Dear Faculty, Students, Staff & Alumni,

I send wishes of health along with holiday greetings to all of you from the School of Biomedical Informatics (SBMI). COVID-19 has made 2020 an extraordinary year and it will forever be known as “the year the world stood still.” We have all experienced the struggles of quarantines, shifting to virtual work, and the isolation of social distancing. More importantly, so many around the world have lost people they care about during the pandemic, making 2020 all the more agonizing.

Despite those obstacles, I am very proud of the accomplishments of so many members of the SBMI Community during this unique year. First, I want to thank our frontline personnel in the healthcare field. I cannot sufficiently express my gratitude for your tireless dedication over the past ten months of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. I know your important work is not done as it will continue into the new year.

Several members of the SBMI Community have made other important contributions in the fight against COVID-19. In April, Salsawit Shifarraw, a SBMI data scientist working on the UT System Health Intelligence Platform, created the COVID-19 Data Dashboard. The tool gives a detailed look at local, national, and global cases of COVID-19 to offer better insights from currently available data. Professor Hua Xu, PhD aided in the effort to advance COVID-19 research across the globe by developing the worldwide COVID-19 Data Index. Associate Dean for Applied Informatics and Associate Professor Robert Murphy, MD has been instrumental in the launch of the research data core for the UTHealth COVID-19 Center of Excellence, a collaborative effort with experts from across the university. With clinical trials and data gathered from the core research arm, the Center of Excellence has become a COVID-19 information source for local and state officials.

One bright spot of this year has been the new faces and individuals that have come to SBMI in recent months. Dozens of new students joined our graduate program and enrollment for fall 2020 increased by nearly 20% compared to fall 2019. Additionally, the school welcomed five new faculty members.

The challenges of 2020 have greatly limited our ability to see one another face-to-face. I truly miss the camaraderie and fellowship the SBMI Community shares when we are together. No matter the distance, I know we all remain connected and united in our goals and ambitions to advance informatics and advance healthcare, now more than ever.

It is my most sincere belief that 2021 will bring with it renewed hope and positivity for us all. Have a happy and healthy holiday season. Please know that I wish nothing but the best for each of you and your loved ones.


All the best,

Jiajie ZhangDean Jiajie Zhang, Ph.D.
The Glassell Family Foundation Distinguished Chair in Informatics Excellence
UTHealth School of Biomedical Informatics