Dean's Corner

July to September 2015

For those of you who are new to the School of Public Health community, this is likely your first Dean’s Quarterly Report. I did check my previous reports to make sure that I do not say the same things—however, there is little danger of that as new and exciting things are happening in the School all the time. It is more of a problem covering them all rather than repeating myself.

During the Summer…

First, here is a report on what happened during the past summer. While many students, staff and faculty dispersed to the far corners of the country, Nick Ashbolt, Faith Davis, Amy Colquhuon and myself happily retreated to Blachford Lake Lodge near Yellowknife, Northwest Territories in August to lecture at the Collaborative Arctic Seminars in Epidemiology, a joint effort of the University of Tromsø in Norway, University of Alberta, the University of Alaska Anchorage and the Institute for Circumpolar Health Research in Yellowknife. The theme was Arctic environmental health, and covered topics such as water and sanitation, radiation, chemical contaminants, environmental genomics, risk communication and cancer cluster investigations.

The program included a public panel discussion where Nick Ashbolt and government and Aboriginal leaders engaged the public on issues of the environment and health. Some 25 students and faculty from across Canada, Alaska and Norway participated. Funding was provided by the Norwegian government’s Centre for International Cooperation in Education under its High North program. Next summer, a similar summer school will be offered in Homer, Alaska. Stay tuned.

And, early in September…

We continued the tradition of orientation, CASCH and Alumni Weekend. CASCH stands for Campus Alberta Student Conference on Health, which is an entirely student-run event held annually at the beginning of term at the Banff Centre. This is the third year of CASCH and, once again, it was a success.

The Marketing and Alumni Relations team outdid themselves this year in creating something completely different for our alumni reunion. Held at a downtown brewery, the evening was called Taps and Apps, and featured a 1920s theme. Almost 100 alumni, faculty, staff, students and their guests and family attended. You can view two photo albums below.


New Students and Faculty Welcomed

This term, we welcome 81 new students: seven PhD, 21 MSc and 53 MPH. I had the opportunity to meet them at orientation and the BBQ. I certainly hope I shall see some of them again over the course of the year, and not only at convocation. Here are some photos taken during orientation and the BBQ.

Our adoption of the North American wide electronic SOPHAS application system for schools and programs of public health was overall successful, despite teething problems. Some 440 applications were received, a lower number than previous years.

Two new faculty recruits also joined us this fall: Stephanie Yanow, associate professor (global health) and Stephanie Montesanti, assistant professor (health policy and management). We are actively recruiting three new positions in health services research/health economics, food safety/infectious diseases epidemiology and social epidemiology. Note that although these positions are attached to specific fields/programs, we do look for faculty members who are versatile and can contribute to teaching and research in more than one area. We have recently revamped the faculty pages on our website to enable both “primary” and “secondary” affiliations to be listed to assist prospective students in identifying potential supervisors and mentors.

New Grants and Honours Awarded

Nick Ashbolt received a Canada Foundation of Innovation grant ($597,000) for his plumbing biofilm facility for pathogen risk management. Construction of his new lab in the South Academic Building is progressing rapidly. Down the hall, Byeonghwa Jeon’s lab is now finished. We can expect our environmental health group’s research to take off.

Candace Nykiforuk received the Martha Cook Piper Research Prize, awarded each year by the University of Alberta to outstanding researchers in the early stages of their career. Candace epitomizes the School’s mission of research excellence and community engagement as she had earlier also received the Community Connections Award [see the January-March 2015 Dean’s Quarterly Report].

We welcome Nicolette Teufel‐Shone, Fulbright Canada-Palix Foundation Distinguished Visiting Research Chair, to our School where she will spend four months conducting research on fostering strategies to build indigenous youth resilience. She is a professor at the University of Arizona and has previously collaborated with Cindy Jardine when Cindy was a Canadian Fulbright Scholar visiting Arizona.

Two of our MPH (Health Promotion) students who will complete their field practicum in Winter 2016 were successful in their application for Canadian Public Health Services (CPHS) internships in a nationally competitive process hosted by the Public Health Agency of Canada. Samira Thomeh will be posted to Sudbury, ON and Elizabeth Flaming will be in Yellowknife, NT. 

New Programs Launched and Planned

In the September Town Hall/Faculty Council, we took stock of where we stand a year after we approved our strategic plan. Considerable progress has been made, especially in the development of new educational programs. A new MPH in food safety, spearheaded by Byeonghwa Jeon, was submitted to the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research for approval. It identifies the need for health specialists to investigate, monitor and control foodborne disease outbreaks. The new degree was developed in close collaboration with the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences.

Vice-Dean Faith Davis has been engaged in active discussion with the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Calgary to enable their doctor of veterinary medicine students to interrupt their studies to come to Edmonton to complete our MPH program. This initiative is particularly timely as “One Health”—the seamless movement of pathogens between animals and humans—is increasingly recognized as a major threat to public health.

Our Professional Certificate in Public Health is now in full swing, having admitted its first students in January 2015. Six new students have now been enrolled in the fall term. We also began sending our MPH students to take the Certified in Public Health (CPH) examination offered by the U.S.-based National Board of Public Health Examiners.

Professor Emeritus Don Philippon was tasked with consultations with key decision makers in Alberta and across the country to develop an executive program leading to a Certificate in Health System Improvement, which we plan to launch in 2016.

I shall be providing updates on these new initiatives in future quarterly reports.

Kue Young, Dean