Monday, February 6, 2017

The Next 50 Years: Building on a foundation of excellence in public health

A golden anniversary brings a time to reflect with pride on the history, growth and accomplishments of the OU College of Public Health and its faculty, students and staff. It also offers a time to look  ahead eagerly as the college moves toward new horizons on a journey of excellence in public health education, research and service.

As Oklahoma’s only accredited college of public health and one of only 59 in the nation, the college is truly a leader in the state and the nation. “We serve the citizens of the state through three key  objectives. First, the education and training of public health practice professionals and public health research scientists,” said Gary Raskob, Ph.D., dean of the college. “Second, the discovery of new knowledge through research and then the transfer of that knowledge into practical education for protecting and improving the public’s health; and third, in service to both governmental and private-sector partners at the local, state and national levels.”

In all three areas, the college has shown tremendous success. Annual extramural grant support has increased more than three-fold. So, too, has support for students. “We have markedly increased student support through graduate research assistantships, now supporting more than 36 graduate assistants,” Raskob said. “In addition, we have just added two new doctoral fellowships funded  through a new $1 million endowment and increased endowed scholarships from two in 2001 to 23 in 2016 through the generosity of our alumni and friends.”

Research at the college has seen tremendous growth as well, extending well beyond the borders of Oklahoma and the United States. The college has increased annual extramural grant support more than three-fold, with more than $40 million in awards supporting research and training efforts over the next three to five years. “During the last academic year, our faculty submitted more than 61 proposals for funding. Two-thirds of those were from faculty in a lead role, for a total request of more than $38 million,” Raskob added.

In addition, the college maintains an important collaborative role in campus-wide research, underscoring its commitment to collaboration. “Our faculty play key roles in major campus-wide efforts, such as the Oklahoma Clinical Translational Science Resource Center. We have strengthened our collaboration with the Oklahoma State Department of Health and the City-County Health Departments in  both Oklahoma City and Tulsa. We also have increased the college’s national visibility and service contributions with a number of faculty serving in leadership or key roles within organizations such as  the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Science Foundation, and the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health, to name just a few,”  Raskob said.

Faculty members also continue to be recognized for their excellence in public health education. In the past 13 years, members of the faculty have been honored with three Regents’ Professorships, two  David Boyd Ross Professorships, 11 Presidential Professorships, five Regents’ Awards for Superior Teaching or Creative/Scholarly Activity and four Provost Research Awards. In addition, six staff  members were named employee of the month for the entire OU Health Sciences Center and two were named employee of the year. The college prides itself in being one of the most diverse colleges at OU in terms of student, faculty and state demographics, meeting or exceeding state demographic rates for African American, Asian and American Indian students. During a site visit for re-accreditation,  students expressed that the college was best characterized as having rigor, integrity and professionalism. This high level of excellence is a tribute to the entire college and one built on a solid foundation dating back to the mid-1960s and a few key visionaries who recognized the need for a College of Public Health. Until then, portions of public health had been passed from one OU college to another in Norman and Oklahoma City as a preventive arm of medicine or engineering. Led by William Schottstaedt, M.D., and Gordon Deckert, M.D., a plan for the new college and its  departments was formulated. The vision became reality in 1967 when the School of Health was activated. Two years later, the school earned full accreditation. After a brief stint as a joint college with  the College of Allied Health Professions, public health separated and became the College of Public Health in the early 1980s. Among the college’s first faculty members was Edward N. Brandt Jr., M.D.,  Ph.D., who served as the nation’s assistant secretary of health and a leader during the beginning of the HIV/AIDS crisis. Brandt continued to teach at the college until his death in 2007, and his legacy of excellence and commitment to improved public health continue at the college today. The newly enhanced and upgraded auditorium has been named in his honor.

Over the past decade and a half, health  leaders nationally began to understand that the only way to save a collapsing health care system was to shift the focus from treatment to prevention. Again, public health and the mission of the college took on added importance, and continues to bring expertise and guidance to bear on critical issues across Oklahoma and the nation. “As we celebrate 50 years of excellence, I am proud that this college remains a leader in public health education and research, attracting more of the nation’s public health leaders as faculty and enrolling among the best and brightest students,” Raskob said. “The future  will certainly bring new challenges, but we are positioned well to meet those as we strive toward a goal of improved health for all citizens across Oklahoma, the nation and the world.”


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