Columbia University

Health in Context
"We need to understand the historical and contemporary roles that science and medicine play in Puerto Rico’s socioeconomic and political structures."
Photo credit: Jill LeVine
As a James Harden Fellow working in the Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health, Elisa M. González is exploring the roles history, culture, and politics play in health in Puerto Rico.

As a biology major minoring in history at a university in her native Puerto Rico, Elisa M. González recognized an overlap between the two fields and began exploring the roles that history, culture, and politics play in health and disease. This fascination led her to a history master’s program in Albany, New York, where she was introduced to public health—a field that wed her interests in science and the humanities.

Now pursuing her PhD at Columbia’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, González is exploring how the interplay between history, culture, and health affects lives in Puerto Rico. At the Center for History and Ethics of Public Health at the Mailman School of Public Health, she is writing her dissertation on Puerto Rico’s nutrition policies from the 1920's through the 1960’s.

“I’m examining the relationship between nutrition, patterns of agricultural production, and population control agendas in the context of rapidly changing public health and socioeconomics,” said González, who plans to return to Puerto Rico upon graduation to develop enhanced college-level public health and pre-medical curriculums.

Meet The Donor: James Harden ’78BUS, ’83PH, University Trustee

“By attracting the highest caliber of doctoral students – and not have tuition as a barrier – we can expand the reach of those who teach in this field and deepen the Center for History and Ethics of Public Health’s impact,” said James Harden ’78BUS, ’83PH, former president and CEO of Catholic Health Services of Long Island.


As a University Trustee and a healthcare industry leader, Harden wanted to build upon the programs offered by the Mailman School of Public Health. In 2000, he spearheaded an effort to raise $400,000 to endow financial aid for doctoral students at the Center for History and Ethics of Public Health. Ten years later, he gave $250,000 to establish the James Harden Fellowship for students at the Center, which brings together Mailman with the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.


A Trustee since 2009, Harden was also the second chair of the Columbia Alumni Association and has served as chair of the Board of Overseers at Mailman.



Published: March 2014