Jack Dennerlein Appointed New Dean of Sargent College
Expert in improving workplace safety and best practices for employee health hopes to prepare students for careers that may not exist yet and help Sargent continue adapting to emerging technologies
Jack Dennerlein is almost incredulous when asked why he threw his hat in the ring to become the dean of BU’s College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College.
“It’s Sargent,” he says with a smile. “Sargent is an amazing place.”
When the current dean, Christopher A. Moore, announced his retirement from Sargent last fall, Dennerlein says, he received a call from someone familiar with the job, encouraging him to consider applying. “I was really humbled by the idea that someone would consider that I would be a good leader for Sargent, and because of Sargent’s reputation, it was something I couldn’t ignore,” says Dennerlein, who most recently was a professor and interim chair of physical therapy, movement, and rehabilitation sciences at Northeastern University’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences.
After a national search that yielded more than a dozen qualified finalists, Dennerlein was named Sargent’s dean on July 26. His official tenure begins August 1. At Northeastern, he was interim chair and program director of the PhD and MS programs in human movement and rehabilitation sciences. Before that, he spent 13 years on the faculty of Harvard University’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health environmental health department, where he led the Occupational Injury Prevention Research Training Program.
In Dennerlein, the University has hired a scholar with a national profile in improving workplace safety and creating best practices for employee health. A mechanical engineer by training, his research has informed the design of workplace ergonomics and improved safety for construction, healthcare, and transportation workers and is funded by ongoing grants from the National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.
“Dean Moore has left an amazing infrastructure of leadership and administration here. So, I can come in not worrying about all that and just start learning about Sargent, thinking about what’s next for Sargent, and starting to create a plan for that.”
Dennerlein, who lives with his husband on Ashmont Hill in Dorchester, holds a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, a Master of Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a Bachelor of Science from University at Buffalo, State University of New York. He completed postdoctoral training at Harvard University.
He takes the helm of an internationally renowned college with three graduate programs ranked in the top 20 by US News and World Report: No. 1–ranked occupational therapy program, No. 10 speech-language pathology program, and No. 20 physical therapy program. Dennerlein calls rehabilitation sciences “the future of healthcare” in a world where humans are living longer and with more chronic conditions. His vision for Sargent includes preparing graduates for careers that may not exist yet and engaging with (and occasionally critiquing) emerging technologies, like artificial intelligence (AI).
“Dean Moore has left an amazing infrastructure of leadership and administration here,” Dennerlein says. “So, I can come in not worrying about all that and just start learning about Sargent, thinking about what’s next for Sargent, and starting to create a plan for that.”
Former BU Provost Jean Morrison named a search advisory committee last October to appoint Moore’s successor, chaired by John White, a College of Engineering professor and chair of biomedical engineering. In a letter to the University community on July 26, Interim Provost Kenneth Lutchen said that given Sargent’s “stature as one of the nation’s premier schools in health science,” the committee was tasked with identifying candidates “with the dynamic leadership experience and reputation for clinical and scholarly excellence necessary to guide the college forward.” White adds that the committee sought someone with a strong vision and history of “altruistic leadership, a commitment to justice, inclusion, and equity, and superb scholarship.
“Dr. Dennerlein impressed us in all these issues,” White says. “He is disarmingly honest, a trait that the faculty and committee enjoyed. He is an outstanding and imaginative researcher in occupational safety, with substantial experience leading interdisciplinary teams to tackle difficult problems in challenging environments. We believe he’ll be a fair leader who will explain his decision-making process to the faculty, staff, and students. He is a quick study and has a long history of fighting for a more equitable world.”
Dennerlein says he is humbled by, and grateful for, the opportunity.
“People here have said, ‘We’re lucky to have you,’ but I feel like I’m the lucky one to come to a place of excellence that’s got its own gravitas, its own global reputation of being a leader in rehabilitation sciences,” Dennerlein says.
“Yes, I’ve worked hard to get here, but bottom line—I am very fortunate.”