Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health welcomes Melissa Walls, PhD, as a Bloomberg Associate Professor of American Health in Obesity and the Food System in the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health, and an associate professor in the Department of International Health. The Bloomberg Professors of American Health scholars are endowed positions supported by the Bloomberg American Health Initiative.
Walls (first-generation descendant of Bois Forte and Couchiching First Nation Anishinaabe) is an expert in diabetes and substance use prevention. She has engaged in health research partnerships with Native communities for over 17 years. Her involvement in community-based participatory research projects includes mental health epidemiology; culturally relevant, family-based substance use prevention and mental health promotion programming and evaluation; and examining the impact of stress and mental health on diabetes and related health outcomes, including obesity.
“Dr. Walls brings essential experience in community-engaged research that expands the School’s capacity to work in collaboration with populations that have too long endured health inequities,” says Bloomberg School Dean Ellen J. MacKenzie, PhD, ScM. “She also brings a social determinants lens to her obesity and diabetes prevention work that will lead us to more comprehensive locally-based solutions.”
Last August, Walls was named the inaugural director of the Center for American Indian Health’s new Great Lakes Hub in Duluth, Minnesota. For more than three decades, the Center has partnered with American Indian and Alaska Native communities to improve health, well-being, and self-sufficiency. With the new Hub, the Center now reaches more than 140 tribal communities in over 20 states as well as Ontario, Canada. Through the Hub—and her appointment in the Department of International Health at the Bloomberg School—Walls is working with a team of over 100, including dozens of community-based Native research associates on projects focused on diabetes, substance use, and mental and physical health.
“As the director of our new Great Lakes Hub in Duluth, Dr. Walls is expanding on tremendously important partnerships with nearly a dozen Ojibwe tribal nations,” says Allison Barlow, PhD, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health. “Her intensive community-driven research is also generating new knowledge and approaches informed by indigenous world views that will advance the entire field of prevention science—and, of course, support the response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.”
Walls received her PhD from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln after serving as a National Institute of Mental Health Ruth Kirschstein National Research Service Award Predoctoral Fellow. She was recognized by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as an Interdisciplinary Research Leader in 2017. Prior to joining the Bloomberg School, she was an associate professor in the University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth Campus’ Department of Biobehavioral Health and Population Sciences.
“We are inspired by Dr. Walls’ vision and creativity towards using science and community-based approaches to solving problems of health equity with indigenous peoples in the Great Lakes region, which will have implications across North America and for the field of community-based public health,” says David Peters, MD, DrPH, chair of the Bloomberg School’s Department of International Health.
“Dr. Walls brings both a deep expertise and an inspiring commitment to the health of indigenous peoples. We are thrilled to welcome her as a leader of the Bloomberg American Health Initiative,” says Joshua M. Sharfstein, MD, vice dean for public health practice and community engagement and the Initiative’s director.
The Bloomberg American Health Initiative will support 25 endowed positions over the next five years, deepening the Bloomberg School's expertise and impact in the Initiative’s five areas of focus: obesity and the food system, environmental challenges, addiction, violence, and adolescent health.