College of Arts and Sciences establishes Department of Health Studies
The focused program will give health students more opportunities and attention
The College of Arts and Sciences established the new Department of Health Studies in late October 2015 in response to an increasingly large population of students affiliated with health-related majors.
The Department, formerly part of the School of Education, Teaching and Health within the College of Arts and Sciences, will serve the approximately 400 students studying public health, health promotion and nutrition education.
Stacey Snelling, the chair of the new department, also serves as an Associate Dean in the School of Education, Teaching and Health. She hopes the new, separate department will strengthen the University’s involvement with health-related disciplines and further improve a public health program launched five years ago.
“That action five years ago was something we were prompted to do from looking at the landscape across the country,” Snelling said. “I think now we are looking at how to provide the best student resources and the best support when you have 400 students affiliated with programs related to health.”
For these affiliated students, the Department of Health Studies will offer increased access to faculty mentors and major-specific research opportunities. This differs from the former public health program, which acted as a stand alone program and lacked the resources allocated to a department, according to Snelling.
At this time, Snelling says her main goal is “stabilizing the foundation” for the coming academic years, which will require recruitment of additional faculty, more specialized advising and modification of the existing curriculum.
The stand alone public health program, before it became its own department, received little attention from the University in comparison to larger academic programs, according to senior and public health major Madison Hayes. She believes that the new department will foster increased communication between students studying health-related disciplines and the University, allowing them to have “their voice heard in the AU community.”
“It didn’t make sense why you would have public health and health promotions not be in the same department, considering the cross over with all [of] the classes,” Hayes said. “With this new health studies program, it really feels like AU is putting an emphasis on population health. We’re all really excited about the new department. It just feels a lot more concentrated and a lot more useful to students.”
Population health, defined by Hayes as a community-centered approach to wellness, serves as a central focus for public health students. This distinguishes the program from medical education, which focuses on individualized treatment of patients as opposed to societal changes.
“Health studies is trying to improve the health of the population,” senior and public health major Shreya Veera said. “That could be anything from improving education to science and biochemistry. There’s a whole range of things in between, so it’s really broad.”
Hayes and Veera will graduate in May as part of the second group of students to complete the University’s three-year Public Health Scholars program launched in the fall of 2012. After graduation, Hayes will be moving to Burkina Faso to join the Peace Corps and Veera will be taking time off before starting medical school.
Veera and Hayes’ peers in the public health program can also pursue medical careers, health-related jobs in corporations, government agencies and communities, or work toward a master's degree in public health according to Snelling.
In the last decade, most universities only offered public health studies at the graduate level. AU, is one of 79 accredited programs nationwide that now offers an undergraduate level program in public health; however that number is still growing as more schools develop their own programs. The new department will further the University’s development of the program.
“To find any university with public health classes at a bachelor’s level is already very difficult, so I think AU is definitely moving in the right direction [with the new program],” said Caroline Snell, a senior and public health major. “They are definitely kind of ahead of the game in that aspect that we’re getting students ready at a bachelor’s level instead of waiting for the masters.”