2023: A Year of Innovation

December 11, 2023
2023: A Year of Innovation

By Shelby Crosier

2023 was a year of innovation for Rollins. Faculty, staff, and students helped the school deliver on its promise of public health for all through cutting-edge research; creating new organizational, academic, and community partnerships; keeping the public informed; and developing and launching a five-year strategic plan. These are just a handful of highlights.

Yang Liu, PhD

Thought Leadership from Rollins Faculty

Throughout 2023, Rollins has continued to establish itself as a go-to source of public health information, and its researchers have cemented their status as thought leaders on major public health issues and critical topics in the news including:

Faculty have also shared their expertise and insights with the public through The Today Show, NPR, and The New York Times, among many others.

Exposure Science Takes Center Stage

A cornerstone of environmental health research at Rollins this year was the exposome and its effects on human health. The exposome refers to a person’s entire history of exposures throughout their life, which could include “forever chemicals” in water, toxic substances in household electronics, or particulate matter in the air.

A team led by Donghai Liang, PhD, detected forever chemicals in newborns for the first time earlier this year, and found that higher levels of exposure in the womb were linked with higher rates of preterm birth. These types of exposures tend to disproportionately affect historically disadvantaged and low-income communities. Rollins researchers discuss the intersection of the exposome with health disparities and social justice in the fall 2023 edition of Rollins magazine.

Championing Maternal and Reproductive Health

In the wake of the Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, Rollins researchers have worked to advance education and research about maternal mortality and reproductive health. The Center for Reproductive Health Research in the Southeast (RISE) launched a first-of-its-kind massive open online course (MOOC), Public Health Approaches to Abortion, this fall. The course is free to all, available on Coursera, and meant to equip anyone at any level of previous expertise with foundational knowledge about abortion from a public health perspective.

Maternal mortality was a major focal point throughout the year. Partnering with Morehouse School of Medicine, Rollins was selected by the National Institutes of Health to create a Maternal Health Research Center of Excellence. This center will focus on developing new approaches to reduce pregnancy-related complications and deaths while promoting maternal health equity.

In November, Rollins came together with partners across the university and state to hold the inaugural Symposium to Address the Maternal Health Crisis in Georgia and share the results of a state-wide survey on public opinion about maternal health, health equity, and health care in Georgia. An article published in the spring 2023 edition of Rollins magazine outlines the tireless efforts of researchers across the school to address this crisis. This article was recently selected as a finalist for an Anthem Award and is also a contender for an Anthem Community Voice Award, voted on by the public. Cast your vote here by December 21!

Fighting Disparities, Centering Equity

Rollins strives to embed equity into its research, workplace operations, and educational practices. One way the school achieves this is through bringing the right people to the table, including faculty. This year, Rollins welcomed Chandra Ford, PhD, as a professor in the Department of Behavioral, Social, and Health Education Sciences. She brings years of expertise in the study of the intersection of public health, racism, and social justice.

Research initiatives and centers at Rollins also continue to address equity and health disparities. The Maternal Health Research Center of Excellence, for example, will work with community partners to launch the Center to Advance Reproductive Justice and Behavioral Health among Black Pregnant/Postpartum Women and Birthing People (CORAL). CORAL’s mission will be to address Black maternal health disparities and help Black women survive and thrive during pregnancy and postpartum by translating research and interventions into action.

Other initiatives launched this year include the Racial Trauma Series from the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Office, and a new newsletter, Momentum: Advancing Social Justice and Public Health. This newsletter will serve to highlight research and elevate stories that speak to the impact of health inequities, racism, and public health in the U.S. South. Subscribe here.

Launch of the Five-Year Strategic Plan

After the efforts of countless faculty, staff, and students, the Rollins five-year strategic plan launched this fall. Grounded in a commitment to center equity, the plan outlines six core goals that will serve as the school’s North Star as it navigates the coming years.

Shaping the Future of COVID-19 Research

In May, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ended the COVID-19 public health emergency after more than three years of the pandemic. Experts across Rollins weighed in on the impacts this shift will have on public health, and the future directions of COVID-19 research.

One way that Rollins researchers are continuing to advance research about COVID-19 transmission and vaccination is through the Emory Alliance for Vaccine Epidemiology, first established in 2021. This initiative focuses on research beyond just the clinical development of vaccines and works to understand the impacts and dynamics of vaccines once they are released to the public.

Continued Excellence at the No. 4 Public Health School in the Nation

The Rollins School of Public Health was ranked the No. 4 public health school in the nation by U.S. News & World Report in its 2024 edition of Best Graduate Schools. This marks its third consecutive year in the number 4 spot. Rollins has been in the top 10 for nearly two decades, a testament to the school’s continued excellence in research, teaching, and practice.

This eminence was also demonstrated by the many faculty members who received major awards and recognitions this year:

Rollins also had six alums featured in Emory University's 40 Under 40, including Chidiogo Anyigbo, MD; Nia Bodrick, MD; Maggie Gatti-Mays, MD; Brian Le; Garrett South; and Jennifer Spicer, MD.


Major Funding Supports Innovation

Rollins faculty and centers were awarded a number of major grants throughout the year to expand research and practice efforts:


Staff, Faculty, and Students Honored at Inaugural Awards Ceremony

In April, Rollins hosted the first annual RSPH Awards Ceremony. This ceremony brought together faculty, staff, and students to publicly recognize and celebrate their achievements during the academic year. Recipients of long-standing departmental, university-wide, and organizational awards were honored, and several newly developed awards were introduced. In developing these new awards, there was a special emphasis given to uplifting the contributions of Rollins staff members. The school looks forward to continuing this tradition for years to come.

Expanding Communications

This has been a banner year for communications at Rollins, as the school expanded both its communications workforce and efforts. Three new staff members joined the communications team in 2023:

  • Elizabeth Mendes, associate dean for communications
  • Laurel Bristow, associate director of audience development
  • Shelby Crosier, senior content strategist/writer

The team launched numerous new initiatives this year to support the strategic plan goal of delivering enhanced communications and promoting and strengthening trust in public health information. Series such as Ask an Expert showcase the scholarship and expertise of Rollins researchers. Rollins magazine, now published in house, released two editions this year in the spring and fall. A new newsletter, The Monthly Megaphone, keeps the Rollins community up to date on news and updates from the Communications and Marketing Team. The team also debuted a new Instagram account to bring more engaging and informative content to the public. Be on the lookout for even more in the new year!