Board of Regents approve new undergraduate major in public health

Thursday, September 17, 2015 - 5:07pm

The University’s Board of Regents approved an undergraduate major program through the School of Public Health at their monthly meeting Thursday.

The program — through which students will be able to declare a public health major beginning in the fall 2016 semester — will focus on “the importance of critical thinking applied to important health problems of the 21st century,” according to an action request written by University Provost Martha Pollack and Martin Philbert, dean of the School of Public Health.

“What I think is important to note is that this isn’t a pre-professional degree, it’s a liberal arts degree focused on the kinds of problems that public health researchers study,” Pollack said in an interview with The Michigan Daily on Tuesday. “And I think it’s going to be a really wonderful addition to the selection of opportunities for undergraduates.”

Gary Harper, a professor in the Public Health School’s Department of Health Behavior and Health Education who helped develop the major, said public health is an important area to study due to its strong presence at the intersection of health and policy.

Everything from second-hand smoking, the effects of natural disasters and personal wellness, Harper noted, fall under the umbrella of “public health.”

“Public health is so pervasive and it is so around us in everyday life,” Harper said. “It is really important that students have a good understanding of what public health is, what it does and how to think about world issues from a public health perspective.”

Though a new major to the University, faculty and students have been expressing interest in the major and working toward developing the program.

LSA junior Aditi Rao, an LSA Student Government representative, helped lead student efforts to create a minor in public health — and also consulted with faculty about the new major — after many students voiced interest in a public health degree through an LSA-SG survey. A public health minor has yet to be created.

Like Harper, Rao touted the forthcoming public health degree as an interdisciplinary program that will encompass a combination of medicine, the environment and public policy.

“Allowing undergraduates to obtain a degree in public health will open many opportunities and provide a more interdisciplinary education,” she said in an e-mail interview. “Being knowledgeable about a field like public health is so important today, as the field is so relevant whether it’s regarding environmental issues or the next vaccine at a local or global level.” 

Harper said he and other faculty developed the degree program with student interest in mind. He said the coursework will teach students about the impact public health can have on local and global communities, and will incorporate active learning and field work.

“We have really been developing a program that provides a liberal education approach to public health,” he said. “I think students will enjoy both the depth and the breadth of information that will be provided.”

The program will feature three concentration areas: public health sciences, global public health and community public health. These areas will “encourage study abroad,” according to the action request. Students will apply during their sophomore year and begin public health studies as a junior, similar to application-only undergraduate programs such as the Ford School of Public Policy.

Clarification: The article has been updated to clarify that while students would officially start the program in their junior year, several pre-resequites are required prior to junior and senior year.