In 1992, only 45 institutions in the U.S. offered undergraduate-level public health degrees; in 2016, more than 250 institutions awarded BSPH, BS, BA or other undergraduate degrees in public health. The University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health has a long and illustrious history of introducing college students to the public health field, having offered undergraduate courses since the 1940s. In the decade between 2007 and 2017, the number of BSPH degrees conferred by the School has increased by 75 percent.
The Gillings School supports four Bachelor of Science in Public Health programs – in biostatistics, environmental health science, health policy and management and nutrition. A survey of recent BSPH graduates one year after graduation revealed that 57 percent of graduates were employed (at consulting firms, hospitals and other health care provider organizations, as well as at colleges and universities) and 36 percent were pursuing higher education (either a graduate or professional degree).
Ms. Melanie Studer is an academic affairs teaching fellow, leading a workgroup of faculty, staff and students in the development of a new core public health curriculum for the BSPH program. Ms. Studer noted that the Gillings School’s approach to undergraduate education is somewhat unique. Admission to the four undergraduate majors is selective, with students generally applying during the spring of their sophomore year for admission at the beginning of their junior year.
“The students who matriculate into the majors are amazing, demonstrating strong academic ability, a passion for public health, and relevant professional, service and/or research experience,” said Ms. Studer, who previously has served as director of undergraduate education for health policy and management. “In addition, the four undergraduate majors offered by the Gillings School are specialized, offering rigorous discipline-specific training incorporating high-impact learning experiences such as research opportunities, internships, and capstone projects.”
The BSPH in biostatistics program continues to train a stellar group of undergraduates. The 2018 graduating class of 17 students boasts an average GPA of 3.7/4.0 and an extraordinary work ethic.
“It is a privilege to work with such talented undergrads,” said Dr. Jane Monaco, director of undergraduate studies in biostatistics. “They are bright and hard-working, a joy to have in the classroom. Their talent is quite remarkable – we’ve consistently had students accepted for graduate and professional degrees at the most well-respected programs in biostatistics, epidemiology, medicine and related fields.”
The most common double major among this year’s graduates was computer science; other double majors included math, quantitative biology, Asian studies, women’s studies and other challenging disciplines. Eight of the 17 students either majored or minored in mathematics. More than two-thirds graduated with distinction or highest distinction, in recognition of their outstanding GPAs.
While most biostatistics undergraduates continue their education, those seeking employment this spring had job offers from a wide range of employers, including contract research organizations, nonprofits and health care employers. For example, this year’s graduating BSPH students took jobs at IQVIA, RTI International, Epic Systems (health care records) and Sageworks.
About 25 percent of the students are either entering medical school immediately or plan to apply within one year of graduation. Two biostatistics undergraduates are continuing into the Master of Science in biostatistics program at the Gillings School, including Mr. Griffin Bell, the first student accepted into our dual BSPH/MS degree program. Mr. Bell completed a senior honors thesis under the direction of Dr. Matthew Loop and traveled to Malawi to explore the association between the effectiveness of a malaria vaccine and spatial location.
Ms. Kristen McGreevy, May 2018 BSPH alumna, is a double major in biostatistics and biology and will enter the Master of Science (MS) in biostatistics program at UCLA.
“I learned a great deal about biostatistics at the Gillings School,” Ms. McGreevey said. “I have been able to help my biology peers and supervisors (principal investigators, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students). I’ve even made comments on an article out for review on adjusting their p-value for multiple testing and using Tukey for post-hoc analyses!”
The Gillings School’s BSPH in nutrition introduces undergraduate students to the science of nutrition in health and disease, and to social and behavioral aspects of eating in the context of public and individual health. The curriculum offers a wide range of courses covering the biochemical, epidemiological and behavioral aspects of human nutrition and the related diseases. A nutrition BSPH program prepares students for graduate study in public health and biomedical sciences, including nutrition, medicine, pharmacy or dentistry, or for entry-level positions in public health or dietetics. It also requires all students to participate in nutrition research, with possibility to develop and defend an honors thesis.
Why is the nutrition BSPH important? Nutrition plays a major role in human health. Proper nutrition is essential for prevention and treatment of most common human diseases, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. With growing numbers of people suffering from these diseases, nutrition has become a core discipline in medical and public health education and practice. Nutrition education also is needed to effectively fight malnutrition, which remains one of the leading causes of death in developing countries, especially among children.
There are 61 students currently in the program (21 males, 40 females, 13 percent minorities).
Students are engaged in research and scholarly development throughout the program. An accelerated MS in nutrition program is available to BSPH students who wish to continue this research while earning a graduate degree.
“The BSPH nutrition program gave me the opportunity to learn about human health and medical science in the contexts of metabolism and public health,” said Mr. Cyrus Adams-Mardi, a 2018 graduate of the nutrition BSPH Program. “Studying alongside graduate, doctoral, medical and professional students pushed me to raise the bar of what I thought I could accomplish as an undergraduate. The world-class professors and my research adviser, Dr. Melinda Beck, have helped prepare me to use biochemistry to answer questions in medical science and global public health.”
Now, Mr. Adams-Mardi is taking an extra year to cultivate his research capabilities even further as a graduate student.
“My studies in nutritional immunology are at the forefront of obesity research by approaching this public health epidemic using cutting-edge biochemistry techniques to discover molecular mechanisms. The BSPH nutrition program has prepared me for my MS in nutrition, and a career centered on humanism, health and research.”
Environmental health science
Finally, here’s a shout-out to our environmental health science graduates – look out, world!
Mr. Andrew Koltun earned his Bachelor of Science in Public Health in 2017, will graduate with a Master of Science in August, and is headed to Georgetown University as a medical student. Ms. Jeliyah Clark, a May 2018 graduate, is continuing into the UNC doctoral program as a Royster fellow, currently working on research with Dr. Rebecca Fry, Carol Remmer Angle Distinguished Professor of environmental sciences and engineering and director of the UNC Institute for Environmental Health Solutions. Ms. Sarah Zelasky and Ms. Hannah Smith will pursue graduate work this fall at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.