James Madison University

Health Sciences Department Welcomes New Head

By: Lori News
Posted: October 21, 2014

This year, JMU welcomed Dr. Allen Lewis as the new Department Head of Health Sciences.

Lewis earned his bachelor’s degree in both Communications and African American Studies from the University of Virginia in 1983 and his master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1988. He then received a Ph.D. in Education from VCU in 1996.

As VCU’s Rehabilitation Counseling Department Vice Chair and Chair for almost a decade combined, he earned awards such as the President’s Award for Multicultural Community Enrichment as well as various service awards for community volunteer work from the Friends Association for Children in Richmond.

One of his grants was also recognized in the International Innovation magazine. The grant titled “Project Empowerment” evaluated current practice methods in the conduct of minority disability research. Each year the magazine publishes an issue dedicated to spotlighting the most innovative newly funded grants for the year for a readership of more than 35,000 worldwide.

In 2010, Lewis began working for the University of Pittsburgh in the Rehabilitation Science and Technology Department focusing on the counseling program. However, after a while he was looking to return to his administrative roots, which is why the JMU position appealed to him.

“I was looking for a little bit more balance between teaching and research that included administration and something a little bit closer to home,” Lewis said. “I’m from Virginia and I’ve always liked JMU but I’ve never had a chance to work here, so as fate would have it, this opportunity presented itself.”

Although his primary job is to run the Department of Health Sciences, he plans to continue active research and will teach a new course next semester called “Preparing Global Leaders in Health Sciences.”

“Nowadays most students, when they leave college, should be thinking about the fact that they’re just not going to work in their immediate communities, they’ll be working in a global environment,” Lewis explained.

He describes a set of what he calls “cross-cutting leadership skills” that he believes students need to become more familiar with if they’re going to be successful working in a global environment. The course will be presented on an experimental basis this spring for seniors in heath sciences, but his ultimate goal is to develop it as a graduate level course for all majors simply called “Skills for Global Leadership.”

When asked why he initially wanted to pursue a health sciences career, Lewis explained that health and disability concerns have always been interesting to him, especially since the first 15 years of his professional career before coming to academia were spent working in public mental health and health agencies. He believes it’s something that is universally important and needed worldwide in terms of people who understand how to promote health.

Lewis believes that “what we’re doing is very worthwhile in terms of preparing the next generation of health science professionals who will go out and take on those challenges worldwide and there’s no better place to do it than here at JMU.”

Looking forward, Lewis would like to build the momentum and capacity in the Health Sciences Department to become more competitive in grant writing and receiving funding for research projects. To do this, Lewis explained a six-step process which includes, “determining a reasonable grant production expectation, inventorying existing grant activity to have a clear picture on existing assets and momentum in this area, brainstorming to evaluate the fundability of newly generated grant ideas, developing cross-program partnerships within the department, identifying the necessary elements of a departmental grant writing infrastructure that will need to be bolstered over time, and working in tandem with JMU’s new Vice Provost for Research and Scholarship, Dr. Yvonne Harris.” 

As far as a long-term goal for the department, Lewis states that he hopes to increase its visibility.

“I want our department to be more recognized outside of JMU as a leader in health sciences education and research statewide, nationally and beyond if possible.”

While considering the challenges of running the department, Lewis understands that “any time you have a very large department you have the potential for things to be somewhat inefficient, so I’m thinking about how we can improve our internal operations so they are a little bit more lean, mean and efficient.”

As Lewis adapts to the JMU community, he has discovered wonderful aspects like the focus on engagement and the vast number of students who study internationally.

“There are things that are really phenomenal that I had no idea were going on here and I think the world beyond JMU needs to know these things,” he said. “We are a best kept secret but we don’t want to be; we want everybody to know all the great things we’re doing.”

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PHOTO: Andrew PeacheyHealth Sciences includes multiple disciplines that may impact the health of individuals, communities, and beyond. Given the current and future global demand for well-trained and passionate health professionals, now is an ideal time to study in our department. More >