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Cultivating leaders: Beech chosen ACE Fellow

Published on Monday, April 18, 2016

By: Ruth Cummins

Dr. Bettina Beech, associate vice chancellor for population health and professor of pediatrics and family medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, has been named a Fellow of the American Council on Education.

Beech, who also is executive director of UMMC's Myrlie Evers-Williams Institute for the Elimination of Health Disparities, will serve as an ACE Fellow for the 2016-17 academic year. She becomes one of nearly 2,000 higher education leaders who have taken part in the program over the past five decades, with more than 80 percent of Fellows having served as senior leaders of colleges and universities.

"The ACE Fellows Program cultivates leaders prepared to meet the constantly evolving challenges of today's higher education landscape,” said ACE President Molly Corbett Broad. "The diverse and talented 2016-17 Fellows class demonstrates why the program has been such a vital contributor for more than a half-century to expanding the leadership pipeline for our colleges and universities."

Beech was nominated by Dr. Ralph Didlake, professor of surgery, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, and chief academic officer.


“Dr. Beech is an exemplar of a content expert who is positioned to make value-added changes in our education programs,” Didlake said. “When I say value-added, I mean high-quality, mission-directed and workforce-driven changes.

“Population health, and educational programs spinning out of population health, represent needs that are specific to Mississippi,” he said. “Her experience and education, and her body of knowledge representing population health, just fits that so perfectly.

Established in 1965, the ACE Fellows Program is designed to strengthen institutions and leadership in American higher education by identifying and preparing faculty and staff for senior positions in college and university administration. Thirty-three Fellows, nominated by the senior administration of their institutions, were selected this year following a rigorous application process.

“I'm absolutely thrilled,” Beech said. “The ACE is the biggest, most respected organization in higher education in the United States.”

As head of the Medical Center's Office of Population Health, Beech has developed a strategic framework that encompasses all three of UMMC's academic missions: education, health and research. Reducing health disparities, which is inherent to population health, is a major focus of the office.

She came to the Medical Center in 2013, with her interdisciplinary background integrating public health, sociology and population health science to address health disparities, diabetes, and obesity prevention and treatment in pediatric populations.

Beech received a bachelor's degree in sociology and a master's in public health from Temple University and a doctorate in public health from the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. She was a 2011-12 fellow in the prestigious Hedwig van Amerigen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine Program for Women at Drexel University.

She's been principal investigator for multiple studies funded by the National Institutes of Health and serves as a standing member of the NIH Community Level Health Promotion Study Section. She serves as editor-in-chief for the journal Family and Community Health.

In 2015, Beech was recognized by the Medical Center at its annual Excellence in Research Awards with the Bronze Award for achieving $250,000 in extramural funding. Beech is a past recipient of Diversity Award for Excellence awarded by Mississippi's Institutions of Higher Learning board of trustees.

The ACE Fellows Program combines retreats, interactive learning opportunities, campus visits and placement at another higher education institution to condense years of on-the-job experience and skills development into a single semester or year. Each Fellow will focus on an issue of concern at their nominating institution while spending the next academic year or agreed-upon time frame working with a college or university president and other senior officers at a host institution.

“The hallmark of this program is that you are matched with the president of another institution of higher learning, and you learn from that leader,” Beech said. “You select a project from your home institution, and you get to work on it.”

Her project is the strategic planning to establish a School of Population Health at UMMC. “It would be only the third in the nation. We will be a trendsetter,” she said.

Beech's selection as a Fellow “is a perfect fit, and she is at the right place at the right time to help us so much,” Didlake said.

Throughout their placement, ACE Fellows will develop a network of higher education leaders from across the country and abroad through the Program's three retreats on higher education issues organized by ACE.  Fellows will also read extensively in the field and engage in interactive learning opportunities to increase their understanding of higher education challenges and opportunities.

Founded in 1918, ACE is the major coordinating body for all the nation's higher education institutions, representing more than 1,600 college and university presidents and related associations. It provides leadership on key higher education issues and influences public policy through advocacy.