ASC One of Handful of Liberal Arts Colleges to Offer Undergrad Public Health Major

Friday, October 21, 2011

Agnes Scott College is now offering a new major in public health, one of only a handful of undergraduate public health programs available at a liberal arts college.

“Agnes Scott’s strategic plan charts an ambitious agenda ‘to promote global awareness, forge new connections with people, institutions and ideas and strengthen our identity as a national liberal arts college for women known for graduates who are capable and committed global citizens,’” said Carolyn Stefanco, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college. “It is for this reason that programs like our new major in public health are so significant, because they allow our faculty and students to address urgent global challenges.”

While the majority of undergraduate public health programs are offered at colleges and universities with a Master of Public Health (M.P.H.), Agnes Scott created its public health major to capitalize on both the college’s liberal arts curriculum and its Atlanta location and public health partnerships with organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health.

“Agnes Scott is the perfect place to do a public health major,” said Martha Rees, co-founding director of the public health program and professor emerita of anthropology. “Public health really fits with what Agnes Scott does best, it’s an interdisciplinary degree and that reflects the nature of public health.”

Agnes Scott created a minor in public health two years ago but has expanded the program, now directed by Srebrenka Robic, assistant professor of biology, into a major due to student demand. The college’s public health courses are among the most popular at the college and consistently have waitlists.

“We’re scrambling to offer more public health courses. Student demand is tremendous,” said Harry Wistrand, co-founding director of the public health program and professor emeritus of biology. “And many of our pre-med students are now considering adding an M.P.H. to their medical degrees as well.”

Public health majors typically have little trouble moving on to a graduate program or finding jobs in the public health field, which is healthy and growing despite the economy.

Seniors majoring in public health may take courses at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. Course credits can go toward students’ Agnes Scott degree or a master’s at Emory.

Agnes Scott also has a close relationship with the CDC, placing undergraduate interns each year to work with the organization. The college’s CDC internship program is endowed by an Agnes Scott alumna well respected in the public health field, Pamela Bevier.

"As the program moves ahead, we plan to add additional tracks beyond natural and social sciences to match the interests of an even larger group of students," said Robic. "We also plan to expand the number and variety of local and global experiential learning opportunities available to our students."

Originally a biology major, Kaitlyn McCune ’12 will be the first Agnes Scott student to graduate with a public health major.

McCune, who interned in a CDC lab this summer, said a discussion about flu vaccines in her genetics class at Agnes Scott kindled her interest in public health. She plans to attend medical school and earn an M.P.H.

“My father is a surgeon and he had taught me that many of his colleagues don't understand the issues, they treat patients on the symptoms they see rather than the underlying issues,” McCune said. “That’s what I love about public health — instead of treating symptoms and diseases that people already have, you’re working to prevent those diseases. Going to a liberal arts college helps bring a lot of cultural understanding and a more holistic view of health problems and the people who have those problems. I think it will help me see patients for who they are rather than the symptoms they present.”

Agnes Scott College educates women to think deeply, live honorably and engage the intellectual and social challenges of their times. Students are drawn to Agnes Scott by its excellent academic reputation, exceptional faculty and metropolitan Atlanta location—offering myriad social, cultural and experiential learning opportunities. This highly selective liberal arts college is known for its diverse and dynamic intellectual community. Through SUMMIT, it provides every student, regardless of major, with an individualized course of study and co-curricular experiences that develop leadership abilities and understanding of complex global dynamics.