Jonna Mazet

Dr. Jonna Mazet Named Vice Provost for Grand Challenges

The tragic personal and social costs of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the devastating effects of climate change to the Earth and its living things, have powerfully driven home a critical lesson: If we want to protect ourselves and our world, we must, without further delay, make unprecedented efforts to address the global challenges that most threaten them.

Mindful of this imperative, UC Davis is now building on its history of leadership in addressing global problems, and on the many efforts in this vein dispersed across its colleges and schools, to create a collective response to global “grand challenges” that is better focused, coordinated, and resourced — and more effective — than it has ever been.

To lead this ambitious undertaking, the university has recently named Jonna Mazet — a highly distinguished professor of epidemiology and disease ecology at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine — to the new position of vice provost for grand challenges. As the founder and former director of the UC Davis One Health Institute, and a leading researcher on pandemics and other global health threats, Mazet has extensive experience in developing innovative and collaborative approaches to what she calls the world’s “large-scale wicked problems.”

“Dr. Mazet is an ideal choice for this new position, which is critical to the university’s public service mission,” said Mary Croughan, UC Davis provost and executive vice chancellor. “Her extraordinary achievements in One Health and pandemic prevention and response, along with her outstanding leadership ability, eminently qualify her to help guide and support the university’s grand-challenge research, education, and service. We are very fortunate and delighted she has agreed to serve in this role. 

A Big Portfolio Including a Major New Facility

Given the large number and diversity of grand challenges-related efforts across the university, the new vice provost position comes with a multifaceted and challenging portfolio. It will provide dedicated leadership and new momentum for current and future research, education, and public service activities related to critical challenges in such areas as health and disease, climate change, environmental degradation, drought, wildfires, and food systems, among others.

One of Mazet’s primary efforts for the foreseeable future is leading the planning, begun in 2019, of a new Multidisciplinary Grand Challenges Building — a facility conceived as a special space that will be an ideal site for grand challenges programs and a focal point for transdisciplinary collaboration campuswide. Her responsibility includes overseeing the design and construction of the new building as well as determining its academic programming — facilitating the research, education, and public service programs, collectively representing all of the university’s colleges and schools, that will be co-located there.

In assuming the leadership of this project, Mazet takes over from psychology professor Paul Hastings, who served as initial planning director from 2019 to 2021. “Paul’s expert guidance during the early phase of this project has kept the planning process moving forward, even under the very challenging conditions of the pandemic,” said Croughan. “He has successfully positioned the project for its next phase, and for that, the university owes him our gratitude”

Mazet has already been reaching out to college and school leaders, among others, to benefit from their ideas regarding grand challenges and the facility as a whole, as well as to learn more about proven or highly promising programs that might be a good fit as permanent or temporary tenants. The consultations will continue in the 2021-22 academic year. A primary objective of the project is to create an environment of transdisciplinary and trans-departmental communication and collaboration that will best promote highly innovative and effective solutions.

A Natural Choice

Stepping into the new vice provost position is a natural extension of Mazet’s career.  She is widely celebrated for her efforts to advance animal health and welfare, and human and ecosystem health; for her passion for innovative and ambitious health projects; and for her talent in teaching, mentoring, and inspiring her students.

She is the immediate past founding director of the UC Davis One Health Institute, which focuses on global health problem-solving for emerging infectious diseases and conservation challenges. In her faculty role, she has mentored more than 80 graduate students and postdoctoral trainees, including many international trainees.

Her recent high-level extramural positions include: co-director of the US Agency for International Development’s (USAID) One Health Workforce–Next Generation, an $85 million educational strengthening project to empower professionals in Africa and Southeast Asia to address complex and emerging health threats; and principal investigator and global director of PREDICT, a $200 million-plus viral emergence early warning project under USAID’s Emerging Pandemic Threats Division.

Currently, she is a member of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine’s (NASEM) Forum on Microbial Threats, its One Health Action Collaborative, and its Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats (including COVID-19). In addition, she serves as co–vice chair of the UC Global Health Institute and as UC Davis representative and executive committee member for the Bay Area Global Health Alliance.

For her achievements, Mazet has received many prestigious awards and other honors. In 2013, she was elected to the US National Academy of Medicine, a rare distinction for veterinarians. In 2021, she was named one of the 16 Women Restoring the Earth by the Global Landscapes Forum and received the UC Davis Chancellor’s Award for International Engagement.

“I am deeply honored, and energized, to be entrusted with this new leadership role aimed at stimulating solution-oriented activities across the university for our world’s existential crises,” said Mazet. “I am very proud of UC Davis’ deep commitment and record of achievement in improving the health and well-being of people, animals, plants, and our planet. Having the opportunity to serve that commitment as vice provost is a great privilege.”

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About the Author:

  • Craig Buckwald is a writer and media advisor in the Office of the Provost.

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