A decade of success

Purdue HHS celebrates 10th anniversary

Story by Aaron Martin

Today, Purdue University’s College of Health and Human Sciences (HHS) is firmly established as a cornerstone of the University and its institutional mission.

A decade ago, HHS as we know it didn’t even exist.

HHS is celebrating its 10-year anniversary in 2020, and its growth from a bold idea to consolidate nine existing but largely separate academic units into a unified, foundational part of the Purdue system is nothing short of remarkable. The success of HHS since 2010, when it launched with big plans but numerous challenges and limited resources, is the result of persistent effort, strong leadership and widespread cooperation.

The college will use this landmark anniversary — and its recent transition to new leadership —as a time to renew its commitment to the critical mission of improving peoples’ lives, and as a springboard for its next giant leap.

“I think Purdue made a very inspired and courageous choice to form this college 10 years ago. I don’t think there’s another unit like it in the country,” says Marion Underwood, who succeeded Christine Ladisch as the school’s dean in 2018.

“I’m lucky I came into my position when the hardest work was already done — when the college was already growing, when a positive, generous climate was already created, when the quality was already high,” Underwood says. “Our future opportunities are endless because we have very strong programs in disciplines where the need is tremendous. The world needs what we have to offer.” 

In the beginning

Formal consolidation plans were launched in 2010, when the Purdue Board of Trustees approved a faculty-inspired realignment designed to enhance the University’s health and human sciences programs without changing the number of colleges on campus. The realignment was linked to Purdue’s broader New Synergies initiative, a six-year strategic plan to position the University to meet the challenges facing humanity, create opportunities for Indiana and the global economy, and enhance student learning for success in a changing world.

To that end, HHS was created as a college to replace the College of Consumer and Family Sciences (CFS) and integrate the four CFS departments — Human Development and Family Studies; Nutrition Science; Consumer Science; and the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management — with five academic units from the College of Liberal Arts and the College of Pharmacy, Nursing and Health Sciences. These included Health and Kinesiology; Psychological Sciences; Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences; the School of Health Sciences; and the School of Nursing.

The college was officially established in July 2010, and HHS immediately became Purdue’s second-largest college behind the College of Engineering in terms of undergraduate enrollment. That’s also when the monumental task of merging students, faculty, staff, cultures and resources truly began.

Ladisch takes the lead 

Ladisch, then Purdue’s vice provost for academic affairs, was named as the inaugural HHS dean in July 2010 and remained in the position until 2018. She had previously served as an associate dean in CFS (1993-99), as department head of Consumer Sciences and Retailing (1999-2001), and as an associate and vice provost (2001-10).

Working closely with then-provost Randy Woodson and longtime Purdue faculty member Thomas Berndt, then an associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts, Ladisch developed a long list of early priorities. Build infrastructure. Allocate resources. Generate funds. Create a cultural identity. Foster signature research. Conduct community outreach.

It was a challenging time for Ladisch, who had helped Woodson plan the realignment as vice provost but was surprised to be named as the new college’s first dean.

“I was Randy Woodson’s right-hand person during the process of discussion and consideration, and I thought I was pretty experienced at university leadership. I was excited, but also a little scared,” Ladisch says. “I knew it was a really big job, and there was no road map. What kept going through my mind was, ‘Please don’t let this thing fall apart before we’re done building it,’ and I knew there would be challenges when the honeymoon was over. But who wouldn’t be excited about the opportunity?”

Hanley and Marriott HallHanley Hall (left), Marriott Hall (center) and Lyles-Porter Hall (right) all opened between 2011 and 2014 as part of the expansion of Purdue’s College of Health and Human Sciences.

Widespread growth

Expansion started almost immediately. Hanley Hall and Marriott Hall both opened in 2011, with Hanley Hall serving as home for the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, and Marriott Hall housing the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management (HTM). The opening of Lyles-Porter Hall followed in 2014.

In addition to being home to the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, Lyles-Porter Hall houses the Indiana University School of Medicine-West Lafayette and numerous HHS clinical spaces.

“It didn’t take long to gain momentum and demonstrate certain levels of success, and the fact that this idea was very faculty-driven was central to that,” Ladisch says. “We chose the word ‘realignment’ for a reason. This wasn’t a top-down reorganization, and we didn’t consolidate just to save money. We made some very careful, thoughtful decisions about how the process would go, and everything was done with the utmost respect for everyone involved. Over time, I learned that the way we realigned was drastically different from how it happens at other universities across the country.”

HHS also solidified its strategic plan early on, focusing on three themes: informing behavioral choices, improving human health and enhancing quality of life. This emphasis on making a difference in people’s lives, combined with the college’s commitment to student success, has fueled continued growth.

“We are the only college on campus that really focuses on human lives from a behavioral and social science perspective, so we have a distinct role and a lot to offer for a wide variety of students,” says Berndt, the HHS senior associate dean for academic affairs and administration.

“Many strong academic programs became part of the new college, and several interdisciplinary programs involving faculty with complementary expertise have emerged as areas of excellence,” Berndt says. “Our academic advisors are very good at finding the academic programs that best fit students, and we get a lot of students who switch from other Purdue colleges to HHS. We offer outstanding programs where they can advance quickly whether they want to pursue a professional degree or move into the workforce.”

Signature success

New facilities, a shared mission, an interdisciplinary approach, complementary expertise and a culture of respect. Together, these factors have led to advances in signature research areas, as well. HHS is now home to innovative research centers and institutes for nursing, health, nutrition, psychology, neuroscience and autism, among many others.

“I really think realignment was a genius idea. The formation of HHS has allowed Purdue to engage in significant ways that it could not before the realignment,” says HHS Associate Dean for Research Jessica Huber, who joined Purdue as a professor in the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences in 2001.

“The realignment has fostered interactions between people working on related diseases who wouldn’t otherwise collaborate. Our college has really stepped up as a leader in health research,” Huber says. “I think HHS was ahead of its time, doing something no one was doing at the time we were formed. Since then, other universities have seen what we did, how we did it, and formed similar colleges.”

Among current HHS leadership, Liping Cai has a unique perspective on the changes. Now the associate dean for international programs and diversity for HHS, Cai earned a Purdue PhD in hospitality and tourism management and then served as an associate dean in CFS before the realignment.

“Over time, it has become clear that HHS is driven by what’s best for the students. When that’s the guiding light, the outcome is bound to be positive and energizing,” Cai says. “To some colleagues, it wasn’t clear how we all fit together at the beginning. Now, it seems obvious. We’ve put ourselves on the map as a brand.”

Focus on the future

Elevation of the Purdue HHS brand is one of Underwood’s priorities moving forward, as is the transformation of the collaborative, interdisciplinary research that exists today into increasingly focused, strategic projects that could have immediate societal impact. In close consultation with the faculty, Underwood has defined three key focus areas moving forward:

  • Developmental health and wellness
  • Vital longevity and healthy lifestyles
  • Sustainable and thriving communities and organizations

Continued facilities growth is also part of Underwood’s plan. A proposed new nursing and pharmacy building is being planned. Eventually, Underwood and others would like to see the HHS campus footprint increase by as much as 40%.

“We’re already very well-positioned to be more strategic and sharpen our identity,” Underwood says. “A quarter of NIH funding at Purdue already comes from HHS, and that’s pretty amazing when you realize that only about half our units do research funded by NIH. We already have extension programs in 92 Indiana counties. HHS at Purdue excels in disciplines that have a lot to contribute to Indiana — to the whole world, actually — and we need to keep our aspirations and our standards extremely high.”

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