In the next several issues of Update, we are profiling the deans of our colleges and schools. In this issue, we highlight
Dr. Lisa Klesges, dean of the School of Public Health.
Dr. Lisa Klesges
1. After earning your master’s degree from the U of M, you pursued a doctoral degree
from the University of Minnesota. What was it about the U of M that drew you back
here for your professional life?
“I’ve been drawn back to Memphis and to the University a few times. I worked on my
master’s here and then came back to start the School of Public Health. It’s exciting
and meaningful to have the opportunityto address the deep health needs of the community. I have also collaborated with University
professionals, even when I was at UT Health Science Center and St. Jude Children’s
Research Hospital, but this opportunity to come and start the School is the reason
I am here now.”
2. The School of Public Health was created at the U of M in 2008. Since its inception,
what are some examples of the ways the School has helped the health needs of the Memphis
“Students have practicum experiences where they serve as a direct help within the
community itself. We have placed several students within the Public Health Department.
Students have also worked on community gardening, distribution of the flu vaccines,
emergency preparedness plans and a whole range of topics within public health. Our
big initiative as a school is to build toward a larger health improvement effort and
set the foundation within the community. We’re working on a new initiative with Memphis
Fast Forward called ‘Healthy Shelby.’ This involves working with chronic illnesses
such as hypertension and diabetes, a second topic of infant mortality, and working
in transitions of care in end-of-life care. We’re also a part of the Memphis Research
Consortium. The health needs of the community are many, so as a young school, we have
to prioritize areas we feel we can have the most impact by matching the talent of
our faculty to the needs of the community. The way we can make a difference as a small
school is really through partnerships so we can do more for the community. As an example
of partnership, we’re attracting existing professionals to come and work on degrees
in public health, and they often work on projects that are relevant to their home
institution. We have a St. Jude physician, a program director from Methodist Hospital
and other students from community organizations. Their involvement will lead to more
referrals for the program and a better understanding of public health as they take
the knowledge back to their home institutions.”
3. With such a plethora of opportunities for the future, what is on the horizon for
the School of Public Health?
“Our goal is to work on becoming fully accredited. We are in candidacy now and have
up to 24 months to complete our self-study, but we think we can accomplish everything
we need to in the next 18 months for our full review. First, we had to be reviewed
for candidacy to show that we made enough progress, that in a two-year period of time
we could meet all the criteria for full accreditation. The beauty of being in candidacy
is that we are allowed into all of the meetings with the other fully accredited schools
and colleges of public health. At the recent American School of Public Health meeting,
I got to meet with the other deans in closed meetings for the first time. It opens
up a new network for us.”
4. What is the most memorable day or event during your tenure at the U of M?
“I think the biggest thing is that we were accepted into candidacy for accreditation
by the Council on Education for Public Health. That is such a big step for us. I have
to say, a little tear of joy fell on news of our acceptance. It is a big goal that
we have been working toward. We have been building momentum, and although there is
still a lot of building to be done, we’ve reached a point where we are developed enough
that the door is open now for full recognition by our peer institutions.”
5. What do you enjoy most about being dean?
“The best part of being a dean is having a great faculty and bringing out the best
in them to shape their research and teaching. I also enjoy the opportunity to be innovative
and create our programs as a new school.”
6. What is the most challenging aspect of your position?
“Because we are a new school and there are so many possibilities, it’s important to
make wise choices, prioritize all the opportunities, and, like all deans, do that
in an environment of diminishing resources (although it gives us the opportunity to
be more creative). A big challenge for me is physically getting enough balance between
the time needed in the community and my other responsibilities on campus. Public health
is heavily involved with city government, county government and health systems, so
managing my calendar and schedule is the day-to-day reality that is a challenge.”
7. What’s the best advice you’ve received and who gave you the advice?
“One of my favorite phrases and concepts was actually gained from a student. It’s
that you ‘bloom where you are planted.’ I grew up on a farm and that really struck
me. I’ve used that concept to offer up to other students. You don’t know in life’s
journey where you are going to end up. Sometimes it’s more fertile soil, or weaker
soil, but you can still bloom. So do your best to match your gifts and talents with
the opportunities available where you’re planted. It encompasses a lot of different
thoughts. In my own life, this has been true, just like with a lot of women who meld
families with careers, you find your own opportunities.
8. What is your favorite U of M tradition?
“I love graduation. I think it is such a lovely rite of passage for families supporting
their graduates, especially our first generation graduates. For all the length of
time sitting through the ceremony, I always remember how much it means to the graduates
and their families.”
9. What did you want to be when you grew up?
“I certainly didn’t want to be a public health professional because I didn’t know
what that was when I was younger. In college, I started off as a music major since
I was involved with music in high school. I played the flute, sang in the honors choir
and was a church musician, playing the pipe organ and the piano. I went to college
to be a musician, but lasted only about six months with that major. After taking a
psychology course, I fell in love with the idea of developmental psychology. I just
thought that was so amazing, so I started taking a lot of psychology courses and declared
it my new major. I didn’t have a specific career in mind with that, but I had an idea
that I would go on and further my education.”
10. What are some of your hobbies?
“I really enjoy music. I still play flute and piano for my own enjoyment or for my
church. I do enjoy reading, although it’s a challenge to find the time as often as
I used to. I have started walking more and enjoy being outside. My upbringing on a
farm in South Dakota really ingrained in me a love of the outdoors. I live downtown,
and part of the fun of living downtown is that many things are within walking distance,
so that’s very nice. I also like to travel which I hope to do more in the future.”
11. Tell us about your family.
“I have two sons. My younger son, Josh, is a freshman at Baylor University. He has
fallen in love with the concept of public health, and he is a pre-health major. My
older son, Chris, is an engineer and working in Memphis. My extended family is in
South Dakota. My brother, sister, mother and close family live there. I try to visit
them once a year and encourage my mom to come this way, too. It’s a fun family so
I enjoy them.