Always learning from students and alumni

Public health student groups, service organizations and learning opportunities are the focus of the fall 2015 Gillings School activities fair.

At the car wash and other places

Chapel Hill is a small town. It’s small but not too small, intimate but not cloying. Some of the most enjoyable and illuminating conversations I have with faculty, staff, students and alumni are at surprising places. Saturday, I was at the vacuum station at the car wash. (I vacuum my own car, and I love doing it.) A young woman at the next bay asked if I was Dean Rimer, a fact I could not deny. She was really excited about having come from the 2015 Water and Health Conference, organized by The Water Institute at UNC, which, by the way, had its biggest year yet, with over 700 attendees. The Gillings School’s Jamie Bartram, PhD, Don and Jennifer Holzworth Distinguished Professor of environmental sciences and engineering, is totally amazing as director of the Water Institute.

This young woman had received a Bachelor of Science in Public Health degree from our Biostatistics Department, and was so enthusiastic about the program, what she’d learned and how it had prepared her for her current position at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). I get totally high on words like that. It makes long days and dealing with bureaucracy worth the trouble and hassle.

We talked about how flexible biostatistics training is, and that it prepares a person for so many different functions and possible careers. And, I said to her, there always will be jobs for people with biostatistics training. I say this as a person, who, in my younger days, was totally afraid of numbers. Now, I cannot live without data.

Last night, another of our recent alumni stopped by to say hi, and we talked about medical school; she’s in her first year. The UNC School of Medicine did a total revamp of their curriculum, and she and her colleagues are in the second cohort for the new curriculum. We talked about what is important, and what students really value about their program—the collaborative environment, willingness of more senior faculty to meet with students and learning how to synthesize vast quantities of information into sense. Like many of her classmates, she realizes that today’s information may well be of only historical interest in a year or two, but knowing how to find information, use, apply and synthesize it, that’s really important mastery.

As we change the core courses for our Master of Public Health (MPH) degree, we’re experiencing this content paradox firsthand. Getting past the anxiety, concern and dogma about content, and recognizing that we cannot continue to stuff more content into the same size buckets may free us up to even better serve today’s and tomorrow’s learners. I’m betting on that. We have some of the best students anywhere in the world, and they go on to do great things.

Happy Monday. Barbara

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