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Building a college for the future – today

At the college, we love to talk about synergy – the many ways we work together to benefit individuals, families and communities in Oregon and around the world. And there is perhaps no stronger demonstration of synergy than what exists in a nearly four-year effort to become the first and only accredited college of public health and human sciences in Oregon.

More than halfway through a journey that began in 2009, the college continues to expand capacity after reorganizing into two schools – School of Biological and Population Health Sciences and School of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences – and hiring about 20 new faculty members. This reorganization allowed us to enhance graduate and undergraduate programs, develop curricula and competencies for new academic programs, increase our interdisciplinary research, broaden community outreach, diversify the faculty and student body, and foster meaningful partnerships with government, non-profit and private sectors.

To fuel innovation and build research capacity within the Division of Health Sciences, faculty recently exchanged overviews of their research during the first Ignite Research Colloquium in Feb. 2013.

We also created interdisciplinary teams, including a Council on Accreditation for Public Health (CEPH) Accreditation Steering Committee that leads the Self-Study, and we are updating curricula and building a collaborative structure that integrates public health and human sciences, fuels breakthrough innovations and builds the workforce of tomorrow. In addition, a new online public health graduate certificate aimed primarily at working professionals became available in Fall 2012; introductory public health courses are being added to undergraduate and graduate programs, including at the Cascades campus; and dual-degree MPH programs are available through the colleges of Pharmacy (PharmD/MPH) and Veterinary Medicine (DVM/MPH).

So why all the fuss? Our vision of ensuring lifelong health and well-being for every person, every family and every community is also part of Oregon State’s Strategic Plan, Improving Human Health and Wellness (Healthy People), and is one of three signature areas of distinction along with Advancing the Science of Sustainable Ecosystems (Healthy Planet) and Promoting Economic Growth and Social Progress (Healthy Economy).

Not only is establishing an accredited college of public health and human sciences at the university an institutional goal, Division of Health Sciences (colleges of Veterinary Medicine, Pharmacy and PHHS) deans see it as a forward-thinking and collaborative approach to achieving their division’s goal for Healthy People using the One Health approach. This approach is a collaborative effort of multiple disciplines working locally, nationally and globally to attain optimal health for people, animals and our environment.

CEPH accreditation itself serves multiple purposes in addition to validating the quality of an educational program that prepares graduates for entry into a recognized profession. Accreditation creates a national reputation, peer recognition and new resources for Oregon State, and will serve as an economic engine as part of federal and state investments in health reform. Accreditation also allows Oregon State to apply for access to more than $100 million each year in federal grants and service contracts awarded only to accredited colleges. In addition, accreditation strengthens our ability to recruit and retain talented faculty and students in Oregon to solve emerging, local public health challenges.

“And for our college alumni, regardless of their discipline, we are enhancing the ‘equity’ of their degree,” says CPHHS Dean Tammy Bray. “That is a good thing for all of us.”

Walk the talk

Profile in public health | Molly Kile
This Harvard-trained researcher in environmental health and molecular epidemiology is a catalyst for multi- and interdisciplinary work within the CPHHS and at Oregon State. She is one of more than 20 new faculty hired in 2009-2011 as part of university initiatives, with the goal to achieve critical mass in each core concentration of public health required for accreditation. Much of Assistant Professor Kile’s research explores how exposure to chemicals influences maternal and child health.

Of course, no new structure or procedure and no amount of talk results in true synergy and a true integration of public health and human sciences. “Accreditation has to mean more than simply checking off boxes,” says Dean Bray. “This process meets accreditation standards but more importantly makes us a better, stronger, more inclusive college in the long run.”

Our history as a college with a strong foundation in the health sciences, along with new issues in public health, signal that the future is on our side, she says. “Public health is evolving because of new demands in the form of such things as emerging diseases, healthcare policy, globalization, climate change, longer life spans and collaboration with new partners. Bigger problems require a bigger vision, and new demands require an innovative, interdisciplinary approach to ensuring optimal health at every stage of life.”

The good news for us? “We’re there,” says Dean Bray. “These things have been part of the framework for every discussion we’ve had in designing our new college. After all, our strengths are in prevention and wellness across the lifespan,” she continues. “Public health is who we are, covers more than 90 percent of the factors that affect our health and well-being and ranges from addressing child obesity and school readiness; prevention and management of chronic disease; environmental, occupational and social factors that affect health; and the healthcare system and policymaking.

Profile in public health | MPH student Lauren Baur
Lauren says her internship in Uganda, where she worked for a women’s rights and health organization, was eye-opening. “I think coursework and the classroom environment is important for getting the foundation, but you really develop the skills and a greater passion for your work when you get to go out and see the people you’re helping.”

“This focus on health and prevention rather than disease – as well as using a multidisciplinary approach and recognizing that one discipline can’t solve all of our problems – coincides with national trends and a country in which people are taking more responsibility and making more and more decisions about their healthcare,” she says. “Dr. Reed Tuckson, a health expert and speaker at the American Public Health Association convention in San Francisco last fall, detailed those things we need to do to achieve a new vision of public health, a vision I think is important to heed as we build our new college. That vision includes blowing up silos between public health and healthcare, working in a spirit of inclusiveness and integration, implementing technology that can create efficiencies as well as cost savings and better health, being creative in engaging people to make better choices, and using a holistic model that focuses on individual needs and health across the lifespan, from prevention to delivery and from cell to community.”

A multidisciplinary approach is facilitated by faculty and encouraged across the college and division. Toward that end, the college hosted an IGNITE event, led by Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Programs Marie Harvey, in which faculty quickly detailed their research in hopes of sparking an idea or interest from colleagues. Think of it as speed-dating with a focus on research instead of romance.

“We wanted to have a forum where all faculty in the three colleges could see how other faculty are contributing to the same vision,” Harvey says. “The goal is to solve big problems together using an integrated, culturally aware, multi- and trans-disciplinary approach that will lead us to innovation.”

We want all faculty to see the connections their discipline has with other disciplines in the college,” says SOBE Co-Director Sheryl Thorburn. “Given our mission and vision, our new structure, and our goal of being accredited by CEPH, I think showing faculty how what they do relates to public health fits within a CEPH accredited ‘school’ of public health, and the benefits to them and their students will grow with integration.”

CEPH accreditation serves multiple purposes

In addition to validating the quality of an educational program that prepares graduates for entry into a recognized profession, accreditation creates a national reputation, peer recognition and new resources to OSU and will serve as an economic engine as part of federal and state investments in health reform. An accredited college of public health also allows Oregon State to apply for access to federal grants and service contracts awarded only to accredited colleges. Accreditation strengthens our ability to recruit and retain talents in Oregon to solve emerging, local public health problems.

Here are a few other ways accreditation strengthens our college:

  • For the public, accreditation promotes the health, safety and welfare of society by ensuring competent public health professionals.
  • For prospective students and their parents, it provides assurance that the school or program has been evaluated and has met accepted standards established by and with the profession.
  • For prospective employers, it assures that the curriculum covers essential skills and knowledge needed for today’s jobs.
  • For graduates, it promotes professional mobility and enhances employment opportunities in positions that base eligibility upon graduation from an accredited school or program.
  • For public health workers, it involves practitioners in the establishment of standards and assures that educational requirements reflect the current training needs of the profession.
  • For the profession, it advances the field by promoting standards of practice and advocating rigorous preparation.
  • For the federal government and other public funding agencies, it serves as a basis for determining eligibility for federally funded programs and student financial aid.
  • For foundations and other private funding sources, it represents a highly desirable indicator of a program’s quality and viability.
  • For the university, it provides a reliable basis for inter- and intra-institutional cooperative practices, including admissions and transfer of credit.
  • For faculty and administrators, it promotes ongoing self-evaluation and continuous improvement and provides an effective system for accountability.
  • For the school or program, accreditation enhances its national reputation and represents peer recognition.

What is Public Health at Oregon State?

“Public Health at Oregon State addresses two of the greatest public health challenges facing our world today — physical inactivity and obesity. Our faculty research focuses on identifying the benefits of physical activity for people of all ages and populations and helping people and communities be more active. Students in Exercise and Sport Science have the opportunity to learn how to better improve the public’s health through physical activity within their future professions.”Simon Driver, associate professor

“Public Health at Oregon State is learning that health is affected by the environments we live in – our families, our neighborhoods, our work and social settings, all of which are considered social determinants of health.”Karen Hooker, endowed director of the Center for Healthy Aging Research, co-director of the School of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences

“Public Health at Oregon State is helping individuals and communities reach their full potential for optimal health. In nutrition, this means helping bridge the science of what makes a food nutritious and healthy to its application to one’s life.”Emily Ho, associate professor and endowed director of the Moore Family Center for Whole Grain Foods, Nutrition and Preventive Health

“For our graduate students, Public Health at Oregon State is even more extensive and gives them the tools they need to solve complex public health issues locally and globally.”Donna Champeau, associate professor