The University of St. Thomas announced Tuesday that it's launching a College of Health, to be run by the longtime president and CEO of the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation.

MayKao Y. Hang has been appointed vice president and dean of the new college, designed to re-imagine "how future professionals can solve systemic health care problems," officials from the St. Paul-based university said in a news release.

Hang, who has led the Wilder Foundation since 2010, will begin her duties part time on Oct. 7 and transition to full time at St. Thomas on Nov. 4, the school said.

The College of Health will consist of the School of Social Work and Graduate School of Professional Psychology. St. Thomas also plans to add a nursing school to the college, at a date to be determined.

Hang is something of an unusual choice because her background is in social services, not academia. St. Thomas President Julie Sullivan called her "the perfect fit to lead this college because she is a champion of addressing disparities, passionate about the well-being of underserved communities, and a values-based leader."

Hang has been recognized locally with several awards, including Most Admired CEO by the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal, the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award from Hamline University, and the Communications and Leadership Award from Toastmasters International.

In her role at St. Thomas, Hang will work with faculty and academic partners to develop curricula, hire faculty and cultivate partners, the release said.

At the Wilder Foundation, Hang designed programs to address education, workforce, health and poverty disparities. The programs integrated behavioral health services, expanded school-based mental health services to African-American and Southeast Asian children, and increased the number of licensed clinicians of color.

She also helped reform services for people with disabilities and chemical dependency, and for vulnerable adults and the elderly, while serving with the St. Paul Public Housing Agency and Ramsey County Human Services.

"St. Thomas has an opportunity to be holistic and interdisciplinary to educate our future workforce," Hang said. "We need practitioners who have the technical skills and cultural competence to meet the needs of our changing demographics. I'm grateful for the opportunity to help prepare the next generation of people who will lead us into the future."

Hang received a bachelor's degree in psychology from Brown University, a master's degree in public affairs from the University of Minnesota, and a doctorate in public administration from Hamline University.

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768