by Andrew Myers
In December 2021, Johns Hopkins University announced that it would expand its Bloomberg Distinguished Professorship program with the recruitment of 50 additional members to the faculty across the university. The new hires will be gathered into “clusters” focused on some of the greatest challenges of society today. Launched nine years ago with an initial slate of 50 professors, with the second wave of appointments the Bloomberg Distinguished Professorship program now becomes the largest such initiative in U.S. higher education.
Among the newly named distinguished professors is Odis Johnson Jr., who directs the Center for Safe and Healthy Schools in the School of Education and shares joint appointments in the Bloomberg School of Public Health and in sociology. Johnson has been tapped to co-lead the cluster Advancing Racial Equity in Health, Housing, and Education with his colleague Tamar Mendelson from the School of Public Health. Mendelson’s expertise is in improving adolescent mental health in underserved urban populations.
“The Bloomberg Distinguished Professorship is a great platform for scholars with diverse academic backgrounds and research agendas and an opportunity to bring in new people, with new ideas and interests, to build them into a world-class program focused on solutions to the challenges of racial equity in these key areas,” Johnson said. “And Johns Hopkins University, through the Bloomberg Distinguished Professorship program, is uniquely situated to be the center of that effort.”
The appointment was a full year in the making. Johnson and Mendelson first submitted a proposal in early 2021 and were pleased to learn theirs was one of just nine clusters selected after a rigorous internal and external review process.
Now the real work begins. Johnson and Mendelson are charged with hiring six new faculty members—three additional Bloomberg Distinguished Professors and three assistant professors—and shaping from scratch their cluster into an exceptional program. The Bloomberg Distinguished Professorship program stipulates that all six new hires must come from outside the Johns Hopkins community, a challenge Johnson finds exciting.
“Each new hire must be a multidimensional scholar with expertise in at least two of the three key areas of our work—housing, health, and education,” Johnson notes. “From school violence to good nutrition to affordable housing, the issue of racial equity cuts across all these social dimensions, and the issues are interconnected with one another. Our cluster must reflect that complexity.”
The new Bloomberg gift will also support the purchase of cutting-edge equipment and the use of core facilities at Johns Hopkins, as needed, to foster creative collaboration among these faculty members, graduate students, and post-doctoral scholars.
“Our intent is to bring people together who want and who are well suited to collaborate on solving some of these complex issues and to provide them the tools and the facilities they need to accomplish those important goals,” Johnson says. “The Bloomberg Distinguished Professorship program gives us the people and the resources to propel us forward.”