Helitzer stepping down as dean of ASU College of Health Solutions

Vice Dean Michael Yudell will become interim dean on July 1

By Weldon B. Johnson | 
June 27, 2024

When Deborah Helitzer took over as dean of the College of Health Solutions, she faced the challenge of trying to do something that hadn’t been done before.

As she steps down from the position on June 30, she’s proud of what she’s accomplished on the job while acknowledging that there is more work to be done.

Current College of Health Solutions Vice Dean Michael Yudell will step in as interim dean on July 1 while the search for Helitzer’s successor continues. Yudell came to the college from Drexel University in 2021.  

The College of Health Solutions was formed in 2012 when Dr. Keith Lindor, former dean of the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine, was named executive vice provost and founding dean. He was tasked with creating a new school for the science of health care delivery and strengthening ASU’s partnership with Mayo Clinic.

When Helitzer came to ASU in 2017 from the University of New Mexico, her charge was reimagining how the eight different previously existing academic units that had been put under the umbrella of the College of Health Solutions could be positioned to best address major health issues in the community.

And she was expected to hit the ground running. She started in August and was expected to come up with a plan by the end of the year.

“The most challenging aspect was to very quickly talk to as many people as I could to get the sense of what the right direction was, what (the college) should be, where we should be going, how we should serve the community,” Helitzer said. “(President Michael Crow) hired me and said, ‘I pulled all of these units together into the college and it’s not functioning at its highest capacity. Come up with a plan by December.’”

Helitzer reached out to leaders within the college to put together what she called the Executive Visioning Team; their role was to take the information from the interviews and consider how to put together a vision that reflected this input. They talked with as many people in the college as they could to gather more feedback as their vision emerged.

“Trying to get people to trust me to tell me what their thoughts were and to help me weave this beautiful tapestry was difficult,” Helitzer said. “I had to put myself out there and say this is who I am, who are you? Conversation takes trust. It takes time to develop relationships. I didn’t have that time so I had to just jump in. That was challenging for me. I’m an introvert.”

Helitzer also had to learn more about the different disciplines that made up the college. She was well-versed in public health, she had been the founding dean of the College of Population Health at the University of New Mexico, but she wasn’t as familiar with some areas such as speech and hearing science, biomedical informatics, sports performance and some of the other areas of study she would be leading as dean.

“I had a lot of work to do in the early stages,” Helitzer said. “I still have work to do. I’m not stepping down as dean and saying I know everything, but I know more.”

Helitzer will remain with the college in a faculty role. She’s looking forward to the chance to resume working on research, teaching and getting to know more about the community’s health needs in a different way.

“When I get to go out and talk to people, I’ve been here for seven years, so at least people know who I am,” she said. “Now they’re going to get to know me in a different capacity. Being a dean, people felt intimidated, that I was unapproachable. Now I feel like being a faculty member, a regular person, will make it easier for me to talk to people and learn about the community needs and really think about how I as an individual and how (the college’s) faculty and staff can really address community health.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn. I honestly think I learned a lot as a dean, but this will require me to use a different set of muscles.”

She’s also looking forward to having a little more time to do things she enjoys such as sewing and playing the piano.

“I want to sleep,” she said with a chuckle. “I want to have space in my brain for other things.”

Among the things Helitzer said she was most proud of during her time as dean was the college’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

College of Health Solutions faculty, staff and students played a large role in ASU’s response to that challenge.

“We were of tremendous service during COVID,” Helitzer said. “We created Canvas modules for all of the university colleges to use. We helped with logistics for testing; we helped with the logistics for vaccinations. We were not only a functioning unit; we were able to contribute.”

She said on a personal level she was proud of helping people grow professionally.

“That was one of my goals as a leader,” she said. “I believe in servant leadership — that the most important role of a leader is to help everybody to be the best they can be. I feel like I accomplished that a little bit; people are seeing their time at (the college) as helping them to grow.”

Yudell said he was honored to be stepping in as interim dean and build on the foundation that Helitzer leaves behind.

“I can’t think of a more exciting place to be right now given all that is going on at ASU and with the successful foundation we have to build on that is the legacy of outgoing Dean Deborah Helitzer, who leaves behind some really innovative thinking in interdisciplinary research and teaching and opportunities for us to dig even more deeply into the community relations that have come to define our work in the classroom and our research,” Yudell said.

Even though she won’t be leaving the college entirely, Helitzer at times gets emotional when talking about the end of her time as dean.

“I want everybody to understand that the opportunity to be the dean of this unique college has been the best seven years of my life,” she said. “I really want to thank everyone for trusting me. To trust me to share their hopes and frustrations and dreams. I feel very blessed.”

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