW, let us come together to celebrate our accomplishments while also renewing our resolve to address the world’s most challenging problems in our shared quest for a healthy planet.