Skip to Main Content


Reflections on this Year – and a Look Ahead as the new Yale-NUS College Dean of Faculty

August 13, 2018
by Jeannette Ickovics

It was wonderful this year to bring greater visibility to public health at Yale-NUS College. Synchronous with the mission of Yale-NUS, I hosted a series of events that highlighted the role of public health in an interconnected and diverse world. Our unique transdisciplinary approach makes public health a perfect lens to understand the significance of a liberal arts and sciences education in a rapidly changing world, and provides the potential for rich collaboration across disciplines.

We began last November with a facilitated conversation entitled Resilient Cities: A Model for Social Action and Innovation. Guests included Lauren Sorkin, Regional Director, 100 Resilient Cities, and Dr. Murali Chandrashekaran, Vice Provost International Engagement, University of British Columbia.

In March, Dr. Sten Vermund, Dean of the Yale School of Public Health, was joined by Dr. YY Teo, Dean of the National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, for a spirited conversation on The Future of Public Health: Leadership Perspectives from East and West. Yale President Peter Salovey introduced the speakers, and there was an exhibition of photographs and infographics from the students in my class, Community Health Assessment and Intervention.

The culminating event was a full-day conference in April, entitled Purposeful Aging/Meaningful Endings: Art, Science and Innovation, hosted by Yale-NUS College with Modern Aging Singapore and Singapore Hospice Council. I had the opportunity to curate this amazing day. Together with a fantastic organizing committee, we integrated the creativity of faculty, students, staff and community partners to catalyse a deeper understanding of our profound human experiences of life and death. A constant of life is that we age every day. And eventually, we all will die. Yet beyond the public narrative about aging, we do not often talk about these issues – they are simply too difficult and often too stigmatizing. Together, we explored cutting-edge science and artistic expression intended to enhance healthspan.

It is difficult for me to select the moments in the day that were most meaningful or poignant, though here are a few:

  • The excitement of scientists Dr. Elissa Epel, Dr. Brian Kennedy and Dr. Jan Gruber presenting their cutting-edge work in basic-to-clinical science on expanding healthspan.
  • A public conversation between philosophers Andrew Bailey, Matthew Walker and sociologist Anju Paul based on Dr. Ezekiel Emmanuel’s provocative essay Why I Hope to Die at 75.
  • Gabriel Ibasco, winner of the Write Your Own Obituary contest for his essay, “Transforming Beliefs.”
  • A panel that included a palliative care physician, Melissa Chan, private sector leader, Laura Deal Lacey and social psychologist, Dr. Becca Levy on breaking down the stigma associated with aging and death.
  • A theatrical adaptation of Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing with Feathers.
  • The Asia premiere of Tse Go La At the Threshold of This Life, a cantata composed by Andrea Clearfield, with conservatory students Yuru Lee and Mark Yeo.
  • In addition, there was an exhibition of paintings, photographs and films from more than two dozen hospice patients and students.

I invite you to watch one or more of the videos, and I hope that this kind of transdisciplinary conference is one we can conduct again addressing other challenging issues such as mental health, human migration or climate change.

I will close out this set of blogposts with deep gratitude to so many of you. Sincere thanks to Dean Sten Vermund for his support of my visiting professorship, and to Yale-NUS College President Tan Tai Yong and others in Singapore for their warm welcome and generosity.

I will be staying on at Yale-NUS College as the new Dean of Faculty. I am excited to expand the work we started this year, and to integrate the opportunities at the college, in Singapore and in the region. We all are indeed deeply connected by a commitment to scholarship and teaching that promotes innovative ideas and, just perhaps, makes the world a better place.


Jeannette Ickovics is the Samuel and Liselotte Herman Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Yale School of Public Health and Professor of Psychology at Yale University. She is a Visiting Professor at Yale-National University of Singapore for the 2017-2018 academic year. This is her first trip to Singapore, and she will be writing a monthly blog about her experiences that will appear on Yale School of Public Health social media.

Submitted by Elisabeth Reitman on June 21, 2018