Academic journal article Peer Review

Liberal Education and Public Health: Surveying the Landscape

Academic journal article Peer Review

Liberal Education and Public Health: Surveying the Landscape

Article excerpt

The Educated Citizen and Public Health (ECPH) initiative is premised on the idea that an understanding of public health issues is a critical component of good citizenship, and that by developing this understanding, students will learn to take responsibility for building healthy societies. Historically, the programmatic study of public health in colleges and universities has been largely limited to the graduate level. Today, however, evidence suggests that undergraduate students are able to take advantage of increased opportunities to study public health.

The emergence and spread of interdisciplinary undergraduate curricula in public health represents a rich opportunity. The ECPH initiative encourages faculty members and administrators to take advantage of this opportunity by applying the insigbts of an expansive vision of high-quality Uberai education to the burgeoning field of undergraduate public health. In partnership with the Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH) and the Association for Prevention Teaching and Research (APTR), AAC&U has advocated undergraduate public health education as a coherent example of a practical Uberai education - one that develops students' capability to understand and take action to solve complex, unscripted, real-world problems. Within this framework, students experience the competing and complementary perspectives of the social sciences, natural sciences, mathematics, humanities, and the arts. At the same time, they develop their skills in written and oral communication, critical and creative thinking, and quantitative analysis. They also learn teamwork and evidence-based problem-solving skills. Through experiential learning opportunities, students come to understand how classroom knowledge can be appUed to real problems within their communities. In the process, they can become more engaged citizens, move toward intercultural competence, and gain experience in ethical reasoning and action. By approaching pubUc health as Uberai education - in its fullest sense - faculty members can better help students integrate seemingly disparate elements of their education and acquire the habits of lifelong learning.

THE GROWING UNDERGRADUATE PUBLIC HEALTH MOVEMENT

By thinking about the connections between public health and Uberai education, participants in the ECPH initiative have begun to imagine how such an interdisciplinary field raises intellectual and structural questions that play out in general education courses and designs, in (often new) public health majors, minors, and concentrations, and in related disciplines. We have witnessed the enthusiasm and creative energy that eighty institutions brought to three faculty and curriculum development workshops in 2007 and 2008. The rich anecdotal evidence provided by this self-selecting group revealed a landscape marked by student demand for pubUc health opportunities and institutional dedication to providing high-quality, integrative programs.

In collaboration with ASPH, with funding from the Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation, and through the ASPH/ CDC Cooperative Agreement, we have sought to expand upon these initial impressions by gathering both quantitative and qualitative data from across the academy about the curricular and structural footprint of this emerging field. Research strategies have included scanning and analyzing undergraduate program offerings, convening focus groups, and surveying AAC&U members. While no single approach can be considered comprehensive, our efforts as a whole provide a rich array of information on undergraduate public health as a growing movement.

The first and most direct method used to measure undergraduate opportunities in public health was a count and analysis of programs appearing in college and university catalogs in July and August, 2008. A review of ordine catalogs for 837 fouryear, U.S.-based, AAC&U member institutions yielded baseline data for the number of public health programs currently being offered to undergraduates (see sidebar for findings). …

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