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Liberty welcomes molecular biologist and former Johns Hopkins administrator as its new dean of the School of Health Sciences

Liberty University has announced Dr. Heidi DiFrancesca as its new dean of the School of Health Sciences. DiFrancesca will officially start her new role in the fall, bringing with her 10 years of experience as both an educator and administrator in health and biomedical sciences undergraduate and graduate education.

DiFrancesca most recently served as the Executive Director of Academic Affairs for Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health and taught graduate-level courses as an associate scientist (professor) since 2019. At Johns Hopkins, she provided leadership, vision, and oversight for academic affairs and the graduate and post-doctoral programs. Under her leadership, the graduate programs grew substantially, and she championed the development of a Master of Science program. She helped the school pivot through the pandemic to provide programs and courses fully online, mentored faculty through the transition, developed and incorporated innovative, inclusive teaching strategies, and was instrumental in increasing diversity representation within the programs. Prior to Johns Hopkins, DiFrancesca served as associate dean for the School of Natural Sciences at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.

“We’re excited to welcome Dr. DiFrancesca to our academic leadership team,” said Liberty Provost and Chief Academic Officer Scott Hicks. “She has a strong track record of developing new academic programs, growing program enrollments, and enhancing curriculum based on student needs and market demands. Her professional experience in the natural sciences and her strong Christian values will lead Liberty’s program into the future.”

Dr. DiFrancesca holds a doctorate in molecular biology from Duquesne University. A molecular cancer biologist by training, she studied molecular pathways contributing to hormone-dependent breast cancers. Her research focused on the prognostic and diagnostic value of a specific enzyme, steroid sulfatase, in more aggressive forms of breast cancer that rely upon hormones for their growth. She has also maintained an active research program centered on the scholarship of teaching and learning based on innovative pedagogy strategies that she used in her courses. She has presented her research, often as a keynote speaker, at several national meetings.

DiFrancesca said her faith has guided her career choices as she seeks to serve God with her profession.

“I love to see the creative hand of God on the lives of students and to help students see their potential and attain it as they develop in leadership and service to be ambassadors of the message of the hope of Christ, ultimately pursuing their chosen vocations as callings to glorify God,” she said. “To be a Champion for Christ, one must have a spiritual pursuit and there is no better way to pursue science than through the lens of the Creator.”

DiFrancesca replaces the founding dean, Dr. Ralph Linstra, who announced his retirement earlier this month after 27 years of service to Liberty.

“I am delighted to work alongside a dedicated and remarkably talented faculty and staff in the school to advance the mission of the university,” DiFrancesca said. “I look forward to building upon the firm foundation of my predecessor, celebrating the past, looking forward to being innovative in the future ensuring that Liberty continues to a be a leader in the health sciences, providing the best educational opportunities to students, and preparing them for success for their chosen vocations.”

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