Marin Public Health Officers Receive Honorary Degrees

In recognition of their tireless public health leadership throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and their exceptional commitment to public service, Dominican University of California will bestow honorary doctorates of humane letters upon County of Marin public health officer Dr. Matt Willis and deputy officer Dr. Lisa Santora.

Dominican President Mary B. Marcy presented Dr. Willis and Dr. Santora with their degrees – the Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa – at the April 27 meeting of the Marin County Board of Supervisors.

“Last March, Dr. Willis was one of the first public health officers in the United States to issue a shelter at home order. This bold move set the tone for the coming months, as both Dr. Willis and Dr. Santora drew on their decades of experience in public health, medicine, and science to lead the county’s work controlling the spread of COVID-19,” President Marcy said.

“As Marin’s only four-year university and one of the County’s largest employers, there was not a day that we did not benefit from Dr. Willis and Dr. Santora’s expertise and leadership. Almost overnight we had to reimagine how we taught our students, worked with our community partners, and kept our campus safe. Marin County Public Health provided clear directives that gave us great confidence as we developed and refined our own policies and procedures.”

Last fall, funded by a $1 million gift from an anonymous donor, Dominican became one of the first universities in the United States to invest in a pooled testing regime and require weekly testing of all on-campus students, faculty, and staff.

Combined with health and safety protocols, this weekly testing was central to keeping the campus safe and operational. Between August 2020 and April 2021, Dominican’s COVID positivity rate was less than half of one percent: .48% (6,724 tests administered, 32 positives).

Before reopening campus for the 2020/2021 academic year, more than 60 members of the Dominican community worked to design a strategy to return to onsite work, teaching and learning. The University met regularly with Marin County Public Health, including Dr. Willis and Dr. Santora, to review the latest medical guidance, as well as Federal, State, and County policies and regulations, in order to evaluate a wide range of options related to every facet of campus life.

In August 2020, Marin County Public Health approved the University’s plan to resume onsite work for faculty and staff, and to allow “essential workforce” students to return to campus and live in the residence halls. These students are preparing for careers as physician assistants, nurses, and occupational therapists. In spring 2021, Dominican’s NCAA Division II student-athletes and students in the Alonzo King LINES BFA in Dance program at Dominican also were permitted to return to the residence halls.

In all, 220 students have lived in the residence halls, more than 350 students have worked in classrooms or labs, and 150 faculty and staff have returned to campus.

Throughout the past academic year, University leadership and the Pandemic Response Team interacted several times a week with Marin County Public Health on issues related to testing, contact tracing, and campus repopulation.

In addition, Marin County Public Health served as an educational partner on Dominican’s public health contact tracing course, which trained students to work as contact tracers as part of the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Dr. Willis and Dr. Santora continue to provide us with clear and consistent guidance based on proven public health strategies,” President Marcy said. “These degrees are our way of publicly recognizing exceptional evidence of commitment to public service and the advancement of health and knowledge in the lives of outstanding individuals. Their work has positively affected not only Dominican University of California, but also countless lives throughout our county and region.”

Resolution 009/010-21 of Dominican’s Board of Trustees reads:

WHEREAS the Board of Trustees of Dominican University of California believes that it would be desirable for Dominican University to promote the active integration of artistic and humanistic ideals into everyday society; and

WHEREAS the Board of Trustees of Dominican University of California believes that it can further the promotion of these ideals by publicly recognizing exceptional evidence of commitment to public service and the advancement of health and knowledge in the lives of outstanding individuals; and

WHEREAS Dr. Matt Willis, MD, MPH and Dr. Lisa Santora, MD, MPH have shown exceptional concern and involvement on behalf of these values;

WHEREAS their steady leadership, built upon decades of experience in public health and patient care, is marked by compassion and an unwavering commitment to science;

WHEREAS Dr. Willis and Dr. Santora have demonstrated tireless courage throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, positively affecting countless lives throughout our county and region; and

WHEREAS they have revealed to our community that, even in the midst of an unforeseen, challenging, and historic moment, the benefits of collective action, engagement, and empathy are possible; and

THEREFORE, upon the recommendation of the President and the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty;

BE IT RESOLVED that the Executive Committee on behalf of the Board of Trustees of Dominican University of California hereby offer the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa to Dr. Matt Willis and Dr. Lisa Santora in recognition of their outstanding contributions to society. The awarding of this degree shall be dependent upon the agreement of the honoree, and shall be bestowed at the Marin County Board of Supervisors meeting on April 27, 2021.

Dr. Matt Willis photo (above) courtesy of County of Marin

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