Cornell alumna to lead CDC in pivotal era

The new director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a Cornell graduate whose path to public service was shaped in part by her major in policy analysis and management and a junior year semester in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Mandy Cohen ’00 is “one of the nation’s top physicians and health leaders with experience leading large and complex organizations, and a proven track-record protecting Americans’ health and safety,” President Joe Biden said in an official statement.

“We are thrilled to have such an esteemed Cornell Human Ecology alumna in this critical role,” said Rachel Dunifon, the Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Dean of the College of Human Ecology (CHE). “With her commitment to improving human lives, Dr. Mandy Cohen embodies the college’s mission and approach to human health.

”In Human Ecology, we know that in order to address the most pressing challenges we need to look beyond traditional boundaries and work in collaboration with communities. I’m confident Dr. Cohen will excel in tackling the diverse public health challenges facing the country,” Dunifon said.

Dr. Mandy Cohen ’00

At Cornell, Cohen studied policy analysis and management, then part of CHE, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 2000. She spent a semester of her junior year in Washington, D.C., an experience that she said influenced her career path.

“The education I received from CHE has been invaluable throughout my professional endeavors,” Cohen said. “It was a foundation to show the interconnected nature of the world and how different disciplines of study could all contribute to improving well-being of communities.”

Cohen received a master’s in public health from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in 2004 and a medical degree from the Yale School of Medicine in 2005. After finishing her medical training at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, she worked at the Department of Veterans Affairs and a health care advocacy nonprofit before joining the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, part of the Department of Health and Human Services. She was deeply involved in the passage and implementation of the Affordable Care Act and served as the agency’s chief of staff and chief operating officer from 2015 to 2017.

In 2017, Cohen left the federal government to lead North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services. She oversaw the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, serving through 2021. She was also instrumental in its Medicaid expansion and transformed the program to focus on “whole-person care,” including mental health and the social determinants of health. In both efforts, she emphasized transparent communication, data-driven decision-making and health equity.

In 2020, the Raleigh newspaper the News & Observer named her the Tar Heel of the Year for her pandemic response; the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health recognized her with the Leadership in Public Health Practice Award the same year. She was most recently the executive vice president of Aledade and CEO of Aledade Care Solutions, a company that supports primary care providers and community health centers.

Cohen comes to the CDC at a pivotal time for the agency, during a major transformation and modernization initiative following a critical review of its structure and processes during the pandemic.

“I am looking forward to once again using what I learned [at Cornell] to answer the nation’s call to public service and lead the CDC,” she said. “I am looking forward to engaging with the incredible people at CDC, and our partners around the globe, to continue the remarkable work of the agency as it protects the health of all Americans.”

Emily Groff is assistant director of communications in the College of Human Ecology.

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Becka Bowyer