Dean's Corner

October to December 2014

Welcome back, members of the School of Public Health community! The 2014/15 academic year has reached its half way point. The year 2014 ended on a high note with the annual Healthy Dose of Cheer on December 12, when some 50 staff, faculty and students “crawled” their way from one office building to another, where they were entertained and fed by their colleagues. 

Thanks to the staff based at ACHORD, Injury Prevention Centre and ECHA for hosting. In the spirit of the season, food parcels and online donations were collected for the Campus Food Bank. Here are several photos from the event.

Created with flickr slideshow.

What can the School of Public Health look forward to in 2015? At the University of Alberta, many changes are afoot. We eagerly await the arrival of our new president, David Turpin, while we also bid Godspeed to Provost Carl Amrhein and extend our best wishes to him in his new role at Alberta Health Services. There are also many changes of deans in our sister faculties.

In the School of Public Health, I believe we are in sound health. Two search committees for assistant professors in health policy and in global health are underway. We shall soon start the search for a nominee of a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair. We are doing as well as can be expected financially, given the state of the university’s and the province’s finances, though unpleasant surprises can never be ruled out.

School Researchers to Co-lead Major Grants

Congratulations to Tania Bubela and Chris McCabe for their success in receiving a $25 million grant for Biotherapeutics for Cancer Treatment Network (BioCanRx), one of four new networks announced in December by the federal program of Networks of Centres of Excellence. They lead Theme IV – Value Engineered Translation, which aims to provide network investigators with timely and critical feedback to ensure that economically viable and effective therapeutics are developed. Further information is available in this article.

Also announced in December was the Alberta Innovates-Health Solutions Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Health System (PRIHS) grants. Cam Wild is co-principal investigator of the project entitled Enhanced Multidisciplinary Care for Inner City Patients with High Acute Care Use, under the auspices of the Strategic Clinical Network in Mental Health and Addiction.

SOPHAS is Here

This time last year, visitors to our School’s Education Office no doubt came across the mountains of application files that grew and grew until the application deadline had passed. This scene will not be the case again (and certainly not missed) this year, as U of A joined SOPHAS (which at one time stood for Schools of Public Health Application System, but as with most “brands,” the acronym has become the name). 

The application process is completely electronic, and applicants need submit only one set of forms, transcripts and reference letters. One advantage is that applicants will find U of A among the leading U.S. schools such as Harvard, Johns Hopkins and Berkeley, and be motivated to add us among their list of choices. As only schools and programs accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) can use SOPHAS, there is some guarantee of quality, and the price is certainly right! SOPHAS is a free service to members of the Association of Schools and Programs in Public Health. 

We expect an increase in applicants from the U.S. and overseas, but are concerned that it may deter applicants from Canada, as no other Canadian schools are eligible to use SOPHAS. However, even now, Canadian students need to submit separate applications to individual schools and programs. We are monitoring the situation and will assess the impact on our applicant pool. To reduce the financial burden on students who need to pay a fee to SOPHAS as well as the U of A, the School has relinquished its share ($60 of $100) of the U of A application fees. There are growing pains for sure.

Certificate Program Admits First Students

Without fanfare, our Professional Certificate in Public Health program has admitted its first four students, who started their online courses in January. There has been much talk in the public health community over the past decade or so about a Canadian certificate program, targeted at practitioners in the health-care workforce who do not have the basic academic training in the core disciplines of public health. Well, the U of A once again has taken the lead. 

The program fills a gap within public health, while also generating much needed new revenue for the School. The program can be summarized as “5+1”—five core courses in epidemiology, social and behavioural science, environmental health, biostatistics, and health policy and management (which we already offer to our MPH students), and an integrative workshop that focuses on cross-cutting issues. 

Students who complete our Certificate will be eligible to write the Certified in Public Health examination offered by the National Board of Public Health Examiners, a benefit of the U of A being the only CEPH-accredited school of public health in Canada.

More Honours for our Students

The U of A’s most prestigious graduate scholarship was recently awarded to two School of Public Health students, Janis Geary (supervisor Tania Bubela) and Elaine Hyshka (supervisor Cam Wild). They are among 12 doctoral students awarded the Izaak Walton Killam Memorial Scholarship in 2014. In their research, Janis explores fair ways to share genetic resources among diverse communities while Elaine studies illicit drug use policy in Edmonton’s vulnerable populations. You may read more in this related article.

The U of A established the Indira V. Samarasekera Global Student Leadership Fund from a personal donation by our president. Second year MPH (global health) student Lemonia Anagnostopoulos was among four students who received the award. The award enabled her to spend four months during the summer as an intern at the African Medical and Research Foundation in Nairobi, Kenya, conducting research on local attitudes about malaria and working on a project to improve the health of children living in some of Nairobi’s poorest slums. 

I invite you to look at an updated list of awards received by our students.

Recognizing the scarcity of scholarships available to School students, especially non-Canadian students, the School has allocated $200,000 annually to establish several scholarships that will be open to all. The Awards Committee is developing criteria, and we plan to make the awards available in the coming Fall Term.

Another Successful INSIGHTS Concluded

INSIGHTS ‘14 annual conference was held on November 12 and attended by 189 faculty, staff and students. The format differed from last year’s National Forum on Public Health Education and Research. We reverted back to featuring faculty and student projects, but introduced a panel of distinguished alumni—Cheryl Currie (PhD), Mauricette Howlett (MSc) and Nicole Braun (MPH)—who recounted their “journeys in public health” in academe, government and the private sector.

The keynote address was by Janet Davidson, Deputy Minister of Health of Alberta, also an alumna. We also paired practicum students with their supervisors to reflect on mentoring and learning in public health practice: Don Juzwishin (Alberta Health Services) with Madiha Mueen (MPH health policy); Karen Saganiuk (Health Canada) with Ali Assi (MPH global health); Angeline Webb (Canadian Cancer Society) with Kelly West (MPH health policy); and Shamir Mukhi (Public Health Agency of Canada) with Ellie Andres (MPH applied biostatistics).

As in previous years, many high-quality posters were presented, making the task of the judges difficult. Award recipients were: Ali Assi, Qendresa Beka, Hasan Hamze, Kelly West, Jacqueline Torti, and Jesus Serrano-Lomelin.

Our students’ creativity knows no bounds. As part of a class assignment in SPH 597 (Fundamentals of Epidemiology), a student group made a James Bond movie that culminates in a visit to the poster session. Congratulations to budding actors Duncan Maquire, Emmat Treadwell, Leanne Teslak, Inna Morgan and Christin McKernan, and to instructor Megan Lefebrve. Their video assignment is available for viewing on YouTube.

Here are photos of the day’s event in our Flickr album.

Created with flickr slideshow.

New Batch of Alumni Capped at Fall Convocation

Three MPH, 13 MSc and two PhD students received their degrees at Fall Convocation, becoming our latest alumni. We look forward to maintaining contact with them and wish them all the best in the next phase of their lives. The complete list of graduates is available for viewing and here are photos of the event in our album.

Created with flickr slideshow.

Generous Donor Supports Occupational Health and Safety

We gratefully acknowledge the $300,000 donation by the Alberta Construction Safety Association to support the occupational health promotion efforts of Louis Francescutti.


Tania Bubela and Arto Ohinmaa were promoted to full professor, while Stephanie Yanow was promoted to associate professor.

The School of Public Health Students’ Association (SPHSA) elected a new slate of officers:

  • President: Tharsini Sivananthajothy
  • Vice-President: Jacqueline Noga
  • Communications Officer: Anna Brown
  • Internal Relations Representative: Colin Reynolds
  • External Relations Representative: Georgia Venner
  • Financial Officer: Sarah Lane
  • Social Coordinators: Christine McKernan and Elizabeth Flaming

We look forward to working closely with SPHSA in the coming year.

Kue Young, Dean