Students and alumni came together Friday evening in an informal conversation session with Kelly Brownell, dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy.
More than forty people came to Sanford to ask the new dean questions about his vision for the school. Brownell assumed his position July 1, taking over from Bruce Kuniholm. Sanford students led the question and answer session before the floor was opened to questions from alumni.
Brownell previously worked at Yale University as the James Rowland Angell Professor of Psychology and the director of the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. He is an expert on the causes and preventions of obesity. Through his research and policy outreach, Brownell realized a disconnect between public policy and academia.
Brownell noted that throughout his career he has been frustrated by the slow-moving nature of the academic world.
“Academics is incredibly slow compared to the rate at which the world moves.” Brownell said. “So what I tried to do in my work at Yale is strategic scholarship. This is scholarship isn’t meant to target questions at other academics, but that could be important to the policy world.”
The conversation tackled a variety of topics, from health policy to Duke’s contribution the Durham community to Brownell’s guitar-playing ability. In his talk, Brownell stressed the importance of innovation and collaboration across Duke’s campus.
“Duke as a university would be a good place to foster health policy because of the strength of the medical school and the presence of other schools that get into the health arena,” Brownell said. “My guess is it makes sense as an area to build in because of its presence at Duke. But we’re at the beginning rather than the end of the strategic planning process, so we’ll have to see how it goes.”
One of the key arenas the conversation focused was the connection between students in different programs with the Sanford School. Brownell attributed his coming to Duke to “the vitality of the students, their intelligence, but also their desire to make change.” But the connection between students is something Hrachya Topalyan, a student in the master of international development program at Sanford, emphasized.
“I would like to improve the connection between [master of public policy] and MIDP students at the social level, creating new opportunities and events,” Topalyan said.
Coming to hear Brownell speak was an educational experience, said Letty Lauffer, Woman's College '55.
“I’m 80 years old and I really didn’t know what public policy meant, and so I feel like I’ve been educated in a wonderful way because now I see it means how we can make the world a better place,” Lauffer said. “I feel so grateful to be able to have talked to Kelly Brownell in such a natural, comfortable way.”