Melissa Begg Named 18th Dean of Columbia School of Social Work

July 17, 2019 @ 4:14 pm
By Communications Office

Dr. Begg, a population health scientist and outstanding senior-level administrator at Columbia, assumes the deanship as the School seeks to redefine the study of social work research, policy, and practice priorities for the 21st century.

Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger announced today that Dr. Melissa Begg, Professor of Biostatistics at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and Vice Provost for Academic Programs at Columbia University, has been appointed the 18th Dean of the Columbia School of Social Work. Dr. Begg will begin her term on September 1, 2019. She succeeds Dr. Irwin Garfinkel, who concludes nearly three years of service as the School’s Interim Dean and will return to Columbia’s faculty as the Mitchell I. Ginsberg Professor of Contemporary Urban Problems.

In announcing the news, President Bollinger remarked: “Melissa Begg is an accomplished scholar, committed educator, and brilliant administrator. Her areas of research include advancing interdisciplinary science, training, and mentorship; graduate health professional education; and biostatistical methods for evaluating associations from correlated data. In her three decades at Columbia, Melissa has held various leadership positions that make her uniquely suited to this deanship. In addition, Melissa is a truly wonderful colleague, deeply inspired by and committed to this University and to the mission of the Columbia School of Social Work. I look forward to celebrating the continued successes of the School, under her leadership.”

READ: President Lee C. Bollinger’s message to the university community

“I am deeply honored and enormously energized by the opportunity to serve in this role,” said Dr. Begg. “Over its 120-year history, the Columbia School of Social Work has established a powerful tradition of combining foundational research on social welfare programs and policies with innovative education for effective social work practice. Both prongs are essential to its mission and its future, and I am eager to help support the School’s continued success. The School’s strength in integrating rigorous investigation with direct application in practice resonates strongly with me, as does its emphasis on interdisciplinary approaches in research and teaching. I am ready to apply my 30 years of experience—in crafting educational programs, fostering interdisciplinary collaboration, and promoting diversity at all levels—to solidify and expand the School’s track record in maximizing human potential, advancing social justice, and pursuing excellence in evidence-based social work.”

A Career of Accomplishments

Born and raised in Queens, New York, Dr. Begg first joined Columbia University as an Assistant Professor of Public Health (Biostatistics) in 1989, after receiving her ScD from the Harvard School of Public Health. Her early research focused on technical methods for evaluating associations from correlated data such as sibling and family studies, especially as applied to early life determinants of adult health.

As she progressed as an academic, Dr. Begg found herself becoming more and more invested in developing and evaluating academic programs. She found it fascinating to consider how educational programs are created and implemented, and ways to assess whether students in these programs achieve the goals set for them. Reflecting this growing interest, she occupied a series of positions that expanded her capacity as an academic administrator.

Rising to the position of Co-Director of the Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research at the Irving Medical Center—one of over 60 medical research institutions across the nation that work together to speed the translation of research discovery into improved patient care—Dr. Begg promoted innovation in graduate health professional education and directed a number of career development programs for young investigators. With independent funding from the NIH, she initiated two career development programs to promote diversity: one aimed at college undergraduates, introducing them to careers in the population health sciences; the other at underrepresented junior faculty, providing grant-writing advice, career support, and mentorship.

When serving as Vice Dean for Education at the Mailman School of Public Health, Dr. Begg succeeded in implementing the redesign of the Master of Public Health program’s core curriculum to what has now become the industry standard—a daunting project that required close monitoring and evaluation on multiple levels.

On the strength of these many achievements, Dr. Begg was recruited to join the Provost’s Office in 2014 as Vice Provost for Academic Programs. In this role she is charged with overseeing university accreditation, approval processes for all new educational programs university-wide, educational agreements with domestic and international partner institutions, cross-school fellowships and awards, the support of interdisciplinary research and teaching, selected faculty leadership development programs, and the academic review of schools and institutes at Columbia.

Dr. Begg is the recipient of numerous awards, including the University-wide Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching and the Mailman School Teaching Award from the Graduating Class in 2006. In 2012, she was elected a Fellow of the American Statistical Association and received the Lagakos Distinguished Alumni Award in Biostatistics from her alma mater, the Harvard School of Public Health.

A Warm Welcome from the School of Social Work

Dr. M. Katherine Shear, the School’s Marion E. Kenworthy Professor of Psychiatry in Social Work and a member of the search committee, said: “It’s exciting that Melissa Begg, an interdisciplinary scholar and a dedicated educator, will join us. She stands out among an impressive panel of candidates as an ideal person to take on this leadership role. In the 12 years since I joined the CSSW faculty, the teaching of evidence-based practice has been both a high priority and a challenge. Dr. Begg brings a longstanding commitment to this important enterprise. She also brings an in-depth knowledge of research methodology and the importance of research to both inform and evaluate curricular advances. With Dr. Begg in the role of the 18th Dean of the Columbia School of Social Work, faculty and students can look forward to strong support for the full range of our academic activities.”

Another member of the search committee, Dr. Neeraj Kaushal, a professor of social policy and an expert on comparative immigration policy, said: “Dr. Melissa Begg is a highly accomplished scholar, educator, and administrator. I welcome her as our new Dean and support her in leading the school forward.”

Interim Dean Garfinkel offered this ringing endorsement: “In Dr. Begg, the President and the Search Committee have selected a Dean who appreciates our School’s unique strengths, who will steward our community with care, and whose vision will guide us in bold new directions. With the strong foundation established by my predecessors—Ronald Feldman, Sheila Kamerman, and Jeanette Takamura—and with the support of a truly outstanding faculty, administrative team, and student body, Dr. Begg is poised to lead the School through banner years. I am confident that the School is in excellent hands.”