Meet John R. Corlett, Distinguished Visiting Community Scholar

John Corlett headshot

Longtime Clevelander and dedicated community member John R. Corlett was appointed a Mandel School Distinguished Visiting Community Scholar for a two-year term that began Jan. 1.

With his new appointment, he will guest-lecture courses, offer student-focused events and workshops related to his areas of expertise, and work with small groups and individual students with relevant career interests, particularly about the policy-making process.

"I am looking forward to applying the practical knowledge I have acquired over the past 40+ years to the issues that today’s students are interested in," he said.

Learn more about Corlett below.

Answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Tell us about yourself.

All of my career has been spent in Ohio. I’ve worked in Athens, Akron, Columbus and Cleveland. My family has lived in Greater Cleveland for at least five or six generations. I came back to Cleveland a few years after graduating from Ohio University to do fundraising and community relations for a community mental health center in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. Then I worked for the Planned Parenthood of Greater Cleveland, the Center for Families and Children and the Center for Community Solutions. I was always involved in advocacy and policy work. In 2007 I took a big leap when I was asked to join the administration of Governor Ted Strickland as the Ohio Medicaid Director. I held the program together during the Great Recession and am proud that we never had to limit Medicaid eligibility even with a crashing state tax base. I returned to Cleveland to join MetroHealth and then came home to the Center for Community Solutions. At age 60 I got married to my husband Dr. Doug Van Auken (a CWRU Medical School grad) and we moved from Cleveland to Lakewood. We love how walkable Lakewood is and all the great restaurants and the close access to the MetroParks.

Given your extensive background, how do you envision leveraging your networks to enhance collaborations and partnerships for the Mandel School? 

I believe in the power of relationships. I tell people that I am still connected to three people who were involved in supervising me during a summer 1980 internship with the then Cleveland Abortion Rights Action League. Over the past 40 years I have met with dozens of people, both young and old, who have moved to Cleveland or were interested in exploring a career in advocacy or policy. In many cases I connected them to organizations that ended up hiring them. I have also connected organizations to partnering organizations. I hope to do the same as part of my service to the Mandel School.

With your involvement in various organizations, how do you plan to integrate community perspectives into your work here?

I am also serving as a Visiting Senior Fellow with the Center for Community Solutions where I will be supporting the launch of the Greater Cleveland Human Services Chamber of Commerce, the Cleveland Funders Collaborative Philanthropy Policy Lab, and other related research and policy work. I hope to use both roles to strengthen community connections.

How will you enhance the visibility and reputation of the school?

After all these years I have pretty extensive local, state and national media relationships. To the extent that it makes sense, I am happy to leverage those on behalf of the Mandel School.

I am also interested in connecting the research that's underway at the school with the broader health and human services community within Greater Cleveland and Ohio. I have worked with nearly all of the major funders in Greater Cleveland, as well as some national funders, and am happy to help out where needed in that aspect as well.

With your years of experience in nonprofit and government affairs, what advice do you have for students as they navigate the intersection of academia, community service and public policy?

I have spent a good deal of my career connecting data and research with policy makers. I think my first piece of advice would be not to assume someone’s position based on their partisan affiliation. Spend time learning about them and what makes them tick. Approach everyone with an open mind. I think this is especially important during these hyperpartisan times.

My other advice is not to go it alone, find other groups and individuals to partner with.