In fall 2018, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Master of Public Health (MPH) in Chronic Disease Prevention and Control Program formally started admitting students.
Just three years later, the program has received national accreditation.
The Council on Education for Public Health, an independent agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit schools of public health, has given its seal of approval to the UTC program.
Accreditation is essential to public health programs because it ensures that they meet quality criteria and standards. Some organizations, including the U.S. Public Health Service, require graduates of Council on Education for Public Health-accredited colleges or programs to be hired for Master of Public Health-level positions.
UTC Vice Provost for Academic Outreach Shewanee Howard-Baptiste, who spent the 2020-2021 academic year as the Master of Public Health interim director, said she was “over the moon” when she learned the program gained five-year accreditation.
“We recently received a beautiful email that said, ‘Congratulations, your program is nationally accredited,’” Howard-Baptiste said. “It is so important for our graduates to be able to say that they graduated from a nationally accredited program.
“Council on Education for Public Health accreditation means we have a set of standards that ensure our students are prepared public health professionals.”
Graduates from the master’s in public health program, offered through the College of Health, Education and Professional Studies, can be found in fields such as healthcare policy development, hospital administration, health communication or education and risk management.
The program has garnered a lot of recent attention due to the work performed by COVID-19 contact tracers during the pandemic. Rosa Cantu, a member of the first Master of Public Health class in 2020, is the now the contact tracing coordinator for UTC. Layra Navarro-Flores, Brandon Denney and Mary Ferris are recent program alumni who serve as University contact tracers.
“It’s very surreal to say that I was a student and an alum and now a staff member, being there from the very beginning and seeing it all come to fruition,” said Emma Sampson, now the Master of Public Health program manager.
“I never thought in my wildest dreams that, in my last semester while in a public health program, that a public health pandemic was going to happen. I immediately had to put into gear everything that I learned in this program, and I felt very prepared to do so.”
Howard-Baptiste said the road to accreditation began under former program director Mark Stoutenberg. There are standards that must be infused throughout the curriculum to proceed through the national accreditation process.
“There is recruitment. There are retention plans of faculty and students. There is how you address priority populations, which we identified as students who come from historically marginalized backgrounds or working population people who have been out of school for a couple of years,” she said.
“We are most grateful for that first class of students who took a chance on us when we were not accredited,” Howard-Baptiste said. “Those students saw the vision of the leadership and the commitment from the faculty, the department and the University for creating opportunities to support and train our students to work in public health settings.”