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Faculty Hope to Boost Public Health Offerings

You can attend graduate schools to specialize in it and work at a consulting firm to analyze it, but you can’t take a class in it. Located at the intersection of some of Carleton’s most popular departments – political science, economics, biology, and statistics – public health seems to offer an ideal opportunity to apply liberal arts skills to real-world problems.  However, the school currently offers neither a major nor a minor in the field.  A group of students and faculty are coming together to change that.
“Part of the growing interest is due to the field’s interdisciplinary nature. Carleton students appreciate that,” says Debby Walser-Kuntz, a biology professor who specializes in immunology.

Spanning biology, history, political science, philosophy, psychology, statistics, and sociology-anthropology, public health can be studied from multiple perspectives. Amna Khalid and George Vrtis lead the Health and Environment field in the History Department, Al Montero teaches a political science course on Global Health, Martha Paas teaches an economics course relating to health, Ken Abrams teaches courses in health psychology, Meera Seghal teaches women’s and gender studies and SOAN courses on women’s healthcare, and Debby Walser-Kuntz teaches biology. Walser-Kuntz is currently working with Florence Wong ’16 in creating an informational poster that would display Fall 2014 courses that are related to public health. It would also link to community engagement CCCE opportunities, and the pre-health adviser Pam Middleton. Her hope is that this will eventually turn into a webpage for information, and events, creating a more coherent awareness of opportunities among faculty and students.

This winter break, Walser-Kuntz is leading a public health off-campus studies trip. The program, Public Health in Practice in the Twin Cities and DC, will explore a wide range of public health organizations including non-profits, community-initiated partnerships and county, state, and national departments.

Amna Khalid, who this term is teaching History of Public Health, says “discussions are moving in a very exciting direction and have the potential to bring people from different disciplines together—humanities, social sciences and science. We all come at it from very different angles.”

Walser-Kuntz and Khalid both emphasized that students lead much of the push for expanding the discipline. For example, Meera Sury ’14, a Health Fellow at the CCCE leads and organizes students at Carleton and St. Olaf who work with the Northfield- area HealthFinders wellness program called Pura Vida, and is involved with the academic aspects of public health at Carleton.

Sury was also key in designing last year’s no-credit public health seminar, “Beyond Medicine”. This year she lead, alongside Sam Hayward ’16, and faculty adviser Walser-Kuntz a 2-credit seminar, IDSC265: Topics in Public Health.

Sury says, “The primary goal of last years seminar was to offer interested students an opportunity to engage with introductory public health concepts and readings, and join a community of like-minded students.”

Students can get involved in public health at Carleton through courses, academic and civic engagement, and other volunteer opportunities. Health Fellows, SWAs, GSCAs, and any of the professors previously listed are great people to talk to about becoming more involved in public health.

Although there are no fixed plans for a major or concentration, yet, there is a conglomeration of students and faculty discussing the possibilities of creating a cohesive way for students interested in public health to become involved both inside and outside the confines of academia.

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