We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of our beloved friend and colleague, Jennifer Schlecht, and her daughter, Abaynesh. Jennifer dedicated her career to championing the rights of women and girls in crisis situations. For 15 years, she worked across diverse humanitarian contexts to ensure that women and girls affected by war or natural disaster had access to sexual and reproductive health services.
As a student, staff member, mentor, and collaborator, Jennifer was an important and valued member of the Columbia Mailman community. A 2004 MPH-MSW dual degree graduate, Jennifer earned her MPH from the Population and Family Health department, and was the recipient of a Wyman scholarship in recognition of exceptional academic merit. Jennifer worked closely with faculty in the Program on Forced Migration, and she was also a member of the Reproductive Health Access Information and Services in Emergencies (RAISE) Initiative team (2006-2008). With RAISE, she supported programs in Darfur, South Sudan, and northern Uganda, to ensure that displaced populations received good quality sexual and reproductive health services. Jennifer conducted vital research, and was co-author of several publications with Columbia Mailman faculty who included Professor Emerita Therese McGinn, RAISE’s founding principal investigator, and Assistant Professor Sara Casey. Her collaborations with our School continued over the years as part of the Inter-Agency Working Group for Reproductive Health in Crises.
Jennifer was most recently a Senior Advisor of Emergency Preparedness and Response for FP2020, a global partnership working to voluntarily enable 120 million more women and girls to use modern contraception by 2020. In this role, Jennifer worked to integrate humanitarian contexts into development agendas, and to ensure sexual and reproductive health was integrated into national disaster preparedness planning. For seven years, Jennifer was also a member of the Women’s Refugee Commission team, where she focused on research and advocacy around family planning access, adolescent reproductive health, and child marriage.
Jennifer’s work will be a model for future generations of public health professionals. Her life and work represent all that we hope our students become: dedicated and highly skilled public health professionals committed to excellence and justice. For her kindness, commitment, and passion for making the world a better place, Jennifer will dearly be missed by us and in communities across the world.
Terry McGovern, JD
Professor and Chair
Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health