Alumni stars discuss public health’s bright future, the power of diversity

By: 

  • Misti Crane
October 15, 2020

Know that the path is not always straight, that growth requires tolerating some discomfort.

Lean into those things that keep showing up on your doorstep, captivating your attention.

Think of diversity as a synonym for excellence. 

Two stand-out alumni of the College of Public Health — Dr. Amy Acton and Duane Reynolds — joined Dean Amy Fairchild for an online webinar for the college community on Oct. 8. In addition to offering advice, including the wisdom above, they speculated on what the future of public health will hold during a conversation moderated by Dr. Teresa Long, special advisor for community engagement and partnership at the college. 

The Ohio State Alumni Association awarded Acton with the 2020 Alumni Medalist Award and Reynolds with this year’s Alumni Association Diversity Champion award. 

Central to their discussion was the opportunity that comes along with this historic and challenging moment in public health history — the convergence of two crises, racism and COVID-19. 



Acton reflected on the early days of the pandemic, when she was serving as director of the Ohio Department of Health. The state’s successes at that time stemmed from important partnerships with experts in various areas — including other agencies, nonprofits and many faculty members at the College of Public Health, she said. 

“If we use what we’ve learned during this pandemic with the partners in Ohio … there’s a tremendous opportunity for Ohio to move forward,” said Acton, who received her MPH in 1996 and currently directs the Kind Columbus initiative for The Columbus Foundation. 

Fairchild agreed that the path forward will be strengthened by a collaborative approach to solving public health problems, emphasizing Ohio State’s success in bringing together experts in data analytics, math, geography, virology, public policy and other areas to mount a response to COVID-19.

“There’s no question that the core of this effort is coming from public health. We’re the hub that is bringing some of these world experts who are here at OSU together.” 

Reynolds spoke of the possibility that comes alongside the heartbreak and anger of this year’s national uprising of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

“I see major change on the horizon in terms of our ability to impact health equity — to solve some of these solutions. Our connection to one another and multi-disciplinary work together is actually how we will solve many of these issues,” said Reynolds, who received his MHA in 2004 and is CEO and founder of Just Health Collective.

He said that students in public health today bring fresh perspectives, innovative approaches and the kind of curiosity about the world that opens up the possibility of real change. 

“Where there is no path, make one of your own,” Reynolds advised students, particularly those who are part of marginalized communities. “Find your own power and your own voice. Be confident in that power and use it to make change in the world, because our perspectives are what will make us better, as a community and as a society.” 

Also highlighted as part of the event were a trio of scholarships aimed at helping students with diverse backgrounds and life circumstances — including one named for Acton to lift up students who have overcome adversities. 

As a child, Acton experienced homelessness and other challenges and she emphasized the role that hardship can have in success later in life.

“So many of my experiences as a kid have shaped who I am. For better and worse, that’s where your strengths come from.”

Watch the entire webinar here.

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About The Ohio State University College of Public Health

The Ohio State University College of Public Health is a leader in educating students, creating new knowledge through research, and improving the livelihoods and well-being of people in Ohio and beyond.  The College’s divisions include biostatistics, environmental health sciences, epidemiology, health behavior and health promotion, and health services management and policy.   It is ranked 23rd among all colleges of public health in the U.S. by U.S. News and World Report, and also includes the top 7-ranked MHA degree program.  The College provides leadership and expertise for Ohio and the world through its Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Evaluation Studies (HOPES), Center for Public Health Practice (CPHP), and Center for the Advancement of Tobacco Science (CATS).