$1.9 million Kellogg grant will fund curriculum changes in public health

A four-year, $1.9 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation has been awarded to the School of Public Health to integrate community-based public health approaches into course work, student internships and research.

The Kellogg grant supports the Detroit-Genesee Community-based Public Health Consortium, which includes the School of Public Health, the School of Social Work, the Detroit and Flint departments of health, Agape House of the Hartford Memorial Baptist Church in Detroit, and other community-based organizations in both cities. The U-M-Flint, the University of Detroit/Mercy and Wayne State University also will participate.

“Working with the consortium will give our students experience in community-based problem solving that will be invaluable when they graduate. It also will give faculty a chance to include community members and practitioners in the classroom,” says Toby Citrin, director of community and government relations for the School of Public Health.

“This is a significant change in the way public health is taught. The grant is a very exciting development for the School,” he adds.

The consortium is one of only seven in the nation funded by the Kellogg Foundation. “More than 100 consortia applied, so we are tremendously pleased to have been selected,” Citrin says.

“Faculty from all eight departments have identified courses for revision or development to incorporate the community-based approach to public health education,” explains Barbara A. Israel, associate professor of health behavior and health education.

For example, some courses will involve multidisciplinary student teams in field work with local health departments and community-based organizations in Detroit and Flint.

“Over half the faculty in the School have indicated their desire to be involved in the changes,” Citrin says.

Faculty also will have the opportunity to jointly develop community-based research projects.

“The complexity of health problems and the interrelatedness of solutions create the need for our organizations to collaborate to increase our understanding of health issues and engage in strategies aimed at meeting community needs,” Israel says.

“We want to unite the University, the health departments and community organizations in a coordinated attack on health problems in both cities,” Citrin says, “and we also want to encourage and to open doors for Detroit and Flint area high school students, the unemployed and others needing additional education, who want to secure careers in public health. Health care is one of the few certain growth industries of the future,” he adds.

Barry N. Checkoway, professor of social work, says that the consortium’s Detroit plan includes:

—An epidemiological survey of Northwest Detroit.

—A training program for 15 “village health workers” from block clubs and community groups.

—The Neighborhood Academy, operated by the School of Social Work and Agape House, which will offer courses on organizing for social action.

—Health career clubs in local junior and senior high schools.

—A one-year health career certification program to train community health leaders.

—A course to prepare nurse practitioners to work with community groups.

—A year-long seminar for University of Detroit/Mercy undergraduates interested in health careers.

The Flint plan, which ultimately will expand to all of Genesee County, will gradually refocus health department programs and personnel on communities and neighborhoods.

“Health in communities like Flint will improve as community residents are empowered to participate in the decisions of institutions meant to serve them,” says Robert M. Pestronk, director of the Genesee County Health Department and a School of Public Health alumnus.

The Flint program also will generate health career opportunities through the development of high school health career clubs, training programs and a health careers data base that will be created by and maintained at U-M-Flint.

“A public health ‘think-tank’ and a course on community epidemiology for grassroots leaders are other important aspects of the program,” Pestronk adds.

June E. Osborn, dean of the School of Public Health, states, “This Kellogg-sponsored initiative gives us a welcome assist in forming closer ties with community organizations and health departments. The direction is not only appropriate but is absolutely essential if we are to maintain our leadership role in public health education in the years ahead.”


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