Alumni Spotlight

Sabrina Mammen, MPH Candidate '23, writes about HPM alum—John MacPhee, MPH '12.
John MacPhee, The Jed Foundation.

John MacPhee is a public health leader and CEO of the Jed Foundation, a prominent national nonprofit that aims to protect emotional health and prevent suicide among teens and young adults. The foundation was recently awarded a 15-million-dollar grant from Mackenzie Scott in an effort to continue this work among the youth of America. “At the Jed Foundation,” MacPhee noted, “we focus on how systems and people can support emerging adults.”  

At the Jed Foundation, the non-profit addresses schools as the real-life systems where many teens and young adults operate. As a result, it focuses on high schools and colleges. MacPhee explained, “the foundation recognizes the importance of implementing a mental health safety net and creating a culture of caring for youth in communities. That’s what we help schools do.” Its programs emphasize several core principles: that mental health for students must be a priority; that there should be a plan for how student mental health is supported; and that there should be a team, including students, that oversee this. “The Jed Foundation helps set this up. We then survey students to understand rates of depression, anxiety, and resilience among students at a population level, and whether they feel safe at school. We analyze if there are groups of students experiencing unique or additional stressors.”  

Leading up to his work with the Jed Foundation, MacPhee experienced a steady growth career. Over 20 years, he held numerous positions, working his way up from a pharmaceutical sales representative, eventually to president of his own division within a pharmaceutical company. “I think it was to my benefit that I didn’t skip any steps,” MacPhee stated. “I did multiple jobs, with steadily increasing scopes of responsibility. This taught me a lot in managing systems and people.”  

“I became very interested in how to support and help young adults,” he noted. Prior to his education at the Mailman School of Public Health, MacPhee experienced multiple stressors during his undergraduate career. "I had a very hard time, including failing out of my engineering program." From switching majors, to attending school part-time, he was no stranger to the mental health challenges that emerging adults face as they traverse their lifecourse. “Although I wasn’t diagnosed,” he explained, “now I can recognize I was dealing with anxiety… I was floundering.” Despite this, however, adults including coaches and his admissions officer intervened and helped redirect him, offering him a support system that helped him successfully navigate these hurdles. “Here I realized the importance of non-parent caring adults in the lives of emerging adults.”  

MacPhee eventually became the NYC board chair of Bottom Line, a nonprofit founded in Boston that focuses on helping low-income, first generation, public high school students by providing them with mentorship all throughout college. In Boston, the program saw tremendous results in graduation rates of students, essentially erasing the graduation gap between low-income first-generation students and their non-low-income counterparts. When the program launched in NYC, MacPhee worked to help establish it in the city. It was here he further cemented his passion for working with young adults in the mental health space. Watching the organization’s executive director build the program up, he then realized his next career goal. “It clicked for me, that I’d rather be doing that job – I wanted to become the executive director of a non-profit supporting young adults and helping them establish themselves.”  

His experience with Bottom Line ultimately encouraged MacPhee’s transition from the corporate world to Public Health. He attended the Mailman School of Public Health, where he received his master’s in public health in the department of Health Policy and Management. Later, the opportunity to work with the Jed Foundation was then presented to him. "I was already very interested in mental health due to my own experiences. The foundation was well-regarded with very good ideas, but small. I believed I could grow it and raise the money required bring these ideas to fruition." As CEO of the foundation, he then continuously worked to carry out his mission among emerging adults.  

Throughout his professional journey, MacPhee emphasized the importance of a mission driven approach, which drove his own work. “For us, the mission is to protect the emotional health of 13- to 30-year-olds. A mission provides purpose for work – a purpose that is truly motivating and aligns you and your peers around the same goals.” When asked about his advice to students now navigating their public health careers, MacPhee emphasized taking full advantage of Mailman resources, including networking and relationship building. "It’s a kind and caring community, so meet as many people as you can! This includes faculty and students, all of whom can impact your professional future. Learn and get exposed to as much as you can."