Courtesy of Cornell University

Colleen Barry, Inaugural Dean of the Brooks School of Public Policy, reflects upon the school's progress in its first year and goals for the future.

September 4, 2022

A Year in Review: A Conversation with Brooks Inaugural Dean Colleen Barry

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Approaching its one-year anniversary on Sept. 15, the Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy has grown significantly in its inaugural year. 

The school currently houses 55 professors and has expanded its opportunities for students, including new Executive Master of Health Administration and Executive Master of Public Administration programs alongside its undergraduate and PhD degrees. The Brooks school is also working to broaden its course offerings.

Inaugural Dean Colleen Barry said that the school’s mission is shaped around growth and longevity. 

“Within ten years, I hope that we can be at the stage where people will know about the school and be aware of its mission within the larger University. But more importantly, I hope the work that we do will allow us to be known in the broader community,” Barry said.

Four members of the 2022 cohort of Brooks graduates were the first recipients of the John Siliciano Student Leadership Award, which recognizes graduating students for exceptional academic excellence and leadership. 

“The work that we are doing through our research, student internship and engagements and community organizations will have built this reputation that our students and faculty make a difference in the world,” Barry said.

Barry’s background is in health policy, through which she works to improve mental health care and reduce barriers to healthcare access. Barry said that if she were a Brooks student in 2022, the school’s offerings and opportunities would have expanded her academic interests. 

“I wish I could be in the classroom and learn more,” Barry said. “I would be interested in learning more about climate change and environmental sustainability. Race and public policy are also critically important issues.” 

The Brooks school aims to address these issues through the various institutes and centers that it houses — including the Cornell Population Center, Institute of Politics and Global Affairs, Cornell Program in Infrastructure Policy and Cornell in Washington Study Program. These programs foster discussion of global issues, such as the history of Taiwan’s democracy and sustainable infrastructure. In addition, the school’s classes aim not only to educate students on current policy issues but also to help them develop solutions to these problems. 

“Whether it’s environmental policy, challenges in technology or confronting historical racism that’s embedded in policy, we are teaching the students the tools toward equity,” Barry said.

Barry is an advocate for finding successful ways to teach the students to communicate effectively even in the context of heated policy debates.

“I hope students will leave with marketable skills for all sorts of jobs, as well as an openness and ability to work on complex problems where reasonable people will disagree, and to do that work with an orientation towards civil discourse,” said Dean Barry.

In establishing the Brooks school’s foundations, Barry said she is focused on building the legacy that it will carry in years to come.

“It’s rare to be in the position to start something new,” Barry said. “As the founding Dean, there is incredible creativity to think about how to establish the school for long after I’ve gone. It’s unusual and special, and I remember every day what a privilege it is.”