Public Health Goes Back to School

As the world continues to marshal forces against Ebola, fight a global obesity epidemic, and make progress in the battle against HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other communicable diseases, a cadre of scientific reinforcements has arrived. More than 650 students begin studies at the Mailman School this week, including the largest Master’s in Public Health (MPH) class in the school's history.

In addition to the record-setting MPH class, the school welcomes its first students in a new Master in Health Administration (MHA) curriculum—a program tailored for the health care landscape brought on by the Affordable Care Act, among other influences. Mailman School students will also begin degree study for Master of Science and doctoral degrees in the school’s six academic departments.

"I’m seldom as optimistic as I am at the start of the academic year," wrote Dean Fried in an email to the Mailman community. The promise of the semester is suffused with energy and opportunities."

Dean Fried’s sentiment is shared by the new students. While they bring a diversity of backgrounds and talents to their rigorous coursework, they uniformly recognize this pivotal moment in the evolving public health narrative.

Juan Figueroa, an MPH student in population and family health with a passion for computer programming, spent his summer coding as the lead designer on EnViron, an eco-oriented game that envisions a better future for the planet. A recipient of the school’s Latino Fellowship, Figueroa intends to translate his computer skills “to educate people about health.”

Father-son duo Kenneth and Richard Stein are pursuing Executive MPH degrees. Like his father, Richard Stein earned an undergraduate degree at Columbia before embarking on a medical education. "Part of it is the intellectual pursuit at a university we both love," he said. "And part of it is meeting other people who are actively trying to improve public health." While Richard is interested in urban health, Kenneth hopes to learn more about global health. In particular, Kenneth has an eye on expanding his nonprofit Crutches 4 Kids, which provides crutches, canes, and walkers to children in low-income countries.

Annette Rabinovich is part of the pioneering MHA class. A former researcher at the NYU Langone Medical Center, she seeks a strategic role in shaping the health care system. The MHA program combines intensive training in leadership and management with a broad introduction to public health, health policy, and health care systems, which is, in Rabinovich’s words, "a perfect match to my interest in restructuring health systems."

As a personal trainer, Kristen Meister saw many of her clients struggle with making long-term behavior changes. The former champion high jumper now has her sights set on understanding "societal factors [that] predispose certain populations to poor health behavior," as she pursues an MPH in sociomedical sciences.

During his time administering Columbia’s Summer Public Health Scholar Program, Daniel Carrion, who had a MPH in environmental health sciences, received no shortage of encouragement to continue his studies. But he wasn’t moved to apply until he learned about the school’s climate and health program.

Now pursuing a PhD in environmental health sciences, Carrion sees the speed of climate change as indicative of this watershed moment in the discipline of public health. “We need to get on it, yesterday.”

This article originally appeared on the Mailman School of Public Health website.