Public health practitioner Julie Edwards, MHA recently joined Cornell Health as the new director of the Skorton Center for Health Initiatives, a department providing university leadership for addressing college health concerns including alcohol misuse, hazing, suicide, sexual violence and bias. Edwards, who most recently served as the director of Health Promotion at the University of Chicago, succeeds the Skorton Center’s founding director, Tim Marchell.
“I’m thrilled to be joining this dynamic team,” says Edwards. “I’ve been following its work for years and appreciate their innovative campus-based approaches to supporting student health and well-being.”
Edwards brings to the position over 20 years of experience providing strategic, operational, and organizational leadership in academic and community health environments. In addition to her work at the University of Chicago, she has served on several national committees and boards. She also anticipates completing a Doctorate in Education in 2023.
“Along with her extensive expertise in the field, Julie has a genuine excitement for public health. Her wisdom, warmth, and commitment to finding innovative solutions are an ideal fit for our campus community,” says Ryan Lombardi, vice president for Student & Campus Life. “I look forward to seeing all that Julie and the team at the Skorton Center develop to help educate our campus and meet the evolving health and well-being needs of our students.”
The Skorton Center was founded in 2015 to honor outgoing Cornell president David Skorton and his steadfast commitment to campus health. Unlike most traditional health promotion departments—which Cornell offered for over three decades—the Skorton Center advances student and campus health priorities through institutional leadership, education, research, and public engagement. Its staff members collaborate closely with campus colleagues, manage the university’s Victim Advocacy Program, and serve as advisors to student groups (e.g., EARS, Cornell Minds Matter). These efforts are designed to prevent or reduce harm to individuals and support positive culture change at Cornell.
“I appreciate the Skorton Center’s engagement with campus surveys and its data-informed approaches to bolstering student health and well-being. I believe they’re critical when tackling tough topics,” Edwards explains. “Data helps focus an organization’s resources on strategies most likely to make a difference. Cornell’s social norms approach to alcohol misuse and hazing behaviors are terrific examples of effective data-informed strategies.”
Another strategy embraced by the Skorton Center is a focus on bystander intervention initiatives. Such efforts broaden support for individuals in distress by increasing the number of “eyes and ears” who can help. Since 2009, “Notice & Respond: Assisting Students in Distress” has been available to employees. A parallel program, “Notice & Respond: Friend2Friend” also exists to help students support one another. In 2016, the Skorton Center developed the award-winning film “Intervene” based on Pro-Social Bystander Intervention Theory. It shows students taking action in seven different scenarios in order to support a peer.
Successes like these likely contributed to the recommendation in Cornell’s Mental Health Review to increase resources to the Skorton Center’s “wellness and resiliency-promoting efforts.” Currently, Skorton Center staff are part of the Executive Accountability Committee charged with implementing recommendations from the Review. Edwards says she looks forward to supporting these efforts going forward. “It’s wonderful to join a community that already has a system in place to support positive culture change in the campus environment.”