Q: What is public health and why is it important to study?
A: Public health is a field that is tasked with protecting and improving the health of communities. This can include education, promotion of healthy lifestyles, research for disease prevention, and policy development. Public health is part of the unwritten societal contract that people sign on to when they agree to live in communities. The health of individuals influences the health of their community, and the health of their community influences the health of individuals. Public health has always and will always be relevant as long as people live in societies and communities.
Q: Has the coronavirus pandemic changed the field at all?
A: What the current pandemic has illuminated, at least more than had been previously acknowledged, is the need for there to be a “big table” of people involved in public health. Ensuring the health of the public involves groups from all aspects of human services working together to tackle a problem. The pandemic has also illuminated the relationships between science, health, and politics in a way that requires us, in public health and other human services fields, to think critically about how to engage, do research, and teach about these relationships.
Q: With those realizations in mind, what can students expect to learn? What topics will they be exploring?
A: The program focuses on building a set of public health tools that students can use in a variety of situations. These tools, just to name a few, include learning how to quantify disease in populations, develop culturally responsive programs and evaluate those programs, create impactful health campaigns, and apply a systems-based framework to public health. The faculty works to provide examples from a diverse variety of fields—global health, nutrition and food security, accidents and violence, cancer and other chronic diseases, and communicable diseases—and encourages discussion about how these fields work together and their roles in public health.
Q: Focusing on you now, how do you approach teaching?
A: I teach courses in epidemiology and biostatistics, which are quantitative foundations for public health. I always leave “space” in the classroom time for exploration. While I have a set of objectives and agenda for each class session, I do not use slides or set lectures in class so that if an interesting topic comes up, we can take the time to explore and discuss. In each class, I also make time for a hands-on activity to apply skills, such as analyzing or interpreting data in biostatistics or doing case studies in epidemiology. Lastly, I want students to feel comfortable taking risks in assignments, so grading is based more on the work and thought process behind the work than on specific points or a right answer. In combination, this approach to teaching is designed to foster curiosity and enhance critical thinking.
Q: Tell me about yourself outside of the classroom.
A: Since moving to Washington, I’ve returned to rowing some, but less competitively than I used to do. I’m also working on writing a cookbook for family and friends. But I actually love data analysis and, when there is opportunity, I do statistical consulting with different organizations.