from Diverse Issues in Higher Education
by Christina Sturdivant
Jackson State University’s new dean of the College of Public Service hopes to create programming for students that will not only allow them to become educated professionals, but stimulate innovative approaches to improve health disparities in their local communities and across the globe.
“I was always intrigued by science and medicine,” says Dr. Ricardo Brown, whose appointment to dean was made effective July 1, 2013.
Brown’s interest in health led him to study pre-medicine at Oakwood College in Hunts- ville, Ala. Although he always believed that his career in medicine would take place within the walls of a hospital, he had to be certain.
“As I got closer to finishing, I needed to be sure, so I went to work for a cardiologist, and I learned a lot during that year,” says Brown. “And it was from that experience that I knew I didn’t want to be a medical doctor, but I wanted to be a researcher.”
After graduating from Oakwood, Brown decided to pass up medical school to pursue a Ph.D. at Howard University in physiology and biophysics, with a specialty in cardio- vascular disease. He believed his research in health would make the great- est impact by studying cardio- vascular disease because, at that time, it was the number one cause of mortalty in the country.
As he began to study the basics of cardiovascular disease, Brown learned that the consumption of alcoholic beverages was a fatal component. He has since dedi- cated his life’s work to studying the mechanisms behind alcohol-induced cardiovascular disease.
Brown’s wealth of administrative and public health research experience and his ability to educate students from diverse backgrounds for jobs in health sciences, policy, planning and social work were key to his being considered for the dean position, according to Jackson State Provost James C. Renick.
On the higher education front, Brown previously served as associate vice president for sponsored programs at Howard University, and he also served as a professor at Howard’s College of Medicine in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics.
From 2002 to 2008, Brown was a health scientist administrator/minority health and health disparities coordinator for the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Before relocating to Jackson State, he served as assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs for the University System of Maryland and chief academic programs officer at the Universities at Shady Grove.
Brown says he was pleased to accept the position as dean, as he was confident that he would be working on a winning team.
He credits Renick and university president Dr. Carolyn W. Meyers for their ability to collaborate effectively to meet the mission of Jackson State.
“This is an exciting time right now,” says Brown. “We’ve reached our highest enroll- ment in history, and I think that’s significant.”
Of the university’s 9,000 students, more than 1,300 of them matriculate through the College of Public Service.
Brown says that his biggest challenge will be transforming the college to find ways to create unity between its three divisions — social work, health sciences and policies and planning.
He looks forward to working with staff to refine the curricula and add new interdisciplinary programs for a more productive learning environment. By creating a shared culture among each school, he hopes that students will be better prepared to work together for change outside of campus.
“Public service is at the heart of what we’re all about, so I see that as an opportunity to connect with health care in the state of Mississippi,” Brown says, as the state has among the nation’s highest rates of poor health and health disparities.
Many residents of the state can be categorized into a health equation that Brown says is common in African-American communities throughout the United States.
“If you think about health as an outcome, the equation is a product of one’s own genes times the environment,” he says. For ex- ample, an individual who may have a family history of health issues, who also chooses dietary habits that are rich in sugar and high in calories, is more likely to suffer from a number of cardiovascular diseases.
To lower the mortality rate from cardio- vascular disease in Mississippi, students will increase their community presence by part- nering with local entities like the Mississippi Department of Health and Hinds County health care clinics.
Brown says Jackson State’s research can create solutions to health disparities that can change the world.
“We can share what we learned with other states that may have similar problems, and if we can do that at a national level, then we can carry that out to other countries,” he says. “But it certainly starts at home.”