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New Austin Regional Campus Helps Texas Address Public Health Problems
Fifth regional campus strengthens UT School of Public Health's mission to protect and improve well-being of Texans
The only state-wide public health campus system in the United States is expanding. The University of Texas School of Public Health has established its fifth regional campus.
Strengthening the UT School of Public Health’s mission to protect and improve the well-being of Texans, Austin has joined the regional campus net-work of San Antonio, El Paso, Dallas and Brownsville. The educational, research and community intervention programs of the School of Public Health are coordinated through the main campus in Houston.
“Expected to be one of the most rapidly growing centers in the state, Austin has a three-fold focus: child and adolescent health research, prevention of chronic disease risk factors such as obesity, and health policy,” said Guy S. Parcel, Ph.D., professor and dean of the UT School of Public Health. He holds the M. David Low Chair in Public Health and the John P. McGovern Professorship in Health Promotion.
“I set the focus of the campus research program on child and adolescent health and obesity because our epidemiology data demonstrated that obesity is the next public health problem that Texas must be prepared to address,” said Parcel, whose research is developing and evaluating effective school-based health promotion programs.
The results of a study conducted by the UT School of Public Health were published in the June 2006 issue of the American Journal of Public Health: the rates of obesity in Texas children are among the highest in the country and are increasing rapidly.
“Because obesity prevention research also is a focus of hers, Cheryl L. Perry, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota, was recruited to help establish the research program,” Parcel said. “She is regarded as one of the leading researchers in the country in childhood and adolescent health promotion. Her expertise also is helping to build the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Advancement of Healthy Living.”
The 2006 grant from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation made possible campus expansion in hiring staff, as well as creating and expanding existing programs. The dietetic internship program and CATCH (Coordinated Approach To Child Health) are part of the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Advancement of Healthy Living.
“All public schools in Travis County are now part of the CATCH program,” said Perry, professor and regional dean of the Austin Regional Campus. “The research in the Dell Center is very action-oriented. We will be working with the community to create health promotion programs and evaluate those that actually result in changing health behaviors.”
An additional component of the UT School of Public Health that is a part of the Austin Regional Campus is the Institute for Health Policy, directed by former Texas Health Commissioner, Eduardo Sanchez, M.D. The institute, like the Michael & Susan Dell Center has offices at the SPH Houston main campus, as well as at the Austin Campus. Austin’s role as the state capital makes health policy a particularly relevant focus for the campus there.
“To have the opportunity to develop and build a UT School of Public Health component at UT Austin within a larger campus was an opportunity I could not resist,” said Perry, who arrived in Austin in September 2006. “We are creating a jewel of a campus, which will be a destination for faculty and students who are interested in child and adolescent obesity research, as well as health promotion and child health policy.”
Parcel said, “Because the Texas Department of State Health Services is located in Austin, a regional cam-pus makes basic and advanced training in public health available to the state health department workers and facilitates research and development to advance and evaluate public health programs and services.”
Collaboration with UT Austin
Another attraction to the location was UT Austin’s excellent academic programs and outstanding faculty in the social, political and behavioral sciences, expertise not typically available at a health science center campus, Parcel said. Being a part of the UT Austin campus will help deepen and broaden the research and teaching programs in public health. The regional campus will make the Master of Public Health degree available in central Texas and eventually the doctorate, as well as encourage dual-degree programs with UT Austin.
“Many of the professional schools at UT Austin have health-related teaching or research interests that overlap with public health,” Parcel pointed out. “This regional campus makes possible the exchange of knowledge that UT Austin needs from us at the UT Health Science Center at Houston, such as epidemiology; biostatistics; environmental health; health pro-motion; and management, policy and community health. Also, we need what the professional schools of pharmacy, law, education, public affairs and communication have to offer.
“Some of our first collaborations were with the UT Austin School of Social Work and the School of Nursing because they were the most eager to work with us,” he recalls. “These projects proved that this approach works and reflects our common interests and the eagerness of both sides to work together.” The Austin School of Nursing building will be home to the Austin Regional Campus when a build-out is completed in 2009.
Looking to the Future
With the demographics in Texas increasing the demands on public health, Parcel is looking to the future.
“Some 50,000 students are on the UT Austin cam-pus, and most of them are undergraduates looking for higher education. That gives us at the UT School of Public Health an edge on recruitment and the opportunity to educate and prepare the public health professionals of tomorrow to meet public health challenges in Texas.”
As with the other regional campuses, Austin is an integral part of the School of Public Health’s state-wide program for collaboration among the UT components and – through distance education – all the courses and faculty in Houston are available. The Austin campus has a core of full-time faculty and staff with cross and shared faculty appointments with UT Austin and the UT Medical Branch at Galveston.
Because UT Austin is so large and complex, building this program was challenging. From inception to final approval took several years.
Interest and support for the idea was facilitated by James C. Guckian, M.D., acting executive vice chancellor for health affairs, The University of Texas System, who pulled together a consortium called the Central Texas Institute for Research and Education in Medicine and Biotechnology. Members were the Austin Chamber of Commerce, the UT School of Public Health, UT Austin, UT Medical Branch, Seton Healthcare Network, St. David’s Healthcare Partnership and the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System. The goal was to demonstrate to UT System and the Board of Regents that this consortium would establish programs and create partnerships among UT institutions, strengthening research and teaching.
Further development of the proposal for the UT School of Public Health regional campus in Austin was facilitated by Kenneth I. Shine, M.D., the cur-rent executive vice chancellor for health affairs, The University of Texas System.
By Nora K. Shire for Institutional Advancement