Graduates and Scholars

November 6, 2023

Graduates - Alumni Changing the World of Public Health

By Nancy Averett

Chiyo Moriuchi

Chiyo Moriuchi, MBA ’86, MPH ’15

A Splendid Second Act

Chiyo Moriuchi, MBA ’86, MPH ’15

The Great Recession propelled Chiyo Moriuchi toward a second career in public health. She had already spent decades working in business, finance, and real estate investment, including a nine-year stint in Tokyo with LaSalle Investment Management. When the financial crisis prompted the firm to offer buyouts, Moriuchi took one. “I thought, ‘Maybe it’s time for me to do something else,’” she says.

While pondering her next move, she served on the boards of several Quaker organizations (Moriuchi herself is a Quaker). “While I was on the board of Medford Leas, a Quaker continuing care retirement community, I became much more aware of the issues” with an aging population, she recalls. Then Moriuchi came across a 2012 New York Times profile of Dean Linda P. Fried, MD, MPH, in which Fried discussed how she helped start a volunteer tutoring program to help both senior citizens and children flourish. “I thought, ‘That is the stuff we need to be thinking about and talking about,’” Moriuchi recalls.

Soon, she was enrolled in Columbia Mailman School’s Accelerated MPH program. She studied her town, Newtown, Pennsylvania, and found that it had many assets for older people but that elders were separated from the wider community. It also had bumpy, nard-to-navigate sidewalks.

After getting her degree, Moriuchi worked as a program manager in the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center. But she had made connections that led to her becoming, in 2019, the CEO of Friends Village, an independent living and personal care community for older adults in Newtown. The role has allowed her to put her knowledge about healthy aging into practice. For instance, while at Columbia Mailman School, she learned about Senior Planet, a digital and in-person learning community for older adults. So Moriuchi signed up Friends Village, and now she offers free Senior Planet digital literacy classes quarterly to both Friends Village residents and other senior citizens in the area—making the retirement home a hub for senior learning. “I want Friends Village to be part of the wider community, not separated from it,” she says. “Residents can continue to be contributing members, benefiting themselves and the community, and countering society’s ageist attitudes.”

Nimish Shah

Nimish Shah, MBA/MPH ’06

The Power of  Three Degrees

Nimish Shah, MBA/MPH ’06

Biostatistics expertise built at Columbia Mailman School has helped Nimish Shah in his work as a partner at the venture capital firm Venrock. He evaluates companies, in part, by examining their clinical trial design. “A company’s value could go down if clinical trials weren’t done right,” he says.

At Columbia Mailman School, Shah chose the Health Policy and Management track and remembers vividly the lectures by department Chair Michael S. Sparer, JD, PhD, who detailed the complex process of changing a nation’s laws around drug pricing and health insurance. “It was really eye-opening to me how difficult that can be,” he says.

After graduating, Shah worked for Credit Suisse, where he analyzed medical therapeutic companies to help clients make investment decisions. “Then I decided I wanted to do more investing,” he says, so he moved to Citadel and eventually to Venrock. “We take a long-term view on a potential startup,” he says. “We pick a select number of companies to back whose potential we have analyzed carefully.”

A finance career wasn’t what Shah envisioned when he got his Bachelor of Science in pharmacy from Rutgers or when he pursued two master’s degrees at Columbia University. But the degrees have helped him. “My pharmacy degree helps me understand if the biology of a new drug makes sense,” he says. “My public health background helps me understand if they designed the right clinical trial, and my MBA helps me think through how big a drug could be.” Shah was an early investor in Biohaven, which created Nurtec, a revolutionary type of drug that blocks a protein that causes some migraines. “I take some pride in the fact that I played a small part in getting this drug to patients,” he says. Biohaven became a wholly owned subsidiary of Pfizer last year in a transaction valued at $11.6 billion.

Cheryl Pegus

Cheryl Pegus, MD, MPH ’89

Changing Healthcare From the Inside

Cheryl Pegus, MD, MPH ’89

When Cheryl Pegus was a child, her grandfather got sick and she soon realized that her family’s socioeconomic situation was affecting his healthcare. “We couldn’t afford care,” she says. “As a kid, I was changing wound dressings and helping make doctors’ appointments.” Pegus, raised by a single mom, immigrated to New York City from Trinidad and wanted to become a doctor.

Eager to change the world, Pegus, at just 16, enrolled as an undergraduate studying premed at Brandeis University. She soon learned that becoming a doctor wouldn’t be enough to change a system that had failed to meet her grandfather’s needs. Between her residency and a cardiology fellowship, she enrolled at Columbia Mailman School, where she was impressed that the students had such varied backgrounds—there were former Peace Corps workers, social workers, and budding epidemiologists. Her epidemiology and biostatistics training presented a very rational way to fight for healthcare access and improved equity. “It’s just, ‘Trust the data, and use it to improve outcomes,’” she says. We will see gains as a healthcare community and country if we trust the data.”

After getting her master’s, Pegus came across a report in the New England Journal of Medicine showing that Black men in Harlem were less likely to reach age 65 than men in Bangladesh. “It was 1992, but it rings true today,” she says. The research made her realize that better health didn’t just “happen” when you got to the doctor’s office, but much earlier, in your community, and that there were bigger issues to solve and other stakeholders needed to cause change. So Pegus went to work for large corporations that could have a big impact: Pfizer, Aetna, Walgreens, and Walmart. At Pfizer, the company performed, along with the National Institutes of Health, one of the first and largest clinical trials looking at hypertension in African Americans. “This type of partnership is critical to fund the trials we need in science,” Pegus says.

Later at Aetna, the company became the first to collect race and ethnicity information on its 30 million members. “We did our analysis by women, by race, by ZIP code, and by using data began offering personalized solutions while measuring results. Jack Rowe, MD, the CEO, championed these efforts,” Pegus says. (Rowe is now Julius B. Richmond Professor of Health Policy and Aging at Columbia Mailman School.) At Walmart, she helped oversee its COVID-19 vaccine rollout, finding innovative partnerships to push back against vaccine hesitancy. “Housing communities, pastors, hair salons and barbers, NASCAR, NBA … we worked tirelessly with whoever was the most trusted,” Pegus says.

Pegus’ most recent job is as managing director with Morgan Health, created by JP Morgan Chase in 2021. The startup aims to bring value-based healthcare to employer-sponsored plans, where physicians are compensated based on the quality of the services they render rather than the quantity. “Value-based care has stretched into Medicare Advantage, but not employer health insurance,” she says. “So how do we get that to 16- to 64-year-olds? How do we improve the quality of their care in an equitable way?”

Thirty years into her career, Pegus still relishes searching for those solutions. “I am optimistic,” she says. “Change is occurring and I want to go faster.”

Margaret Crotty

Margaret Crotty, MPH ’14

Global Reach, Local Leadership

Margaret Crotty, MPH ’14

Margaret Crotty launched her career at Save the Children in Indonesia after getting her undergraduate degree at Princeton. It was the start of a successful career that included a decade as CEO of Partnership With Children, which provides community health and school-based behavioral health across New York City. It was during that time that she enrolled in the Health Policy and Management executive program.

In 2022, Crotty became president and CEO of JSI, an international nongovernmental organization that oversees $750 million of programs that strengthen the capacity of local systems in 42 countries to deliver high-quality services and ensure equity in access to healthcare, education, and socioeconomic opportunity. “We work with governments, the private sector, and civil society to identify and implement solutions to the biggest public health and education challenges,” she says.

Crotty sees a change underway in global public health in response to the pandemic, the effects of climate change, and the increasing commitment to programs being locally designed and implemented. She notes that many countries that managed their own pandemic response, making decisions on the ground, have had strong outcomes. “Zambia reached an 85 percent vaccination rate among its vaccine-eligible population,” she says.

Her leadership spans multicountry programs and community projects. The common thread is listening to the community, building trust, leveraging local resources, and adapting to change, all approaches taught at the School. “We think hard about our role,” Crotty says. “What’s the best way to measure impact and sustainability? How do we build a global system where resources shift to local stewards? We want local experts to set the agenda.”

Ernest Moy

Ernest Moy, MD, MPH ’91

Ensuring Equity for Veterans

Ernest Moy, MD, MPH ’91

Ernest Moy came to Columbia more than 30 years ago for an internal medicine fellowship program for physicians interested in public health. He quickly dug into how socioeconomic factors—education, job stability, neighborhood—could affect patients’ health, something that he is still immersed in today as executive director of the Office of Health Equity of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).

While earning his MPH, Moy focused on healthcare equity and disparities of care. He found a mentor in Oliver Fein, MD, at what was then called Columbia-Presbyterian, who had opened five satellite health centers to assist the largely Dominican population in Washington Heights. “He recognized that the social needs they had, especially if they were unmet, were more impactful on their health than anything we could possibly do,” Moy says.

Moy also saw firsthand how bifurcated the U.S. healthcare system can be between those with money and those without. When the hospital decided to take fewer indigent and Medicaid patients, he and the other fellows conducted a study. They found that some were able to pay a new fee, and others found new providers. But some slipped through the cracks. Of this group Moy says, “Their high blood pressure and diabetes were often under poor control.”

Moy went on to work at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where, among other things, he studied rural health disparities. Finally, in 2018, he moved to the VHA. Moy analyzes standard quality metrics—such as safety, effectiveness, and equity—for veterans groups defined by sex, age, race, ethnicity, and other factors. He shares the results with Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers and clinics around the country. One recent analysis revealed that minority veterans and white female veterans were not receiving newer, more effective diabetes medications at the same rate as white males. “We take that information and tweak our programs,” Moy says. “We might need to customize communication for those groups or connect them to social services.” Making these targeted adjustments to the healthcare program at a VA center, he says, can really move equity forward.

Scholars - Students and Faculty Leading the Way

Assessing the State of Public Health

The American Rescue Plan included $7.7 billion for 100,000 new public health jobs, and much of the money went to individual states. To learn how the funds were being used and what progress was made, Michael S. Sparer, JD, PhD, professor and chair of Health Policy and Management, and Lawrence D. Brown, PhD, professor of Health Policy and Management, spoke with leaders from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and traveled to Kentucky, Indiana, Mississippi, New York, and Washington. They published their findings in The Milbank Quarterly: States were not spending the money expeditiously. There are limits to what funding can do without cooperation from local governments. (Kentucky was the only state where there was a “truly collaborative process” between local and state officials.) Public health needs support from mayors, and local commissioners, and these leaders need to be persuaded that improving the public health system will benefit citizens.

Chris Chin and Asha Saxena

Student Startup Ideas

What’s your elevator pitch? How will your startup be both a financial success and a boon to public health? This was the assignment of Fast Pitch, a Columbia Mailman School-hosted competition open to budding student entrepreneurs across the university. Organized by the Department of Health Policy and Management, the most recent competition saw 10 teams face off for the $5,000 Asha Saxena Prize for Entrepreneurship. Each team was allotted seven minutes to explain their startup’s value proposition and walk judges through the steps necessary to bring it to fruition. The winner was Chris Chin, an Executive MPH student at Columbia Mailman School. His nonprofit, Crosstalk Connections, seeks to ease the burden of support phone calls that are a core part of recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous by automatically connecting someone in recovery with a supportive member of their recovery team.

tobacco retail

A Major Grant for a Significant Problem

Daniel Giovenco, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of Sociomedical Sciences, was awarded a five-year, $2.9 million National Institutes of Health Research Project Grant (R01). His research will explore the impact of local interventions to establish caps on the number of tobacco retail licenses permitted in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New York City. Tobacco retailer density is disproportionately high in low-income communities and certain racial and ethnic enclaves, contributing to severe socioeconomic and social disparities in smoking and its resultant health harms. His results will inform equitable policy formation and help to reduce persistent health disparities.

book cover - The Social Epidemiology of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Faculty Book .....

The Social Epidemiology of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Dustin Duncan, ScD, associate professor of Epidemiology, Stephen S. Morse, PhD, professor of Epidemiology, and Harvard’s Ichiro Kawachi, MB, ChB, PhD, are co-editors of The Social Epidemiology of the COVID-19 Pandemic (Oxford University Press). The book covers topics such as racism and stigmatization of COVID-19; gender and sexuality as they relate to COVID-19; disability and ableism during the pandemic; and the links between neighborhoods, neighborhood factors, and COVID-19 outcomes.

photos of the Global First Ladies Academy in 2023

Top left: U.S. first lady Dr. Jill Biden meets with the group. Right: First ladies at the four-day conference. Bottom: From left, Her Excellency (H.E.) Mrs. Neo Jane Masisi, first lady of Botswana; H.E. Mrs. Angeline Ndayishimiye, first lady of Burundi; H.E. Mrs. Fatoumatta Bah-Barrow, first lady of Gambia; H.E. Mrs. Rachel Ruto, first lady of Kenya; Cora Neumann, PhD, MPH ’03, founder of the Global First Ladies Alliance; Dean Linda P. Fried, MD, MPH; H.E. Mrs. Monica Geingos, first lady of Namibia; H.E. Mrs. Monica Chakwera, first lady of Malawi; H.E. Mrs. Isaura Gonçalo Ferrão Nyusi, first lady of Mozambique; and H.E. Dr. Auxillia Mnangagwa, first lady of Zimbabwe.

Columbia Mailman School Hosts Historic Visit by Nine First Ladies

First ladies from eight African countries and experts from the Columbia Mailman School met in July for an executive education program to discuss current trends, critical research, and sustainable, evidence-based approaches to promote population health and well-being. They were joined for a roundtable discussion by U.S. first lady Dr. Jill Biden, who told her fellow leaders,

“Together, with the strength of the sisterhood that surrounds us, we can build a better future for all of us.”

The program was the inaugural Global First Ladies Academy, which works to catalyze positive impact and social transformation in communities around the world. It was launched by the Global First Ladies Alliance, whose president and founder is Columbia Mailman School Board of Advisors member Dr. Cora Neumann. First lady of Namibia Mrs. Monica Geingos said the meeting was perfectly timed: “First ladies aren’t elected, [but] we come with social capital. People listen to first ladies.” Hear more in the video: