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UCLA to offer new undergraduate public health degrees with capstone component

By Anna Dai-Liu

Nov. 23, 2022 3:25 p.m.

This post was updated Nov. 27 at 10:21 p.m.

The UCLA Fielding School of Public Health announced in November that it will offer two new undergraduate degrees in public health.

The public health major will provide students with the opportunity to explore a range of courses broader than the existing minor, said Ron Brookmeyer, dean of the School of Public Health and a distinguished professor of biostatistics. Students will be able to pursue either a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree, which will prepare them for a wide variety of careers, Brookmeyer said.

Kyle McJunkin, assistant dean for academic programs at the School of Public Health, said in an emailed statement that discussions to create a public health degree program began in 2016, accompanying a national increase in undergraduate public health programs as well as increased interest among UCLA undergraduates.

The major includes a series of lower division preparatory courses, five core upper division courses, elective courses and a capstone project.

Two of the preparation courses for the major are Public Health 50A: “Introduction to Public Health I” and Public Health 50B: “Introduction to Public Health II,” which will be offered in winter and spring 2023, respectively.

Robert Kim-Farley, a professor-in-residence of epidemiology and community health sciences who will be teaching both courses, said students will learn about the fundamentals of public health, such as data collection for population health and health insurance, in Public Health 50A. Then, in Public Health 50B, students will focus more on studying contemporary public health issues such as the opioid epidemic or gun violence, he said.

“It is just exciting to … look under the hood, so to speak,” Kim-Farley said. “What is the role of public health? How does public health work with other agencies and institutions and the community to try to improve the health conditions surrounding some of these topics?”

The core upper division courses include one course from each of the five departments of the School of Public Health: epidemiology, health policy and management, community health sciences, environmental health sciences, and biostatistics, Brookmeyer said. He added that the electives, which also fall under these five departments, will allow students to specialize in subjects they are interested in.

Finally, Brookmeyer said students will address a real-world public health problem in the capstone project, adding that the school’s connections with local organizations will allow students to engage with the greater community.

“When I think about public health, it is not siloed, and it is about impact,” he said. “It is interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary, and I think a capstone allows for the students to have that experience where they can apply different parts of their knowledge and what they’ve learned to a real problem.”

Kaia Evulich, a second-year biology student who plans to apply to the major, said she is particularly interested in the community engagement aspects of the program, which she thinks will give her a better understanding of how public health applies to real-world problems. She added that she believes the number of courses will better prepare students who want to seek careers in public health immediately after graduation.

“More entry-level positions that are opening up, just because of the pandemic, for public health jobs … don’t necessarily require you to go to grad school and get your MPH (masters in public health). So that’s why I think it’s (the major) a great option, especially over the minor,” Evulich said. “You’re going to get a much more in-depth understanding – which is going to be a lot more helpful when you go into these entry-level positions.”

In his statement, McJunkin said students who graduate from the program will be equipped for a variety of careers, such as clinical data analysts, health care administrators or environmental health and safety specialists. Students can also go on to graduate studies in medicine, public policy and more, he added in the statement.

McJunkin also said in the statement that unlike the more practice-oriented master of public health program, the undergraduate program is closer to a liberal arts degree with a focus on health. However, Kim-Farley said for students who complete the public health degree, there may be an accelerated program in the future in which they can go on to earn an MPH at UCLA in one year rather than two.

Faculty at the School of Public Health said they were excited to welcome students to the program and share their knowledge. According to the School of Public Health, an informational session will be held on Dec. 1 for interested students.

“I like to be able to impart that excitement about public health and have students learn and find out what might be their role in public health,” Kim-Farley said. “Even if they go on to other things – nursing or medicine or law – there are ways of looking at problems from a public health perspective and a population view that I think all students will take away from this course, that can be used for virtually anything they ultimately go into.”

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Anna Dai-Liu
Dai-Liu is a News reporter on the science and health beat and a Copy contributor. She is currently a a second-year neuroscience student.
Dai-Liu is a News reporter on the science and health beat and a Copy contributor. She is currently a a second-year neuroscience student.
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