Meet the Dean: Melissa Begg
Melissa Begg, who became Dean of the Columbia School of Social Work on September 1st, 2019, is a population health scientist with a longstanding commitment to developing the strongest possible evidence base for human health and well-being. In addition to serving as Dean, she is Professor of Social Work and Biostatistics.
Dr. Begg began her Columbia career on the faculty of the Mailman School of Public Health, where she received both the University-wide Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching and the Mailman School Teaching Award from the Graduating Class. She subsequently spent 15 years in administration, serving as Vice Provost for Academic Programs for Columbia University and Co-Director of the Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research. Dr. Begg received a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics from Fairfield University and a Doctor of Science in Biostatistics from the Harvard School of Public Health.
In this interview for Columbia University’s “Meet the Dean” series, Dean Begg reveals the “why” behind her dedication to social work and shares her vision for the School’s future.
What led you to take this position?
I’ve been an academic for over thirty years – almost 34 years at Columbia – and throughout the evolution of my career I finally came to the realization that an awful lot of human suffering is caused by our policies. And if we create those policies, we can un-create them. We can fix the problem. And that’s the beauty of social work.
The Social Work School and the social work profession focus on ensuring that all can reach their full potential despite their life circumstances, no matter what they are. We’re about maximizing human well-being.
This is an ideal position for me. I feel lucky to be able to be here and support colleagues who are working on the most important questions of our time.
How will the School of Social Work celebrate its 125th anniversary?
We are the oldest school of social work in the nation. There were social workers before that, but social work education really had its birth here, and that has spread across the country and across the world.
There’s a lot to celebrate from the past. But more than that, we have an opportunity to look at the future and think about the next 125 years, and what that needs to look like, and how we can work together to create the world we want to live in.
Where is your favorite place on campus?
Well, this won’t surprise you. I’m sure others have said this, but College Walk is hands-down my favorite place on campus. On my walk to work I often go out of my way to walk through College Walk. And as I see the dorms and the libraries and the students, it reminds me why I chose this career and how lucky I am to be part of this academic community.
What’s one thing you’d like Columbians to know about your work?
As part of my role here as Dean, I also get to teach, which is an honor. I teach Intro to Statistics for Social Work. I love doing it because I get to give students insight into the power of numbers. Data can be a tool for social justice. Academics have a lot to contribute to making a better society. The sooner we realize that we have to work together to build a better society, the more change we can render.