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Meet the Inaugural Dean of the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems

Paul Brandt-Rauf

Paul W. Brandt-Rauf, MD, DrPH, ScD, doesn’t do anything by halves.

That’s why he has six degrees from Columbia University: a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate in applied chemistry and chemical engineering; a medical degree; and a master’s and doctorate in public health in environmental sciences. And he did three post-graduate medical residencies in anatomic/environmental pathology, internal medicine, and preventive medicine. 

That’s why he’s worked in 186 countries (there are 196 total, FYI), even once taking a year-long sabbatical to travel around the world for speaking engagements and research.

And that’s why he’s the inaugural dean of the school, which was originally founded as the Biomedical Engineering and Science Institute in 1958. It became a school — with its present name — in 1997, and now has its first dean 20 years later.

“Once you say you have a dean, then you really have a school, especially in terms of representation within the University and to the outside world,” said Brandt-Rauf.

Since starting his historic post at Drexel earlier this month, Brandt-Rauf has already lined up a vision and goals for faculty growth, international partnerships, expanded expertise in new areas, consolidating his school’s faculty and labs into one area on campus and building better relationships with alumni, friends and donors.

“This school is very well known in its field and has a great reputation, since it’s considered to be one of the oldest biomedical engineering centers in the nation and it’s the only school of its kind,” said Brandt-Rauf.

Brandt-Rauf previously was dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois in Chicago (and before that, he chaired the Department of Environmental Health Sciences in Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health). As one of the nation’s leading occupational and environmental medicine scholars, he sees this school as a perfect combination of his engineering, medical and public health backgrounds.

Drexel’s status as a private institution that is very civically engaged was another selling point for Brandt-Rauf, who had previously worked at a public university and an Ivy League institution.

“I think that Drexel is a place that, because it’s private, is more entrepreneurial and nimble and flexible, but it also has a sense that it’s not removed from society. It’s not the ivory tower. It’s engaged and it’s open to all types of faculty and students,” he said.

Even before his first weeks on campus, Brandt-Rauf has made it a point to meet with groups of faculty, staff and students, as well as attempt to make as many individual meetings as possible.

“We don’t have departments in this school — we’re a department as a whole,” he said. “So it feels like everybody is on the same page. There’s this warm, friendly, welcoming feel. Everybody is part of the same family.”

Brandt-Rauf’s actual family will be joining him on campus this summer when his wife Sherry starts as a teaching professor in the Dornsife School of Public Health. She is currently a research associate professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois.

In addition to being the only Drexel dean whose wife will also work at the University, Brandt-Rauf also has the distinction of being involved in two documentary films shown at the acclaimed Sundance Film Festival. He appeared as an expert in “Blue Vinyl,” a 2002 documentary depicting the quest to find environmentally friendly replacements for the vinyl siding used on houses. When it premiered at the festival, Brandt-Rauf and his wife were there — and seated in the V.I.P. section in front of famed film critic Roger Ebert (you can also find him at the 2:52 mark of the documentary’s trailer on YouTube). The movie later won the Sundance Award for Best Cinematography and Ebert proclaimed it “one the fest's best documentaries.”

That Brandt-Rauf traveled to the Utah festival twice is no surprise, considering he’s visited about 94 percent of the countries on this planet. He’s traveled the world to conduct research, participate in global programs or speak at events — picking up a lot of passport stamps including during the aforementioned year-long, around-the-world lecture tour he embarked on about 20 years ago with his family. That year’s itinerary included Europe (particularly France and Sweden, where he’s conducted research for years), Asia (China, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and South Korea) and Australia and New Zealand. The family spent as much as a month in many of these places before ending the excursion with a vacation in Hawaii.

So far this year, he’s keeping his international travel plans to a minimum, but he hopes that his international connections and relationships will benefit Drexel. Already, there are plans to build or strengthen programs in Israel and China, where Brandt-Rauf has worked in the past. 

“The advantage of international partnerships and programs is that is you get to meet all different types of people, and those connections can lead to new research and new opportunities,” he said.