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Our Mission, Vision, and Values


The Department of Health, Behavior and Society is dedicated to solving pressing public health challenges in Baltimore, the United States, and around the globe by engaging in impactful public health research, training, and practice focused on the influences of social context, structures, systems, and behaviors.


We aspire to be recognized as leaders advancing public health, health equity, and social justice through research, teaching, and practice of social and behavioral science.


The Department of Health, Behavior and Society is driven by the following values, in all aspects of our research, teaching, and practice endeavors:

Anti-oppressive social justice

  • Ethics and integrity
  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • Embodiment of anti-oppressive ideals of justice and equity

Relationship centeredness

  • Reflexivity and recognizing power dynamics and historical trauma/oppression
  • Respect and compassion for self and others
  • Collaboration, community engagement, partnerships
  • Mentorship and community building

Accountability and transparency

Resilience, adaptability, and sustainability

Transformative impact

Celebration and cultural exchange

Collective learning and growth

Our Story

How It All Began

The Department of Health, Behavior and Society was established in the summer of 2005, with a mission of advancing scientific understanding of the impact of the societal context and behavior on health.

Planning began in May 2003, when the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health announced that it would establish the new department with a $20M gift from an anonymous donor. Dean Alfred Sommer appointed the Behavior and Health Planning Committee to guide its development. The committee made a key recommendation that the department should apply a social-ecological approach to its work, which would include the study of not only individual behavior, but also the social context that shapes human behavior.


In May 2005, the Bloomberg School announced the selection of David Holtgrave, PhD, a nationally recognized leader in HIV prevention and social science, as the inaugural chair. Dr. Holtgrave served as chair for thirteen years, and the Department grew and flourished under his leadership. 

With the establishment of the Department of Health, Behavior and Society, we have an historic opportunity to generate scientific findings and train future public health leaders with the real potential to change behavioral and social aspects of public health for decades to come.
— David Holtgrave, PhD, Founding Chair

In November 2017, Dr. Holtgrave announced that he would leave the Bloomberg School to assume an appointment as Dean of the School of Public Health at the University at Albany, State University of New York.

Upon Dr. Holtgrave's departure, Peg Ensminger, PhD, a professor in HBS, was appointed as interim chair, and she remained in that role until August 2019.

Rajiv Rimal, PhD, began his tenure as Department chair in August 2019 and served through December 2023.

In January 2024, Joanna Cohen, PhD, assumed her role as the new and current chair of the Department.

Growth Over Time

Thanks to our incredible faculty, students, and staff, the Department of Health, Behavior and Society continues to grow and enhance our reputation through our courses, research and practice projects, and impact in Baltimore, the U.S., and around the world.

The Department now includes over 50 full-time faculty members, including leaders in the behavioral and social sciences and public health, up from an initial 20 faculty in 2005.  We have approximately 150 HBS students enrolled in our Department's master's and doctoral programs, up from the 40 students who initially transferred into the new Department.