Dean's Corner

April to June 2015

Another academic year has come to a close. The lengthening days are sure signs that summer has come to Edmonton. Alberta gained national attention with its astounding provincial election results in May and the inauguration of a new government. Already, at least from the perspective of the post-secondary education sector, changes are in the air.

The annual budget cuts of the past several years have stopped, and we can even look ahead to two years of 2% increase in the Campus Alberta grant from the government. If you would excuse a medical analogy: the bleeding has been staunched, it is time to replenish the body’s iron stores. The need for revenue generation has not been eliminated and it remains our priority.

New blood

To continue with the hematological metaphor: the University welcomes our new president, David Turpin from the University of Victoria and new vice-president (academic) and provost Steven Dew, formerly associate dean (research and planning) of the Faculty of Engineering, both starting on July 1. We look forward to working closely with the senior leadership in the coming months. The School community actually had a chance to meet the president-elect when he attended our Town Hall back in February in a meet-and-greet session. [See report in the student newspaper The Gateway.]

In the School, we welcome Stephanie Yanow who has been appointed associate professor in global health. Stephanie is no stranger to us, as she has been program leader in Research and Development at the Provincial Laboratory for Public Health since 2007. Stephanie received her PhD in cell biology from University College London, followed by postdoctoral fellowships at the California Institute of Technology and McGill University’s Institute of Parasitology. The focus of her research is malaria diagnostics, vaccines and surveillance, and much of the field work has been conducted in Uganda, Colombia and the Solomon Islands. Among her many honours is the Rising Stars in Global Health award from Grand Challenges Canada.

Convocation is also a time of renewal. On June 5, 38 MPH, 12 MSc and 1 PhD students graduated and took their places as public health professionals across Canada and indeed globally. In one of our photo albums, you can catch a glimpse of the smiling faces of our new graduates wearing the new School of Public Health academic hood, while in the other album, they are displaying placards declaring to the world what they intend to do. Our graduates were excited to be part of a short video, which has been popular on social media.

More awards

On May 1, the Honourable Rona Ambrose, Minister of Health, announced at the Royal Alexandra Hospital $7.2 million in Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) funding for the Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Misuse (CRISM). CRISM has four regional nodes for the Prairies, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec/Maritimes. Cam Wild is the lead for the Prairie node, which brings together researchers, service providers, consumer advocates and policy makers from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Here are some photos taken at the media conference.

At the annual conference of the Canadian Society for Epidemiology and Biostatistics (CSEB) in Toronto in June, Faith Davis received the Geoffrey Howe Distinguished Contributions Award in recognition of her seminal research on brain and ovarian cancers. CSEB’s bi-annual conference will return to Edmonton in 2017—faculty and students take note.

Once again, this year we have been awarded funding for practicum stipends and associated travel under the Dr. James Rossiter MPH Practicum Awards Program of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Public Health Agency of Canada. This funding, in the amount of $47,955, has been allocated to 15 eligible students completing a field practicum in spring / summer 2015.

Our students will also benefit from the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarship for a three-year University of Alberta International led multi-faculty initiative, "Improving Individual and Community Wellness in the Commonwealth.” This program is made possible with financial support from the federal and provincial governments and the private sector, and is managed by Universities Canada, Community Foundations of Canada and Rideau Hall Foundation. Under this program, 33 School students will receive a minimum of $6000 each to undertake their field practicum or thesis research in a Commonwealth country. A student from a Commonwealth country will also be supported to complete two terms of study here.

Ali Assi was the recipient of the Graduate Student Teaching award this year from the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research. Ali is the outgoing president of the School of Public Health Students’ Association.

Sandra Rees, an MPH student in health policy and management, is the recipient of the Robert Wood Johnson Award, presented each year to one student from each of the six Canadian universities offering graduate programs in health services administration.

Kim Raine received the Distinguished Lecturer Award for her investigations into the social and environmental determinants of obesity in Canada by the Canadian Obesity Network.

Emerging leaders

U of A established the Peter Lougheed Leadership College to train and develop future leaders in society. Originally meant only for undergraduate students, the eligibility has been extended to graduate students. We are very pleased that MSc student Tharsini Sivananthajothy, who is the current president of the School of Public Health Students’ Association, has been selected to be among the College’s first cohort.

Academic and administrative staff too can benefit from leadership training, a need that is recognized by the Office of the Provost and Human Resource Services, which jointly organize Gold College. The leadership program runs over the academic year and is comprised of some 90 hours of learning modules. Kim Raine and Tania Bubela from our School have been selected to participate.

Zubia Mumtaz was named one of the top 300 women leaders in global health by the Graduate Institute Geneva. This is as a result of a Twitter campaign aimed at showcasing female leadership in global health.

Recent events

Once again the School was a sponsor of the annual conference of the Canadian Public Health Association held in May in Vancouver. Many visitors to our booth learned about our programs, especially the new Professional Certificate in Public Health. A reception on the penthouse attracted faculty, staff, students, alumni and visitors who mingled and networked over fine wine and canapés. 

This year it was Edmonton’s turn to host the Campus Alberta Health Outcomes and Public Health (HOPH) annual meeting. Over 150 participants from the three major universities, Alberta Health, Alberta Health Services and Alberta Innovates-Health Solutions learned about measuring research impact, discussed recent developments such as the Strategic Clinical Networks and the SPOR SUPPORT Unit [SPOR stands for Strategy for Patient Oriented Research, and SUPPORT is actually both a word and acronym for Support for People and Patient-Oriented Research and Trials], and presented outcomes of the HOPH meeting grants. Here are some photos in our Flickr album. 

In March, faculty and students in health promotion and local stakeholders gathered to network and engage in professional development. At Health for All, time was devoted to discussion of national core competencies in health promotion in a workshop sponsored by the Public Health Agency of Canada. 

Faraway visitors

Distinguished visitors from Pakistan and Russia graced our campus in June, hosted respectively by Zubia Mumtaz and Faith Davis. Zahid Parvaiz, the director general of Health and Sajid Termazi, associate director of Integrated Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health Program from Punjab province (population 82 million) visited the School. Funded by a CIHR planning grant, the visit was a part of the long-standing engagement of the global health program of the School with the Government of Pakistan. The visit resulted in the development of a joint research initiative to test a multi-dimensional complex intervention aimed at strengthening Pakistan's Community Midwife Program and thereby optimizing delivery of maternal health services to ultra-poor women in rural Pakistan. 

Lyudmila Krestinina, director of epidemiology of the Urals Research Centre for Radiation Medicine in Chelyabinsk, Russia, and her research team were here to work on their long-term cohort study on the health effects of chronic low-dose radiation exposure in the southern Urals region. The project, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, has been led by Faith Davis when she was at the University of Illinois Chicago. 

Enjoy the summer, and see you in September!

Kue Young, Dean