New Academic Program in Public Health Focuses on Social Justice

Recognizing the growing interest in and demand for undergraduate education in the field, Hollins University has launched a major and minor in public health.

According to the American Public Health Association, public health “promotes and protects the health of people and the communities where they live, learn, work, and play.” As an interdisciplinary endeavor that teaches students to recognize, assess, and address various issues of health on individual, community, and global levels, the study of public health is “an ideal fit for a liberal arts education,” says Associate Professor of Communication Studies Lori Joseph, who is directing the program at Hollins. “Specifically, what differentiates the public health program at Hollins from similar programs at other colleges and universities will be our emphasis on the principles of social justice while maintaining a scientific basis.”

Joseph explains that in order to grasp the broad social, cultural, and economic elements related to public health, students in the program at Hollins will be required to complete courses from a variety of academic departments. “Students will be encouraged to take classes in each of our four academic divisions, creating a rich educational experience. The interdisciplinary nature of the program allows students to build an integrated approach to health issues by combining sociocultural disciplines with the natural sciences.”

Joseph adds that the program at Hollins will include internships and experiential learning opportunities that enable students to study diverse communities on a macro and micro scale and conduct significant undergraduate research.

Cynthia Morrow, M.D., M.P.H., has been named a visiting professor in the public health program. Currently a member of the teaching faculty at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine in Roanoke, Morrow previously served as Commissioner of Health for Onondaga County, New York, and as Lerner Chair for Public Health Promotion at the Maxwell School, Syracuse University. She is a member of Virginia Tech’s Public Health Advisory Board and the American Public Health Association.

“Dr. Morrow’s passion for public health was shaped by growing up in Africa, Europe, and the United States as well as her distinguished professional experience,” Joseph says. “She brings to Hollins considerable expertise in understanding how individuals, their communities, and their health care systems impact health.”

Historically, careers in public health have required a Master of Public Health (M.P.H.) degree. However, Joseph notes that with the expansion of the public health sector, “students completing an undergraduate degree in public health can be employed in a variety of entry-level positions in both the public and private sectors, such as health educator, community health worker, environmental health specialist, public policy writer, emergency preparedness specialist, and coordinator of health initiatives.” Students may then choose to advance their careers by completing an M.P.H., and Hollins will seek to establish articulation agreements with colleges and universities in Virginia and along the Eastern Seaboard that offer the degree.

Joseph says Hollins has developed an initial curriculum for the public health program that can address behavioral and social science, environmental health, and health promotion and communication.  “Our program is specifically designed with a core that builds a foundation of knowledge in public health and a slate of electives that allows the student to build their own path of specialty study.”