Elon creates Department of Public Health Studies

The move comes as Elon has expanded its offerings in the discipline since the launch of a public health studies minor more than a decade ago. 

Elon University has expanded its offerings in the field of public health through the creation of the Department of Public Health Studies on June 1, with Professor Cindy Fair to serve as its first chair.

​The expansion of resources for public health studies students comes more than a decade after Elon first started a minor within the field and later added a public health studies major. Now more than 200 students are majoring in the field of public health studies.

“It is the most rapidly increasing major in Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences,” said Fair, professor of human service studies. “This is another way for students to think more broadly about health than taking an individualistic or lab-based science only approach. There’s room at the public health table for everybody.”

Elon’s creation of a public health studies minor followed a finding in 2003 by the Institute of Medicine that keeping the public healthy required the citizenry to become educated about public health, with a call for undergraduates to have access to education in public health.

That call led to a partnership with the American Association of Colleges & Universities to support colleges and universities to integrate public health coursework into applicable programs. At that point, most of the focus had been on graduate education in public health, not undergraduate, Fair said. But Elon has been a leader in developing the resources available to students who are interested in public health, with the program expanding to a major in 2011. 

“There’s great interest in having public health integrated into the liberal arts,” Fair said. “I think students are very eager to try to improve the world and this gives them a set of tools that allows them to tackle a wide variety of problems with evidence and sound methodology.”

Elon’s public health studies offerings have expanded in recent years with the creation of the Undergraduate Public Health Research Collaboration that is a joint effort organized by Elon, Davidson College and Furman University. The collaboration offers the Elon students to share their individual research findings with peers from the other schools, with Elon in September 2016 hosting the second forum to bring scholars from each of the three schools together with public health professionals.

The creation of the Department of Public Health Studies makes it clearer for students, since right now the major spans multiple departments but is an interdisciplinary program housed within the Dean’s office, Fair said. Fair said that public health has proven to be a very flexible degree, which has increased its appeal and growth as a major.

Gabie Smith, dean of Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences, echoed Fair’s comments about the need for a Department of Public Health Studies. “Due to the success in recruitment of students and, more importantly, the significant accomplishments of students majoring in public health studies, this is the right time to create a freestanding department,” Smith said.

With the growth has come an increase in teaching resources, with the addition of Dr. Stephanie Baker and Dr. Katherine Johnson who joined the public health studies program last year.  Professor Amanda Tapler, from Health and Human Performance, will join the department this summer, Fair said.

“I’m really excited about the opportunities. We have an amazing team of talented faculty who get to work with students dedicated to addressing complex problems facing our society. What a wonderful combination,” Fair said.