After an extensive global search, Lehigh has appointed Whitney Witt, currently the director of the Center for Maternal and Child Health Research at IBM Watson Health in North Carolina, as the inaugural dean of the university’s new College of Health. She will assume her new role on Jan. 31.
In this key leadership position, Witt will oversee the continued development and eventual launch of this new College, which is both a critical element of Lehigh’s Path to Prominence strategic plan and a core funding initiative for GO: The Campaign for Lehigh. Upon her arrival on campus and in the months to come, Witt will lead critically important efforts to recruit top faculty, procure industry partnerships, develop curriculum and prepare for the formal opening of the college in the Fall of 2020.
“We simply could have not asked for a finer individual to lead this new College than Whitney Witt,” said Lehigh President John Simon ’19P. “She is a brilliant academic with a keen understanding of the many dynamics shaping and reshaping the world of health care, and she has an entrepreneurial mindset that will undoubtedly serve her well here at Lehigh. We knew we needed a special kind of leader for this role, and we’ve found precisely that in Whitney.”
“Throughout this search John and I were consistently impressed with the many accomplished candidates we met with,” said Provost Pat Farrell. “But even amid this really special group, Whitney stood out. She has the vision, drive and knowledge to take on this challenge, and we are certain her leadership will play a substantial role in making this college an important contributor to the world of health and health care for years to come.”
Witt said she fully believes in Lehigh’s ambitious vision for the College of Health and is confident the College will emerge as a unique and important player in the fast-changing health care industry. She noted that Lehigh’s College will be just the second undergraduate college focused on population health in the nation, which will place it in a unique position to help meet the fast-growing employment needs in the health care sector. Additionally, she said College of Health faculty, working in conjunction with colleagues across Lehigh’s four existing colleges, will contribute key research to solve both existing and emerging health care challenges.
“There is an opportunity here for Lehigh to do something very innovative and very different, and by extension become a real leader in developing new approaches in health education, research and service to the community,” Witt said. “I could not be more proud to be joining Lehigh at this exciting time, and I look forward to working with my new colleagues to build a college that will develop tomorrow's leaders in health and health care and ultimately change population health for the better.”
A widely respected leader in public health, Witt will bring to Lehigh 25 years of experience in both academia and industry. She currently serves as director for the Center for Maternal and Child Health Research at IBM Watson Health, the division of IBM that leverages advanced technology to help improve health outcomes and systems for hospitals and patients, as well as providers, insurers and researchers.
In her role at IBM Watson Health, Witt leads a diverse team of academics and researchers—with interests including health economics, epidemiology and biostatistics, among others—that works to find creative solutions to a variety of health problems. Their recent initiatives include work focused on value-based payment reform, improving the quality of care, and promoting health equity. She has for the past four years also held an adjunct faculty appointment at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
Previously, she held faculty positions at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and the Northwestern University School of Medicine. She earned both her Masters of Public Health and her Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and later completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Harvard University School of Medicine. She has a B.A. from Hampshire College.
Leveraging Lehigh’s “amazing resources”
Dr. Stephen Klasko ’74, president of Thomas Jefferson University and a current member of the Lehigh Board of Trustees, said Witt’s diverse background—which includes work in academia, private industry and government—makes her an ideal pick for a college that aims to examine the many challenges facing the world of health care from numerous perspectives.
“Health care in the United States is going through a once-in-a-lifetime change that will need leaders like Whitney Witt who can leverage the amazing resources at Lehigh University in engineering, business, data analytics and social sciences,” Klakso said. “The new College of Health will be a driver for innovation and will help create the next generation of emerging health professionals.”
Also praising Witt’s appointment was Vince Forlenza ’75, CEO of Becton Dickinson, a global manufacturer of health care devices. Forlenza is a former member of the Lehigh Board of Trustees who, along with Klasko, has served in an important advisory role as Lehigh has developed plans for the College.
“With her accomplishments in numerous fields of health, Whitney Witt is the ideal leader for Lehigh’s new College of Health,” Forlenza said. “Her combination of commercial experience in informatics at IBM Watson Health, academic research, public health, and interest in health policy provides a broad platform to engage the Lehigh community in building a leading College of Health.”
A landmark moment in Lehigh history
Witt’s appointment marks a major milestone in Lehigh’s ongoing implementation of the Path to Prominence plan and brings even greater momentum to GO: The Campaign for Lehigh. GO, a $1 billion-plus comprehensive fundraising and engagement effort, was publicly launched in October 2018 with the announcement that Lehigh Board Chair Kevin L. Clayton ‘84, ‘13P and wife, Lisa ‘13P, had pledged $20 million toward the planned renovation and expansion of the University Center.
Clayton, a longtime benefactor of the university, said Witt’s arrival on campus would bring important new visibility not only to Lehigh’s efforts surrounding the College of Health, but also to the university’s broader efforts to evolve and grow into an even more impactful global university.
“I know everyone in the Lehigh community will join me in warmly welcoming Whitney Witt to our great university,” Clayton said. “The establishment of the College of Health is a landmark moment in Lehigh history, and I know that in Whitney Witt we have a leader who will be able to harness our many historic strengths to build a college that we can all be proud of. This is an exciting time for Lehigh, and I know that many more great things are to come.”
“I am truly excited about this new challenge, and about what we will be able to accomplish together at Lehigh,” Witt said. “We have the opportunity here to make a real difference in higher education, and to help make health and health care better for everyone. Opportunities like this don’t come along very often, but I know Lehigh is ready to seize its moment.”
To learn more about Lehigh's innovative new College of Health, visit health.lehigh.edu.