Undergraduates at the University of Minnesota can minor in public health thanks to a School of Public Health and College of Liberal Arts collaborative program. Enrollment in the minor, now in its third year, has grown to over 200, a rapid increase that reflects abundant interest from students across a variety of majors, including child psychology, microbiology and Spanish studies.
Dr. Ruby Nguyen, assistant professor at the School of Public Health, serves as faculty coordinator for the public health minor. She also teaches the program’s Introduction to Epidemiology course, where she observes an increasingly sophisticated group of undergraduates. “They are getting a basic introduction [to public health concepts] from somewhere else, whether it is high school, other classes, or just from popular culture.” Course surveys attest to the fact that students arrive in class eager to augment their knowledge by learning from the experts. “They overwhelmingly respect the fact that public health practitioners, people with experience, are teaching their courses. We are a high-ranking school with faculty skilled in research. Students respond very well to that.”
The majority of instructors in the minor are full-time faculty at the School of Public Health. In addition to teaching concepts and methodology, professors introduce undergraduates to possible careers. “Public health is vast,” says Dr. Nguyen. “Students may not be able to conceptualize what public health careers look like. Our program helps them identify different routes they can take.”
Location may facilitate these career opportunities. The University of Minnesota sits at the juxtaposition of urban and rural – while the Twin Cities campus is the largest urban public university in the United States, the University also has campuses and connections throughout Minnesota. This provides opportunities for public health practitioners to collaborate with and serve underrepresented communities state wide.
And yet, a focus on career building does not mean that potential practitioners are the only students who benefit from the public health minor. A critical part of the program’s mission is to foster the knowledge and reasoning skills that help people make informed choices about their health. Students in the minor enhance their ability to interpret a barrage of health information that appears in the news on a daily basis.
The public health minor is a good thing, and not just for those seeking credits. “As faculty, we can better understand our prospective graduate students, because we have been in the classroom with them,” says Dr. Nguyen. “It’s fun.”