Dean's Corner

October to December 2016

By now most of our faculty, staff and students have returned from their much-needed break and ­are ready to face the new term. Some of us may likely have overindulged during the holidays—while not necessarily good for health, I am sure it adds to our quality of life adjusted life years.

As 2016 draws to a close, we can heave a collective sigh of relief. Our 10th anniversary year has been a hectic one, with a year round series of celebratory events.

Tenth anniversary finishes on a high note

The final quarter of 2016 saw three important public events.

On October 12, we presented our 10-year report, It Begins Here, to the broader community at a special public reception at the atrium of the Edmonton City Hall. Carl Amrhein, deputy minister of health for Alberta, delivered the keynote address. Among the dignitaries present were two former deans, Roger Palmer and Lory Laing, and three special individuals who we consider as “founders” of the School. Tom Marrie was former dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, Douglas Wilson was also a former dean of medicine who chaired the task force recommending the creation of the School, and Carl Amrhein was the provost who supported and championed the School’s establishment. They were awarded a special memento honouring their contributions. The photos of the celebration are available in our Flickr album.

On October 21, the annual Douglas R. Wilson Lecture featured Lord Nigel Crisp who spoke on One World: Our Health. Lord Crisp was former chief executive of the National Health Service of England and permanent secretary of the UK Department of Health. He is currently an independent member of the House of Lords. Having “fixed” the ailing English National Health Service, his new passion is world health. Over 175 people attended. We acknowledge the financial support of the Institute of Health Economics for this event. Lord Crisp’s video recorded lecture is available online, as are the photos of the event.

Lord Crisp spent the ensuing weekend with our Fellowship in Health System Improvement program.

On November 2-3, we organized the International Forum on Public Health Education, attended by 170 participants from across Canada and seven other countries. Keynote speaker James Chauvin, former president of the World Federation of Public Health Associations, addressed the challenging question: “Who needs schools of public health?” Clearly hoping for an affirmative answer, we were reassured that he concluded we all need schools of public health, not just academic institutions, but health and social agencies, governments and the public at large. Special invited senior academic leaders spoke on public health education in Australia, South Africa, Vietnam and the United States. Plenaries, workshops, oral and poster presentations covered diverse topics on graduate, undergraduate and interprofessional programs, international and community collaborations, and professional development. You can view photos of the International Forum in our Flickr album.

Welcome and adieu

We bid farewell to two of our long-serving professors who retired at the end of 2016. On November 23, a large gathering of faculty, staff, students and alumni at the Faculty Club offered their warm wishes to Duncan Saunders and Linda Carroll, who served the School over 27 and 16 years respectively. Their impact on our education and research will continue to be felt beyond their retirement. Quite a few tears were shed amidst much laughter and good cheer. (See the photos in our Flickr album.)

We welcome Katherine Millen Worré, newly appointed associate director (advancement), a position we share with the University of Alberta’s Learning Services and the Office of Advancement. Katherine has an MA in international relations and diplomacy from Seton Hall University in New Jersey. She has extensive experience in fundraising and corporate relations, including establishing the New York-based capital campaign for the Free University of Berlin. She and her family moved to Edmonton from Paris, France in October.

Kent Rondeau, formerly professor in the School, has transferred to the Faculty of Extension. In January, Jeff Johnson assumes the position of associate dean (education), replacing Linda Carroll. 

The Education Office is now on full strength with the appointment of Magda Grzeszczuk as academic programs coordinator. She joins the team of Shona Williams, graduate student advisor, and Tanya Ogertschnig, graduate programs administrator. Felicity Hey will be devoting full time to the onerous task of coordinating the re-accreditation activities in 2017, culminating in the Council on Education for Public Health’s site visit in October.

We welcome Karen Grimsrud to our External Advisory Council. Dr. Grimsrud is the chief medical officer of health for the Province of Alberta. Formerly with the Public Health Agency of Canada, she brings to our Council her unique perspective as the most senior public health officer in the province. 

Research marches on

I am extremely pleased to report on new grants that our faculty have successfully competed for, despite the increasingly difficult funding environment.

Our environmental health team led by Nick Ashbolt was one of nine teams awarded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) under its Environment and Health Intersectoral Prevention Research initiative. They received $2 million to investigate waste water reuse and its microbial risk assessment, risk communication and community engagement dimensions. Truly multidisciplinary, other team members include Norm Neumann, Cindy Jardine, Patrick Hanington, Jeon Byeonghwa and Jane Springett. Nick Ashbolt further received $1 million from Alberta Innovates to work on decentralized wastewater treatment by resource recovery.

Stephanie Yanow received $268,000 from the India-Canada Centre for Innovative Multidisciplinary partnerships to Accelerate Community Transformation and Sustainability—or IC-IMPACTS. She will use the funds to develop her “lab on a chip” in India. IC-IMPACTS is one of the Networks of Centres of Excellence and is devoted to Canada-India collaborations in developing community-based solutions to health and sustainability. 

Of particular note is that two of our junior faculty have been successful in receiving funding from the CIHR in this very competitive funding environment. Elaine Hyshka received a catalyst grant to study the ethics of inpatient syringe exchanges in hospitals. Stephanie Montesanti was successful in the joint CIHR-Alberta Health-Alberta Innovates competition on the health effects of the Fort McMurray wildfires. Her research focuses on the fires’ impact on First Nations in the region.

Elaine Hyshka also received an Early Career Transition Award ($109,983) from PolicyWise for Children & Families, as well as a MSI Foundation  grant ($98,000) to study harm reduction services in health care.

Honours and recognition

Still on Elaine, she received the President’s Excellence Award for Outstanding Achievements in Innovation from Alberta Health Services, and she was named one of Edmonton’s Top 40 Under 40 by Avenue Magazine.

Our student Cerina Lee continues to make waves internationally following her World Bank-IMF debut in Washington, D.C. in October. (Read more.) She was also the Canadian delegate to the World Federation of United Nations Associations Youth Seminar in Malaysia in December.

Benu Bawa, executive assistant to the dean and vice-dean, received the first annual Staff Recognition Award at our holiday party in December. Benu is legendary among the School community for her efficiency, dedication and personal attention. While working with the School, she has taken under her wings many of our visitors to ensure their stay was smooth and comfortable.

We’re pleased that MPH student Daniel McKennitt received a scholarship from the Edmonton Community Foundation.

Former SPHSA president Jacqueline Noga received a Margaret Brine Graduate Scholarship for Women offered by the Canadian Federation of University Women Edmonton chapter.

A full list of recipients of various scholarships and student awards is available for viewing.

Reaching out to local community

In October, Vice-Dean Davis and I attended the annual awards gala organized by the Al Rashid Education Foundation (AREF), where we formally announced a scholarship to support local Muslim students to pursue higher education in public health. We were particularly impressed by the number and calibre of students—especially women—who received financial support from the foundation to pursue advanced education in many different fields. Faith Davis and AREF president Sameeh Salama worked very hard to make our partnership a reality.

To Iraq and back

In December, I joined a University of Alberta International (UAI) delegation to the autonomous region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq. Together with Associate Vice-President Britta Baron, UAI executive manager Jo Mark and Dean Stan Blade (Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences) we spent a week in Erbil and Slemani visiting and meeting with regional government ministers in Foreign Relations, Health, Agriculture, and Advanced Education, several universities, and non-governmental organizations involved with women’s rights and community development. The visit was in support of a proposal to develop a Canadian University of Kurdistan. While less than 100 km from the raging battle to regain Mosul from ISIS, there was no trace of the war in the places we visited. Our role will likely be to help in designing undergraduate programs in health studies and faculty development, but also more broadly in regional development activities as the opportunity arises. It is still early days, and I shall keep our community informed of further developments. 

We look forward to 2017 being another banner year in new educational initiatives, research advances, partnerships and community outreach.