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College to Offer New Major in Public Health
The College’s new major in public health will delve into subjects initially broached in Public Health Research: Pregnancy Outcomes in American Women, a multidisciplinary course that was team-taught by (clockwise from upper left) Berwood Yost, director of the Floyd Institute’s Center for Opinion Research; Sean Flaherty, professor of economics; Alison Kibler, associate professor of American studies and women’s and gender studies; and Kirk Miller, B. F. Fackenthal Jr. Professor of Biology.
The Franklin & Marshall course catalog will require a few extra pages in 2010-11, thanks to a new interdisciplinary major in public health recently approved by the College's faculty members. The new major includes two possible tracks—in biology and government—and 16 total courses. It is designed to bring together students from various disciplines to explore a broad range of scientific and public policy questions.
"Public health is a public good, and if we can teach students about it in a liberal arts context, we should be doing it," says Dick Fluck, associate dean of the faculty and Dr. E. Paul and Frances H. Reiff Professor of Biology. "Problems in public health require a multidisciplinary approach, and the liberal arts environment is perfect for that."
The seeds of the new major were planted in the 1990s, when Fluck read a series of articles in The New York Times on multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. He soon developed a first-year seminar centered on the disease, its history and social impact. "When I first taught the TB course, the students had never heard 'public' and 'health' together," Fluck says.
In the years that followed, a group of faculty members explored ways to incorporate the broad topic into the curriculum. Recently, Joseph Karlesky, The Honorable and Mrs. John C. Kunkel Professor of Government, and Kirk Miller, B. F. Fackenthal Jr. Professor of Biology, worked with Fluck to design the major. Both professors have noticed a more focused interest in public health among students; eight students from the Class of 2009 went on to graduate programs in public health.
"We're seeing more and more special studies students who want to focus on public health," Karlesky says. "Up until now, there have been no specific curricular options for public health. These special studies students frequently include courses in government and biology."
The new major also builds upon interest sparked by Public Health Research: Pregnancy Outcomes in American Women, a multidisciplinary course offered in recent years. The course was team-taught by Miller; Sean Flaherty, professor of economics; Alison Kibler, associate professor of American studies and women's & gender studies; and Berwood Yost, director of the Floyd Institute's Center for Opinion Research.
Miller believes the new major will provide an excellent option for students with health-related interests. "We've always had a group of students interested in the delivery of health care but not necessarily in medicine," he says. "This new major is driven by student interest, from the bottom up."
Fluck cites an F&M alumnus, Michael Iademarco '82, who would have been a prime candidate for the public health major. Iademarco went to medical school and now works with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "He was pleased to see this happen because when he went to F&M, if you were interested in health care, you went to medical school," Fluck says.
The new major takes a multidisciplinary approach because of the broad nature of public health. "A traditional example is the maintenance and preservation of clean water supplies," says Karlesky, who points to smoking, diabetes and obesity as other important public health issues. "There's no way to exclude the government. I strongly believe that manifestations of health will be part of the public policy agenda well into the future. You can't look at this through a single discipline."
Miller also views the new program as an opportunity for F&M to work with the local community on public health projects. He says the College is already working with the Lancaster Health Improvement Partnership.
"For me, the most powerful part is bringing students together to attack problems from different perspectives," Miller says. "The initiative comes from student interest, and that's powerful. We have lots of opportunities. We're really interested to see where this goes."