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Debra Furr-Holden

Associate Dean for Public Health Integration, Michigan State University

Debra Furr-Holden is the Associate Dean for Public Health Integration and Director of the Flint Center for Health Equity Solutions, funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD; #U54MD011227). She also serves as the MSU Co-Director of the Healthy Flint Research Coordinating Center. She is an epidemiologist and classically-trained public health professional with expertise in drug and alcohol dependence epidemiology, psychiatric epidemiology, and prevention science. She 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, she 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, she 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 she came to the Division of Public Health, she immediately began working with grassroots community partners as well as academic partners and other stakeholders within and outside Michigan State University.

As a returning Flint resident, she has a commitment to Flint that began early adolescence. Her work in Flint is focused on behavioral health equity and policy-level interventions to promote health equity. Her action-oriented research is embedded with the principles and practices of Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR), so she conducts research with community and other research partners and not “to” them or “for” them.She fundamentally believes there is a seat for everyone at the table and is honored and humbled to work with such an amazing and committed group of people.

Furr-Holden is 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. The 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. Furr-Holden has 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.

Furr-Holden's research team, the Health Equity Research Workgroup, currently includes 12 full-time staff, 4 undergraduate research assistants, and 5 faculty working across multiple projects.


  • –present
    Associate dean, public health integration, Michigan State University