School of Rural Public Health
The School of Rural Public Health (SRPH) is one of three schools of public health in Texas and is the only School of Rural Public Health in the nation explicitly focusing on meeting the needs of rural and underserved communities and populations, through education, research, service, outreach, and creative partnerships. Students enrolled at SRPH pursue degrees in the five basic disciplines of public health: biostatistics, environmental and occupational health, epidemiology, health policy and management, and social and behavioral health. SRPH also offers a Certificate in Rural Public Health designed to provide additional training for individuals in the public health workforce unable to pursue a complete graduate degree. The School demonstrates daily its commitment to creating a healthier future through its statewide innovative education programs, breadth and depth of outreach activities, and ever-growing portfolio of translational and participatory research endeavors.
Ciro V. Sumaya, M.D., M.P.H.T.M.
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Activities and Partnerships
During the fall of 2003 and throughout 2004 SRPH was actively involved in building pathways destined to create a healthier future. A few of these new pathways are summarized here.
The Center for Community Health Development assists faculty members, students and the public health workforce in conducting community-based prevention research.
Kick-starting the Center for Community Health Development
A $3.5 million grant—from the Prevention Research Center program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—will substantially expand prevention-related research and demonstration projects at the SRPH. Funded in part by this grant, the new Center for Community Health Development, directed by Drs. Ken McLeroy and Jim Burdine, is designed to increase the capacity of faculty members, students and the public health workforce to conduct community-based participatory prevention research. Their findings will translate into strategies for improving and protecting the health of the public. One core project within the Center, led by Dr. Marcia Ory, will examine community- based chronic disease management. This Center’s activities will create a healthier future by establishing partnerships with local communities.
Investigating Birth Defects
Faculty members in the SRPH’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, in collaboration with their colleagues at the Institute of Biosciences and Technology (IBT), are investigating novel approaches in human health risk assessment. A project led by Drs. K. C. Donnelly of SRPH and Rick Finnell of the IBT is evaluating how genetics, environmental exposure and nutrition influence birth defects in rural China and in the country of Azerbaijan. The research should result in more accurate measurements of exposure and the discovery of mechanisms for identifying individuals within a population especially sensitive to exposure.
Integrating Undergraduate and Graduate Education
In 2003, the SRPH created a partnership with Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine Biomedical Science program to integrate a traditional four-year undergraduate Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in biomedical science and a twoyear Master of Public Health (M.P.H.) graduate degree into a five-year (4+1) program. In 2004, the School established a similar partnership with Texas A&M’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Bio-environmental Sciences program. These partnerships allow qualified, motivated students to complete an M.P.H. degree in one additional year beyond their undergraduate degree.
Through two-way videoconferencing and Web technology, SRPH makes available graduate degrees in public health in areas of the state in which such opportunities did not exist previously.
Providing Education Opportunities Across the State
Since its inception in 1998, SRPH has been committed to educating individuals in the public health workforce throughout Texas. Early distance- education programs were established in Corpus Christi, McAllen, Temple, and Tyler. In the fall of 2003 a new distance-education program was launched at Texas A&M International University in Laredo. Fall 2004 saw the initiation of a new distance-education location in Austin in collaboration with the Texas Department of Health. As of fall 2004, more than 60 students are pursuing graduate degrees through the School’s distance-education program across Texas. This novel SRPH program has created much-needed pathways to a healthier future.
Breaking New Ground
Perhaps the most visible new pathway for the SRPH is the one leading to its new home. In the summer of 2004 ground was broken for a threebuilding complex adjacent to the College of Medicine (COM) in College Station. The new facility, slated for completion in December 2005, will house SRPH’s dep artments, administrative offices, emerging programs and centers within SRPH, and classrooms, as well as a research facility that will be shared with the COM.
Despite its relative infancy, the School is securing its unique pathway to shape the future of the Health Science Center within the state and across the country in its efforts to improve the health of rural and underserved communities and populations.