When I began my position as Dean of the School of Public Health and Health Sciences (SPHHS) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in early January, 2009, I understood that the SPHHS was well poised to grow and build. Its faculty and students were energetic and committed, there was great capacity to grow external research funding, and established outreach efforts had tremendous impact upon our regional, national, and even global, communities.
As we come to the end of our 2015 fiscal year, I am struck by how our achievements continue to exceed even my high expectations. By all measures – both quantitative and qualitative – the SPHHS is fulfilling its mission to optimize the public’s health and quality of life through innovative education, research, outreach, and practice using approaches that integrate the core areas of public health and health sciences.
Our success has been fueled in great part through hiring the best junior faculty and recruiting the most promising students. From 2009 to 2015, the SPHHS has hired 34 tenure-track faculty (30 at the assistant professor level) across all departments in the SPHHS, and 4 permanent lecturers. These faculty hires represent a combination of long-vacant positions, and newly created SPHHS-funded and university-funded positions. As a direct result of this hiring, we have been able to re-establish the Departments of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, Environmental Health Sciences, and Health Promotion and Policy (formerly known as Community Health Studies) which includes the programs of Community Health Education, and Health Policy and Management. This growth has also assisted the SPHHS to accommodate some of the needs of the rapidly growing undergraduate majors and interest across campus in SPHHS courses, and afforded a great deal of opportunity for creative research, teaching and outreach.
The SPHHS faculty is becoming increasingly successful in its receipt of externally-funded awards. Despite lower success rates for grant awards nationally, particularly in the science and engineering disciplines, the SPHHS has seen a 112% increase from 2009-2015 (from $8.15 to $17.29 million) in awards accepted. This increase represents the success of faculty of all ranks as Principle Investigators on large federal grants, primarily from the National Institutes of Health, and large grants from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
The SPHHS’ reputation for academic excellence, as reflected in recent national rankings, continues to improve. In the 2015 edition of U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Graduate Schools,” the SPHHS is ranked 25th in the nation among Schools of Public Health, climbing 9 spots from its most previous ranking, even as the total number of accredited Schools of Public Health has grown. The Doctoral program in Kinesiology placed in the top five in the most recent rankings from both the National Research Council and the National Academy of Kinesiology.
Our undergraduate programs have garnered similar praise. In rankings conducted by USA Today, UMass Amherst was rated #2 for best colleges in the country to major in Kinesiology, and #10 to major in public health. These undergraduate programs, as well as the ones in Communication Disorders and Nutrition, have widespread appeal among students and have resulted in the near doubling of our undergraduate student numbers during my tenure to almost 2000 students.
Through outreach efforts like the Western Massachusetts Health Equity Summit and the Marijuana Policy Forum examining implications of legalized marijuana, the SPHHS is leading the conversation among local, state, and private agencies on important public health issues. Our outreach staff provides workforce training to community health workers in the region, and our students promote the health and wellbeing of our community members through countless hours spent in internships, practicum experiences, and volunteer work.
As a result of these successes and many more like them, the SPHHS passed its recent reaccreditation review with flying colors. The Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) Board of Councilors extended our accreditation for the maximum seven-year term through July 1, 2022. The CEPH Council’s final accreditation report, issued in June 2015, speaks volumes to the progress the SPHHS has made since its last review in 2007.
None of these accomplishments were easy. They are the result of the time, energy, hard work and commitment of faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends.
We hope you will join us in working together to support the SPHHS in all that it does for the community, the Commonwealth, the nation and the world, as we embark on future initiatives in public health and health sciences.
My best wishes,
C. Marjorie Aelion, Dean
School of Public Health and Health Sciences