Division of
Public Health

College of Human Medicine

DEBRA FURR-HOLDEN, PHD

Debra Furr Holden heck yeah MSU

C.S. Mott Endowed Professor of Public Health

I am the Interim Director of the Division of Public Health and Director of the Flint Center for Health Equity Solutions, funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD; #U54MD011227). I also serve as the MSU Co-Director of the Healthy Flint Research Coordinating Center. I am an epidemiologist and classically-trained public health professional with expertise in drug and alcohol dependence epidemiology, psychiatric epidemiology, and prevention science. I attended Johns Hopkins University Krieger School of Arts and Sciences (BA Natural Sciences and Public Health, 1996) and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (PhD, 1999).

In 2005, I initiated the Drug Investigations, Violence, and Environmental Studies Laboratory (The DIVE Studies Lab) at The Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation. In 2007, the group moved to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In January 2016, I moved back to Flint and became one of the C.S. Mott Endowed Professors of Public Health at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, Flint Campus. When I came to the Division of Public Health, I immediately began working with grassroots community partners as well as academic partners and other stakeholders within and outside Michigan State University.

The move to MSU and back to Flint has been exciting and rewarding. As a returning Flint resident, I have a commitment to Flint that began early in adolescence. My work in Flint is focused on behavioral health equity and policy-level interventions to promote health equity. My action-oriented research is embedded with the principles and practices of Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR), so I conduct my research with my community and other research partners and not “to” them or “for” them. I fundamentally believe there is a seat for everyone at the table and I am honored and humbled to work with such an amazing and committed group of people. A working list of core community partners can be found here.

I am the developer of a novel observational environmental assessment tool, the Neighborhood Inventory for Environmental Typology (NIfETy). The NIfETy is a unique systematic social observation developed to measure features of the built and social environment linked to violence, alcohol, tobacco, and other drug (VAOD) exposure. My NIfETy-based research has been used to promote environmental interventions to prevent and reduce VAOD exposure. This work is highly collaborative and has fueled a range of partnerships with researchers and policymakers across the country. In 2005, I received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) for my early career accomplishments in substance abuse research and research using the NIfETy. I have worked with local and national policymakers to improve data-driven decision-making across a broad range of behavioral health topics to include “health equity in all policies.” As part of the work of the Flint Center for Health Equity Solutions, we will conduct annual citywide assessments of Flint neighborhoods using the NIfETy. We are simultaneously initiating the Flint Area Study (FASt), a longitudinal study of Flint residents to assess the multigenerational and intergenerational transition of risk and resilience. Details on NIfETy, the Flint Area Study, and other active projects that I lead can be found here.

My research team, the Health Equity Research Workgroup, currently includes 12 full-time staff, 4 undergraduate research assistants, and 5 faculty working across multiple projects. Job opportunities for the HERW and at MSU-Flint can be found here.