Lehigh welcomed two new professors, Hyunok Choi and Eduardo Gomez, to the College of Health in the beginning of January and February, respectively.
Choi is an epidemiologist who previously worked at the State University of New York at Albany, and Gomez is a political scientist from the King’s College of London.
“It’s been exciting, overwhelming and invigorating,” Choi said. “I admired the culture that the faculty who interviewed me embodied. I just loved the spirit of collegiality, generosity and openness. It had a big impact on my decision to come here.”
Choi said she appreciates that the spirit of risk-taking is welcomed at Lehigh.
Choi’s research focuses on challenging the definition of asthma. She said people often think of asthma as a single disease, but it is actually a mixture of multiple diseases.
“The fact that I have a chance to challenge the paradigm of predominant thinking in my field was really important to me,” Choi said.
Choi said her laboratory is anywhere there is a serious environmental pollution issue — along with a burden on population health outcomes, so she welcomes students that want to work with her.
Gomez said he finds that the opportunities for research at Lehigh allow him to further his study of the political and social determinants of health.
“Specifically, my own research — looking at childhood obesity and Type 2 diabetes in developing countries,” Gomez said. “So that’s been the reason why I believe this is a new area of research, and explaining why we need to focus seriously about political institutions and governance.”
Gomez said Lehigh’s reputation as a research and teaching university drew him here. One thing that motivated him was the distinct opportunity to work with Whitney Witt, dean of the new College of Health, in creating the school.
While epidemiology and political science are vastly different from each other, Witt said population health, the main focus of the college, is a convergence science, meaning different disciplines are brought together to better understand how to help.
“It’s important to bring in Gomez’s expertise to understand the impact of politics and policies on health,” Witt said. “Dr. Choi brings unique skills of environmental epidemiology to better understand the impact of air pollution on health outcomes. These two new faculty members represent our approach to faculty recruitment, but also how we think about this emerging field, which brings in different disciplines that will help us move the field forward.”
Both Choi and Gomez agree that they are looking forward to continuing their work from their respective previous institutions, in hopes that more exciting work could be achieved.
Gomez is developing the curriculum of a class, “History of Population Health,” to be offered in the upcoming summer sessions and fall semester. The class will look at the historical evolution of international and domestic determinants of population health, looking at the role of norms and systems’ effectiveness, the rule of law and ensuring good health outcomes for the population. It also looks at current and future issues like environmental health, obesity and diabetes, and their future trends.
Gomez is in the process of finishing his book with Johns Hopkins University Press about the rise and political influence of junk food industries in emerging markets, and the influence on policies to protect children and the poor from obesity and diabetes.
Witt said the work done by Lehigh faculty and students is not specific to the university, but is also seen globally, through developing partnerships with the community and various organizations worldwide.
“Our global footprint is quite expansive with the addition of doctors Choi and Gomez,” Witt said. “Much of Dr. Choi’s work is done in the Czech Republic and China, and for Dr. Gomez, in Latin America. In addition, I had just returned from India, where I was spearheading an effort to establish internships and opportunities for our students to have global health experiences.”
The bachelor’s of science degree program was approved on Feb. 26 by the Educational Policy Committee of the university. The two certificate programs — one in population health and the other in global population health — were also approved, Witt said.
The College of Health will consist of seven faculty members come August, but there are plans to grow to 18-21 members in fall 2021 and 65 faculty members by 2024, Witt said.