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Public Health as Community Action: Dornsife receives Harrison Spencer Community Service Award

Posted on February 28, 2018

This month we have something very special to celebrate. The Dornsife School of Public Health is the recipient of the inaugural Harrison Spencer Community Service Award the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health. It’s wonderful to be recognized for something that is so integral to the School’s identity: a commitment to service, to partnerships and to public health practice in the broadest sense of the word.

Our School was founded over twenty years ago on two key principles: the first is the promotion of health as a human right (and the critical role of social justice in achieving population health), and the second is a commitment to translating what we know into actions to improve health and eliminate health inequities. These two principles influenced the way our School’s educational and research programs developed and still influence them today.

Another unique feature of our school is that it started very focused on solving local problems and addressing the health needs of Philadelphia. It emerged to fill a perceived need: the need for an academic partner to work with many others in the city to make a real difference in the health of Philadelphians. This third foundational principle has also colored the way the School has developed. I think it is why the School has remained so engaged with the city, with local issues and local partners, with community and so focused on service and civic engagement.

Of course, now our work focuses on much more than Philadelphia. But our historical commitment to our city, and the way we approach research and education in public health as a result of it, has colored our work everywhere. This history is why we are especially committed to improving health in cities, eliminating health inequities, and translating evidence into action. 

Community and civic engagement and the generation and application of knowledge relevant to practice and policy have been central to our mission since the School’s very origins. This is why we are especially thrilled to have been selected to receive the Harrison Spencer Community Service Award. It is such an honor to have been chosen for an award named after the visionary public health leader Harrison Spencer. It is a special testament to the work that so many at the School have promoted and supported over many years, and that we are proud to be able to continue to expand on here in Philadelphia and all over the world.

I want to thank the faculty, staff, and students who have worked so diligently over so many years to make community and civic engagement a reality here at our School. I also want to thank our many partners for their trust and their generosity in working with us.

I look forward to our continued work together as we strive for a public health that combines the most rigorous evidence (and the very best data and tools) with a true and enduring commitment to fairness, equity, and action. Because to us, this is what public health is about. It is what our School was founded on and what continues to drive us today.