The Spring of 2014 marked the graduation of the inaugural class of the Bachelor of Arts in Public Health program at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). While the school has been educating students at the master’s and doctoral levels for over 40 years, its first cohort of undergraduates entered in the fall of 2012 after completing their first two years of general education and introductory public health course work. Graduates spent the last two years immersed in public health course work where they were engaged and enlightened about matters related to the health of societies locally, nationally, and globally. “Our goal was to establish a program that will allow undergraduates students to think critically about health and I am very proud of the curriculum we created,” says Dr. Karin Opacich, who is director of undergraduate public health and a clinical associate professor in health policy and administration.
Students from the inaugural class have a variety of plans after graduation. Some intend to pursue further public health education through graduate work while others plan to immediately enter the public health workforce. Regardless of their plans, graduates left the program as informed citizens who will consider the public’s health in whatever life roles they assume. One such graduate, Ms. Aneta Gil, shares “public health has taught me collaboration is the key to success. We can make a difference by working together. My education has inspired me to work hard in improving the lives and health of populations all over the world.”
The Bachelor of Arts in Public Health program at UIC will be admitting its third cohort of students this fall and has seen increased interest in students who desire to complete undergraduate public health course work as either a major area of study or a complement to another area of study. In 2009, Dean Paul Brandt-Rauf established as a priority the creation of an undergraduate program, largely in response to important needs and trends. Health disparities and the need for a diverse public health workforce were among his top reasons. “This is especially important at this time because with the advent of the Affordable Care Act the nation will require increasing numbers of health professionals with public health skills at many different levels in the health system,” says Dean Brandt-Rauf.
Increasing access to public health education by expanding into undergraduate programming that specifically targets under-represented groups is an important path to success that is supported by the Council of Colleges of Arts & Sciences, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, the Association for Prevention Teaching and Research, the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health, and the Council on Education for Public Health. Upon reflecting on the past two years, Dean Brandt-Rauf says “after several years of planning and hard work, it was particularly gratifying to celebrate our first graduating class of undergraduate public health majors in May. Faculty and staff made a tremendous effort in putting together an entirely new liberal arts degree in public health starting from scratch and ending up with an integrated, interdisciplinary, community based participatory educational experience. The graduates are well prepared to enter the public health workforce or to pursue graduate study in public health or any number of related disciplines.”
To learn more about the UIC SPH undergraduate program, click here.