One of the most distinctive aspects of the Bachelor of Science in Public Health (BSPH) program at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health is the offering of specialized undergraduate public health programs, all of which have a separate and selective admissions process and relatively small student cohorts. Two of the many benefits of the approach are increased engagement with faculty members and the impressive postgraduate placement of students.
Undergraduate public health degrees are available at UNC through the departments of health policy and management, nutrition, biostatistics, and environmental sciences and engineering.
The biostatistics BSPH at the Gillings School is believed to be the first undergraduate degree in biostatistics in the U.S. Plans for the program began in 1971, and the first degree was issued in 1978.
[Photo: Dr. Jane Monaco (center), director of undergraduate biostatistics studies at UNC, celebrates the 2012 commencement of Benjamin Buck (left, now in medical school at UNC) and Katherine Hunold (right, in medical school at University of Virginia).]
The curriculum maintains a strong math component, an overlap with many master’s-level courses and a strong focus on public health. Topics covered include statistical inference, SAS programming, regression analysis, nonparametric analysis, study design, mathematical statistics, linear algebra, survey sampling, epidemiology, environmental health, and health policy. At the end of 2012-2013, about 270 students had entered the BSPH program. Currently, the department has 33 students pursuing the degree.
In the last six years, BSPH graduates have gone to graduate programs (32 percent), medical school (28 percent), and employment in biostatistical/programming roles (30 percent). Within three years of graduation, more than 70 percent of recent BSPH students have entered graduate, professional, or medical programs.
Environmental Health Sciences (Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering)
The BSPH in environmental health sciences provides students with a fundamental grounding in basic and applied sciences for advanced scientific education, professional schools or careers in public health practice.
[Photo: Rising senior Mr. Andrew Koo is exploring his interest in policy this summer in a Congressional internship with the Energy and Commerce Committee’s health subcommittee. “Applying to the Gillings School’s BSPH program was one of the best choices I could have made during my time at Carolina, Koo said. “The curriculum has been engaging and has truly allowed me to tailor my education to my unique interests.” ]
About 30 students are admitted each year, with a mean age of 21 years and a mean undergraduate GPA of 3.6. Currently about 50 students are enrolled; the matriculating class size is between 20 and 29 students.
The Gillings School strives to integrate global content and approaches, aiming for every student’s emergence from the School with an understanding of global health issues. Some environmental sciences courses are focused largely on global issues; others are designed so that global and local issues intertwine. Job opportunities post-graduation include graduate or professional education, teaching, consulting, service in the Peace Corps, and work with nongovernmental organizations.
Health policy and management
The BSPH program in HPM admits between 40 and 45 students each year (with about 80-90 in the program at any given time). Students develop knowledge about the health and health care industries; skills in communication, teamwork, research, analysis, problem-solving, financial and information management, strategic planning, marketing, organizational structures and leadership, and professional behaviors.
HPM undergraduates participate in projects that allow them to apply classroom knowledge and skills to real-world public health and health care problems. Among recent projects was the planning of a hypertension patient education program for low-income visitors to the Student Action Coalition free clinic in Carrboro, NC.
Students are required to complete a 12-week, full-time internship in the summer between their junior and senior years.
[Photo: A team of student leaders from the UNC Gillings School’s health policy and management BSPH program make a lighthearted presentation to prospective students.]
Among those who completed a survey, spring 2014 graduates obtained jobs in health care consulting (40 percent), health management (12.5 percent), and public health/research (5 percent), or returned to graduate school (10 percent), professional school (7.5 percent) or entered service in Teach for America, Peace Corps, or other agencies (7.5 percent).
“The number one strength of the program,” one student said, “is the people. I was immediately humbled by the caliber of my cohort, the dedication of professors to the program and the field, and the work being done at the Gillings School.”
The program introduces undergraduates to the science of nutrition in health and disease and to social and behavioral aspects of eating in the context of public and individual health, offering a wide range of courses on the nutritional and epidemiological aspects of human diseases. The degree prepares students for graduate study in nutrition, medicine, pharmacy or dentistry, and for entry-level positions in public health or dietetics. It also allows students to participate in nutrition research projects or explore other related areas of interest.
Why is the nutrition BSPH important? Nutrition plays a major role in human health. Proper nutrition is essential for prevention and treatment of most common human diseases, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. With the growing number of people who suffer from these diseases, nutrition has become a core discipline in medical and public health education and practice.
[Photo: Nutrition undergraduates including Alyssa Luck (second from left) and Pranati Panuganti (second from right) participate in The Market Place, a regular on-campus market at UNC that features international artisan goods and local foods in a vibrant market atmosphere. The market’s goal is to promote global welfare, sustainability, and healthy lifestyle choices.]
There are 47 students currently in the program, including 25 admitted in 2014.
“I have always been interested in the sciences,” said Ms. Pranati Panuganti, candidate for the BSPH in nutrition in 2016, “but more importantly, I am interested in how science can be applied in the real world to solve problems, specifically in the realm of health care.”
Outreach to high school and undergraduate students
The Gillings School’s Office of Student Affairs also is attuned to middle- and high-school students who are prime candidates for the School’s baccalaureate programs.
This summer, about 50 teens from across North Carolina were introduced to public health and UNC campus life, thanks to the Gillings School’s 2014 Summer Public Health Symposium for High School Students. The symposium exposed students to the field of public health, introduced the School’s BSPH programs, provided leadership development activities and offered training in group presentation skills. Read more about the group’s adventures here.
[Photo: Participants in the Gillings School’s 2014 Summer Public Health Symposium for High School cheered the opportunity to live and study on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.]
The Gillings School also is an academic partner in Project IMHOTEP, an 11-week undergraduate internship made possible through a cooperative agreement with the CDC and Morehouse College’s Public Health Sciences Institute that provides training opportunities for minorities interested in health professions, and is involved with The Partners Training Program, a collaboration of NC Central University and UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, that aims to increase the number of students devoted to finding cures and prevention strategies for cancer, which disproportionately affects minorities, particularly African-Americans.
Ms. Melanie Studer (HPM), Dr. Mirek Styblo and Ms. Joanne Lee (NUTR), Dr. Jane Monaco (BIOS) and Ms. Trinnette Cooper (Student Affairs) were instrumental in the collection of this information. For more information about the BSPH and other programs at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, see sph.unc.edu/gps.