Dean's Corner

January to March 2014

The whoops of joy of our students echoing down the halls of ECHA are a sign that classes in the winter semester have ended. There is even an inkling of spring outside. It seems like only yesterday that I wrote the quarterly report for October to December, and now it is time for another update to the School of Public Health “community.”

More accolades

It is evidence of our School’s excellence in research and teaching that our faculty and students continue to receive major awards. Tania Bubela received the McCalla Professorship, awarded by U of A, which will enable her to develop training modules on the legal, ethical and social aspects of commercialization and translation of publicly funded biomedical research.

Megan Lefevbre, PhD student in epidemiology, received a Graduate Student Teaching Award from the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research.

Zubia Mumtaz led a team of students from our School (Ali Assi, Tharsini Sivananthajothy and Marwa Fikry) and other faculties to the Emory University Global Health Case Competition and won third prize out of 24 entries. The list of student awards is long and we have now established a database which will be regularly updated in our Faculty / Staff website. 

Record number of applications

With the close of applications, our indefatigable team of Felicity Hey and Shona Williams in the Education Office could finally breathe a sigh of relief. The final tally was 781, compared to 631 in 2013 and 502 in 2012. The great majority were for the MPH (639), followed by MSc (120) and PhD (22). This is the highest number since the School’s establishment in 2006, and is likely because this is the first intake since the School was accredited late in 2012. At this moment, U of A remains the only school of public health in Canada accredited by the U.S. based Council on Education for Public Health. After a rigorous selection process by Vice-Dean Faith Davis and the program directors, letters of acceptance are now being mailed out.

The sight of mountains of files piled high in the hallways begs the question: “Why are we still using the paper-based system in the 21st century?” We invited a team from the Association of Schools and Programs in Public Health to explain and demonstrate SOPHAS, their online applications management system, which is subscribed to by 42 institutions in the U.S. We decided to try it as a pilot for the 2014/15 intake, and will evaluate its impact on the number and diversity of applicants, and not least on staff time and stress level.

Revenue generation

Well, there is actually some good news to share. The provost has allocated $250,000 on a one-time-only basis to the School to develop and implement a revenue generation plan that involves a certification program in public health, the executive MPH and various professional development courses.

Let me emphasize that revenue generation is a necessary, but not sufficient, cause for the School to engage in these activities. I strongly believe that we are serving the public health sector where many practitioners have various educational and credentialing needs that are currently not being met.

External Advisory Council

From the very beginning, the School has benefitted from the sage advice of a distinguished panel of advisors drawn from leaders in academe, business, government and the non-governmental sector. I have now reconstituted the External Advisory Council (EAC), consisting of some returning members, and some new ones. The members are:

  • Martin Garber Conrad, CEO, Edmonton Community Foundation
  • Michael Dan, president of Regulus Investments Inc. and the Gemini Power Corporation
  • Janet Davidson, deputy minister, Alberta Health
  • Stephen Hodgins, senior technical advisor, Save the Children, Washington, DC
  • Glen Hodgson, senior vice-president and chief economist, Conference Board of Canada, Ottawa
  • Penny Lightfoot, executive director of Public Health Surveillance and Infrastructure, Alberta Health Services; and chair, School of Public Health Alumni Chapter
  • Roger Palmer, inaugural interim dean, School of Public Health
  • Robyn Tamblyn, scientific director, Canadian Institutes of Health Research Institute of Health Services and Policy Research; and James McGill Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology, McGill University, Montreal

We look forward to working with our distinguished advisors, advocates and ambassadors. The EAC will have its first meeting in June.

Moving forward

Our strategic planning process is in full swing, under the expert guidance of our executive-in-residence, Aslam Bhatti, with the active participation of a leadership group consisting of program directors and members of the Faculty Evaluation Committee (FEC). We have now reached consensus on our vision, mission, values and goals. As a School, we can now move forward and translate these into specific actions.

Talking of the FEC, we have completed the first stage of the guidelines revision and are working towards a more substantial overhaul. Beyond establishing criteria for evaluating faculty performance and awarding merit increments, tenure and promotion, the discussion brings to the fore fundamental issues such as faculty workload and the concept and measurement of excellence, creativity and community engagement.

Let us all enjoy spring when it comes. For the remainder of the academic year, we still have important work to complete, not the least being the curriculum review process.

Kue Young, Dean