Dean’s message — fall/winter 2022

Reflections on my first 100 days at UF

Dean Virnig Welcome

Dean Beth Virnig met with faculty and staff at a welcome breakfast her first week at UF.

On October 19, I completed my 100th day as dean of the College of Public Health and Health Professions. By total happenstance, a colleague asked me on that day what my thoughts were about being at UF, what surprised me and what didn’t. From adjusting to the weather, to understanding Gator fandom and learning about the incredible people and opportunities within PHHP, I’d like to share some of my thoughts and early experiences with you.

First, it is really hot in Gainesville in July and August. Actually, not just hot, horribly humid. There isn’t much I can do to change that, so going forward, I’ll be sure to volunteer building houses for Alachua County Habitat for Humanity when it is cooler and drier.

Weather aside, Gainesville brings together the best part of a college town with the best part of southern hospitality. People have been amazingly friendly and helpful. Personally, people have helped me join a faith community, invited me to happy hours, helped me find the best place to get pictures framed, introduced me to the Indian grocery store and offered to help put furniture together. Coming from the Big 10, I can honestly say that, at least when it comes to football, the SEC really is in a different league! I now own blue and orange clothing and a Gator license plate. Professionally, people all across campus have been welcoming and gone out of their way to help me, given me constructive feedback on my initiatives, credited my team when they found our work helpful and offered advice about how to navigate situations. Without this community, I would not have been able to make the progress I’ve made so far or settled into my new role as quickly as I have.

But, while I knew there was a lot of talent in the college and I believed that PHHP didn’t get as much recognition as it deserves, I did not appreciate HOW MUCH talent there is in the college. The college is filled with dedicated faculty and staff who are committed to the college’s mission. They support our research, teaching and clinical missions. I have repeatedly found people who take on extra tasks because they can, because it is interesting or because it needed to be done. As a very simple example, Aimee Miller, one of our Dean’s Ambassadors and a doctoral student in audiology had the idea to create a short video on protecting hearing during Gator football games. She drafted a script, and Dr. Sterling Sheffield fact-checked it and offered suggestions. Shena Hays from our instructional design group filmed Aimee in our in-house studio and added terrific graphics. Brendan Clough, our event planner, coordinated production and kept everyone on-track. And Jill Pease from our communications group helped get the word out about her work. At last check, it had reached nearly 10,000 people. Not one of the people involved in the project needed to do it or received any bonus or recognition for the effort. As is typical of PHHP, they did it because it furthered our mission and was the right thing to do. That is the spirit of the college.

I have noticed, however, that while we have a highly collaborative and collegial culture, there is room to be even more collaborative. We have unique opportunities to leverage the diversity of talent in our college. PHHP houses a mix of scientists and educators that is unique and provides unparalleled opportunities for working together, for asking unique questions, for developing and applying methods in new ways and for expanding our reach beyond what any individual could do. In the coming months, I will be working with the associate deans and dean’s office staff, the department chairs, center directors, faculty and staff to identify and promote strategies to encourage and incent even greater collaboration than already exists.

I am excited about the opportunities that lie ahead. Go Gators!