Drawn to Mentoring, Gates Foundation AIDS Expert Moves to Berkeley

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Stefano Bertozzi
September 09, 2013

It's not that Stefano Bertozzi, the new dean of the University of California at Berkeley School of Public Health, believes he can do more at the university, it's that he can do different.

Dr. Bertozzi, a senior fellow at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and director of the foundation's HIV and tuberculosis programs, left behind a powerful position in an organization with significant influence and funds. While he says it was difficult to abandon such a rewarding job, he was drawn to Berkeley because it will allow him to do the sort of in-person mentoring he couldn't do at Gates.

"The Gates foundation has extraordinary impact, and Berkeley has extraordinary impact," Dr. Bertozzi said last month. "I feel like a 2-year-old, where I want them both—I want to be able to continue doing what I'm doing and be able to go to Berkeley and take on that new challenge."

Ultimately though, Dr. Bertozzi, who is 53, decided to return to the kind of work he found most fulfilling. While serving as director of the Center for Evaluation Research and Surveys at Mexico's National Institute of Public Health, he mentored a number of students who are now in leading positions within the organization, he says. On a personal level, he says, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing students succeed.

Dr. Bertozzi had family ties to Berkeley and to the University of California system. His wife, ­Dilys Walker, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology and global health at the University of Washington, completed her undergraduate degree at Berkeley, and both earned medical degrees at the University of California at San Diego. He also earned a Ph.D. in health policy and management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He did his medical residency at the University of California at San Francisco.

While in Mexico from 1998 to 2009, Dr. Bertozzi kept his hand in academe. He had a joint appointment at the San Francisco campus, and eventually became a visiting professor at Berkeley's Haas School of Business, where he worked with the economist Paul J. Gertler to study the impact of large health and social programs in Mexico.

His research and time in the field have exposed him to many pressing public-health issues.

"Our biggest challenge in the U.S. is figuring out how to do a better job of getting value for the money we invest in health," he said. "The field of public health absolutely has an obligation to help rationalize those expenditures and ensure that we get more health for our money."

Internationally, he says, the world has made extraordinary strides in the reduction of absolute poverty. One of the biggest drivers of this reduction, he says, is that health inequities are being resolved faster than economic inequities, so that "improvements in health are a driver of broader socioeconomic development."

That trend "has really changed the global discourse about what extraordinary value can come from investing in health."

Dr. Bertozzi's connections and understanding of the operations of international health organizations will allow him to offer guidance to undergraduate and graduate students seeking careers in international or public health, as well as to junior members of the faculty, he says.

George W. Breslauer, Berkeley's provost, says that Dr. Bertozzi was the clear consensus candidate among the school's faculty, staff, and students.

"He is a strategic 'big picture' thinker, charming, and an engaging, inspiring speaker," Mr. Breslauer wrote in an e-mail. "Professor Bertozzi would bring both credibility and the 'wow' factor to the School of Public Health." Mr. Breslauer expects the new dean to rapidly develop the school's ties with University of California at San Francisco in the field of global public health.

"We anticipate that Dr. Bertozzi will be a transformative dean," he said.