October 8, 2018

A newly designed online degree offers quality education in a flexible format.

As one of the pioneers in high-quality online education, the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health has delivered courses to a wide range of students.

Dr. Todd Nicolet works on his laptop.

Dr. Todd Nicolet

With the fall 2018 launch of MPH@UNC – the Gillings School’s new online Master of Public Health (MPH) program, a partnership with 2U – the School is strengthening and expanding its online offerings and sharing them with an even broader and more diverse audience.

“We want to reach people who would make excellent students and alumni but can’t participate in our traditional programs because of work or life commitments,” says Todd Nicolet, PhD, vice dean at the Gillings School. “We’re working on reaching those students by having more flexible course offerings, delivered in the most effective, highest-quality way possible.”

MPH@UNC is supported by 2U, the industry leader in working with higher education institutions to promote and design online programs.

The first cohort of about 70 MPH@UNC students will work toward an MPH degree that is newly designed for both the residential and online programs.

“We are opening up public health to people from a number of different backgrounds who may not have considered that the field was a fit for them,” says Anna Schenck, PhD, Professor of the Practice and director of the School’s Public Health Leadership Program.

A quote from Dr. Todd Nicolet“The problems that public health must solve – concerns such as opioid misuse, obesity and health inequities – are complex issues,” Schenck says. “They require cross-sector collaborations, with voices from many fields, including transportation, housing, health care, education and many others, working together.”

Schenck says the new online program provides an excellent public health education to people who traditionally might not receive public health training.

“We can bring people into the field of public health without their having to leave their jobs in education or city and regional planning,” she says. “We want people embedded in those areas to have public health leadership skills.”

In fact, Leadership in Practice, based in the Public Health Leadership Program, is one of the initial concentrations offered by MPH@UNC.

“One of the first things we tell our students is that public health is a team sport; it is not something you can do by yourself,” Schenck says. “That means having the skill to bring others together, forge a common vision, prioritize the options and make a plan to move forward. Our students, who will have the leadership skills to bring people together and plan strategically, also will be steeped in assessment, policy development and evaluation, the main tools used by public health professionals to achieve change.”

Nutrition is another of the first concentrations offered to MPH@UNC students.

A students types at a standing work station.“Nutrition is absolutely critical to health, disease prevention and the treatment of many of the chronic diseases that affect people here in North Carolina and around the world,” says Elizabeth Mayer- Davis, PhD, RD, Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor of nutrition and medicine and chair of the Gillings School’s nutrition department.

Mayer-Davis says many dietitians are employed in health departments, hospitals and other locations in which having an MPH degree will increase greatly their capacity to improve health outcomes.

“To be able to provide an excellent education in nutrition so that our students can serve populations at high risk for nutrition-sensitive conditions is really a tremendous advance for our school,” she says.

A new requirement by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which accredits registered dietitians (RDs), calls for RDs to have a graduate degree. The new online UNC program will allow people to earn the master’s degree in a way that fits with their family and work lives.

“We’re excited about the MPH@ UNC,” Mayer-Davis says, “and we feel strongly that the online degree must be excellent and of the same quality that we provide to our residential students.”

A quote from Dr. Anna SchenckNicolet believes the MPH program is one of the best at training public health practitioners.

“We hope,” he says, “that by being able to reach more people with a Gillings MPH education, we can expand the number of excellent public health practitioners and really make a difference in public health.”

—Michelle Lynn

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Carolina Public Health is a publication of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health. To view previous issues, please visit sph.unc.edu/cph.