Gallant Returns to Her New England Roots
By Karen Angelo
After serving in leadership roles at the University at Albany, State University of New York, Mary Gallant has returned to her New England roots. Gallant, who was appointed dean of the Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences in September, grew up in Hudson, New Hampshire, and attended Harvard University.
“I’m excited to be leading the Zuckerberg College in a city where a public university is dedicated to enhancing the local economy and contributing to social mobility, and where our students have the opportunity to engage in mutually beneficial experiences and learning opportunities in the city of Lowell,” says Gallant.
Gallant’s expertise in public health spans years of researching health promotion programs for older adults. However, when she graduated with a biology degree from Harvard, she was unsure of her next step. Many of her peers were headed for medical school, but that didn’t entirely appeal to her.
“In my senior year of college, I have a vivid memory of scanning medical school catalogs on a bookshelf,” says Gallant. “I glanced down and noticed materials about schools of public health, a discipline that I was not aware of at the time.”
As she learned more, she got excited about the idea of keeping people healthy and the holistic approach of public health. Gallant then took the year after college to work as a research assistant on a vaccine policy project, commuting on the MBTA train from Lowell to Boston for work.
She went on to earn a Master of Public Health and a Ph.D. in health behavior and health education at the University of Michigan. That was where she realized her passion for promoting healthy aging, and where she got the advice that cemented her future.
“My graduate school mentor said that earning a Ph.D. and working in academia is like being a student your entire life, always learning new things,” says Gallant. “This is the moment when I knew my path.”
At UAlbany, Gallant served as the School of Public Health’s interim dean, senior associate dean for academic affairs and university provost fellow for tenure and promotion, and she was a professor in the Department of Health Policy, Management & Behavior. Her most recent research involves translating and evaluating evidence-based health promotion programs for older adults when implemented in community settings.
Gallant sat down to discuss her new role and her plans for the Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences.
Q. On the first day on the job, you held a college meeting with about 100 faculty and staff. What was that like?
A. Zuckerberg College has a great tradition of holding an all-college meeting, then a social gathering, the day before classes start, which illustrates the wonderful sense of community the college has. Even though it was my first day, I decided to lean into that tradition. It was a great opportunity for me to meet a lot of my new colleagues and for them to get to know me a little. That day gave me a good sense of the work ethic and passion of faculty and staff and the supportive and inclusive culture we have.
Q. How have you been getting to know the university community?
A. I’ve been meeting one-on-one with faculty and staff, participating in university events and exploring the city to learn as much as I can. I also plan on setting up a student advisory board to gain insight into the student experience and hear what we do well and where we can improve. I recently met with the college advisory board and have started to meet college donors. I’ve been impressed with their dedication to the Zuckerberg College and the Solomont School of Nursing. I have also begun meeting with clinical and community partners, and I look forward to furthering our relationships with local organizations.
Q. How do you think your experience in public health can benefit the other disciplines within the college?
A. I’m thrilled by the opportunity to lead a multidisciplinary college that includes a variety of health sciences programs, including public health, because there’s a growing recognition that a team approach is necessary for effective health care. In addition, the pandemic highlighted the important role of public health in health care. It’s a more behind-the-scenes role compared to other health disciplines, but to enhance the health care of the future and to ultimately enhance the health of populations, we need a more integrated approach that incorporates public health’s emphases on the social determinants of health, health disparities and health equity, data and information systems, and health policy. I’m pleased to see that the college is already exposing students to different disciplines through interprofessional education coursework and community activities. We also have a strong foundation in interdisciplinary research. I look forward to developing our college strategic plan in alignment with the university’s plan, which will give us an opportunity to ensure we are providing our students with the cutting-edge and interdisciplinary skills they need to succeed and an opportunity to ensure our research is focused on answering the most pressing challenges we face in the health sciences.
Q. Why did you decide to live in downtown Lowell?
A. Living in an urban area is exciting to me. I was especially drawn to Lowell’s identity as a city of immigrants, its amazing history as a mill city, and the beauty of the canals and historic buildings. I like walking out my front door and being in the heart of the city, conveniently going to events and enjoying all kinds of good food. And I like being able to walk to places, rather than always having to drive. I look forward to attending some of the many wonderful festivals in Lowell.
Q. What has most inspired you in your first months at Zuckerberg?
A. I appreciated the warm welcome that I received from the college and university community and beyond. Faculty and staff are genuinely passionate about improving individual and community health and promoting health equity, and they care deeply about the success of our students and training a diverse health workforce. The data tell a positive story of our success – high graduation rates and licensing exam pass rates, excellent job placements and an impressive trajectory of research funding. Behind those numbers is a supremely talented and supportive group of faculty and staff. I’m also inspired by our impressive research activity. Our faculty are answering important questions about such things as how the gut microbiome works and how it influences brain health, how robots and gaming technologies can help people with neurological disorders, preventing childhood obesity, how diet, stress and exercise impact heart disease, improving health outcomes among people with HIV and reducing the use of toxic chemicals. These examples represent just a fraction of the important and exciting ways that our faculty are creating new knowledge that will contribute to enhancing health outcomes.