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Undergrad Research Previews New Public Health Program

December 5, 2018

Students in the Department of Sociology's Health Policy and Society course (SYA4930) made presentations, December 5, on contemporary public health problems, a preview of the type of research and instruction that will be part of a new interdisciplinary bachelor's degree program in public health set to launch in fall 2019.

The College of Social Sciences and Public Policy currently offers a Master of Public Health (MPH) graduate degree. This interdisciplinary program, which draws on faculty and research from urban and regional planning, sociology, political science, and public administration, as well as public health practitioners and scholars, began in fall 2003 and was fully accredited in 2014. The new program will draw from the same sources to offer an undergraduate degree in the field.

"Health Policy and Society is a new course that's going to be part of the interdisciplinary public health undergraduate program," said Assistant Professor of Sociology Patricia Homan, who teaches the course. "I'm really impressed by the work these students have done."

Homan, who recently joined the faculty in the fall 2018 semester, gave her students a list of about 25 topics to choose from. The objectives of the exercise were to describe a public health problem, show the scope of the problem with data, state why addressing the problem is important, and make at least one public policy recommendation to address the problem.

In preparing the projects, students were helped to a great degree by Assistant University Librarian Jesse Klein, a social sciences specialist and an adjunct instructor in the sociology department. In one session with the class, Klein helped students to identify sources and gather the data they needed for their projects. A follow-up session taught students the basics of creating infographics. The result was well-researched topics presented in a clear and visually pleasing poster style.

One of the student presenters, Nathaniel Barrera-Nitz, focused on the costs borne by families with someone on the autism spectrum. In his research, he found that the economic burden is substantially increased by caps that insurance companies put on therapy and treatment. His recommendation was greater advocacy for laws that would prevent such caps.

Barrera-Nitz, a senior majoring in psychology with a double minor in statistics and sociology, came to the course with professional background that informed his research. He works as a therapist assistant with Behavioral Management Consultants, administering treatment to children with disabilities and those with autism. After graduating, he hopes to go on to the MPH program.

"Having the opportunity to take this class and doing this project has shown me how important it is to help fix our healthcare system in the United States," he said. "Moreover, it has shown how salient it is to have access to healthcare and the consequences of not having access to healthcare."

Barrera-Nitz exemplifies one aspect of the applied and professional master's degrees offered by the college - the opportunity for working professionals to advance their knowledge and experience for career advancement.

"I'm so excited to get the Bachelor of Science in Public Health launched," said Dean Tim Chapin. "And under the leadership of Amy Burdette [currently an associate professor of sociology and soon to be the bachelor's program director], I see great things ahead."


Lauren Ortiz (left) explains her project on LGBTQ health disparities to Assistant
Professor Patricia Homan. Nathaniel Barrera-Nitz is in the background talking
about his infographic on the economic burden of autism care.