SPH at 45.
SPH at 45
From part-time program to top-ten school of public health. And still evolving.
In September 1976, 54 degree students and 20 non-degree students became the inaugural class of a part-time Master of Public Health program at the School of Medicine (MED) on the Boston University Medical Campus.
Designed by Douglas Decker and led by the first of only three deans in SPH history, Norman Scotch, the program offered concentrations in health delivery systems and health research and evaluation, all housed within MED’s Department of Socio-Medical Sciences and Community Medicine.
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SPH This Year 2021
In the decades following that fall semester 45 years ago, the MPH program grew exponentially in scope and influence, transforming into the top-ranked, independent institution at BU that is today’s School of Public Health. SPH’s 45th anniversary arrives at the most critical time in public health in a century. The school’s position as an academic institution exceeding the challenges of the moment is perhaps best understood by its history and evolution, shaped by an unwavering mission to improve the health and well-being of all populations—particularly those who are underserved and vulnerable—through research, education, and service.
SPH’s 45th anniversary this year arrives at the most critical time in public health in a century. The school’s position as an academic institution meeting the challenges of the moment is perhaps best understood by its history and evolution, shaped by a mission to improve the health and well-being of all populations.
The MPH program was initially geared towards mid-career, public health professionals seeking formalized training. But the popularity of the program grew quickly: in June 1979, the University Trustees established SPH as its own entity, and in 1981, the MPH program expanded to full-time.
“From the outset, one thing that really stood out about SPH was that there was a real interest in teaching,” says Leonard Glantz, emeritus professor of health law, bioethics & human rights. Glantz joined the faculty while the school was still a program, and served as associate dean for academic affairs for 30 years before retiring in 2015. “Some academic institutions focus more on research as they grow, so to have an educational institution that was focused on teaching was a gigantic strength, and the program was beloved by students from the start.”
“The school has had a remarkable history, becoming a leading school of public health in the world through embracing its mission to advance innovative scholarship, education, and practice. This is a testament to the extraordinary work of the school’s faculty, staff, and students from the very day it opened.”
SPH saw a significant rise in size and stature during the 22-year tenure of its second dean, Robert Meenan, from 1992 to 2014. Meenan oversaw advancements in education, research, and practice, which propelled the school from 15th to 11th place in the US News & World Report rankings, even as dozens of public health schools were being established. During his tenure, the then-Department of International Health was created and chaired by the late William Bicknell, the MPH program continued to expand, and the Office of Public Health Practice formed and became a model program for student activism and advocacy.
But Meenan says his most significant accomplishment was solidifying SPH’s physical and influential presence on campus.
“When I began, the School of Public Health was scattered across campus in five or six buildings,” says Meenan. “A lot of my efforts were aimed at turning SPH into an independent school at the university and establishing the school’s home in the iconic Talbot building. Without that status, we never would have been able to make some of the advances that we did.”
Susan Foster, former chair and professor of international health arrived to SPH in 1998, and recalls the transformation of global health research and scholarship at SPH, which evolvedfrom a summer certificate program to one of the most active departments at SPH.
“For a while, we were the most diverse department at SPH, drawing students from all over the world, particularly in government and non-governmental organizations, and they always brought interesting perspectives to the program,” Foster says.
As interest in public health increased, SPH began to attract younger students, says Lisa Sullivan (GRS’86,’92), associate dean for education and professor of biostatistics, who joined the biostatistics faculty led by prominent scholar Theodore Colton in 1988. Sullivan played an integral role in implementing a revamped, interdisciplinary MPH program in 2016, as well as BU’s Learn from Anywhere hybrid teaching model during the pandemic, and now SPH welcomes more than 500 students each year.
“This year has shown how dedicated and supportive our faculty are, and I hope that we continue to build on our successes and adapt to what is needed in the world,” says Sullivan. “Students are appropriately demanding that we deal with important, difficult topics, and we are committed to doing that in a positive way.”
Many of those topics revolve around diversity, equity, and inclusion. Yvette Cozier (SPH’94, ’04), associate dean for diversity, equity, inclusion & justice (DEIJ) and associate professor of epidemiology, has led the school’s strategic DEIJ plan to create inclusive spaces and opportunities inside and outside the classroom through open discussions about racism, discrimination, and unconscious biases. “Our goal is to ensure that these issues are addressed throughout the curriculum, particularly in the core MPH courses,” says Cozier.
The SPH Activist Lab has also equipped the school with tools to advance equity and disrupt injustices.
“The historic challenges of the pandemic, racial reckoning, and economic and health disparities charged our community to heed the call for racial equity and social justice—foundations of our public health practice,” says Craig Andrade (SPH’06, ’11), associate dean for public health practice. “We’re helping students build a just community, be change agents, and take a stand.”
SPH’s commitment to these issues of equity and justice are central to the school’s core purpose, “Think. Teach. Do. For the health of all.,” a pillar of Galea’s leadership since he took the helm in January 2015.
During Galea’s tenure, SPH has risen in rank to 8th place. From mental health and health inequities, to gun violence racial injustice, climate change, LGBTQ health, and now COVID-19—the school is advancing the science and developing evidence-based solutions to crucial issues.
Michael McClean, associate dean for research and faculty advancement, has led the effort to recruit and support faculty, and grow the school’s portfolio of research and scholarship. “Thanks to the efforts of our outstanding faculty, staff, and students, our current research portfolio of $68.7 million is at its highest level in the school’s history,” McClean says.
SPH has also shaped the conversation around health through outward-facing publications and programming, including Public Health Post and Public Health Conversations, and it offers a continuum of learning opportunities through the Office of Lifelong Learning.
“We built the school for excellence, and survived and thrived during COVID-19,” says Galea. “Now we exit this era with a clear commitment to our mission, and we hope that it will continue to serve us well in the future.”
1976: BU School of Medicine announces the beginning of a part-time program leading to the Master of Public Health degree. The program is housed in the Department of Sociomedical Sciences and Community medicine under the direction of Dr. Norman Scotch. In September, 54 degree-seeking students are admitted, and 20 special students begin taking courses.
1978: Two new concentrations are offered: Public Health Law, and Health Regulation and Planning: Health Research and Evaluation faculty examine issues in genetic counseling and propose inclusion of social science training in medical education curricula.
1979: On June 26, 1979, University Trustees vote to establish the School of Public Health. The School has 156 students in five departments: Research and Evaluation, Public Health Law, Health Care Systems, Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Environmental Health. The first graduation ceremony is held for 46 new BUSPH graduates.
1980: Health systems Faculty consult on a USAID-funded project for the development of an innovative community-oriented medical school at Suez Canal University in Egypt.
1981: A watershed year as the first international student enrolls, the School admits its first full-time students; a new concentration in Environmental Health is established, and the School offers its first joint degree program in collaboration with the School of Social Work: MSW/MPH
1982: The Alumni Board is established and BUSPH hires neighborhood young people through Action for Boston Community Development – the beginning of a long-term trend in employing community youth.
1983: The School receives its first full accreditation by the Council on Education for Public Health, and the epidemiology doctoral program is established leading to a Doctor of Science degree.
1984: The Data Coordinating Center opens to provide computing services and data analysis to the School of Public Health and other Medical Campus researchers, and the Social and Behavioral Sciences department offers a new concentration in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.
1985: The Office of Special Projects is established to provide education and training in international health and to conduct overseas and domestic research and service, and the Alumni Student Loan Fund provides $120,000 in low-interest loans to SPH students.
1986: An agreement is reached with the Peace Corps to accept individuals for MPH study prior to Peace Corps field placement, and Social and Behavioral Sciences faculty begin a study of the Massachusetts Mandatory Seat Belt Law.
1987: Health Law faculty argue against parental surrogacy in the Baby M case, the Environmental Health department establishes a state-of-the-art electron microscope facility, and Social and Behavioral Sciences faculty receive a grant to do a study of adolescent mothers who abuse drugs during their pregnancy.
1988: University Trustees approve the Sc.D in Environmental Health and MA and PhD programs in Biostatistics offered in collaboration with the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Health Services faculty serve on the Boston University/Chelsea Collaborative team to establish a school-based health center in Chelsea
1989: As the school grows – 325 students are matriculated in the MPH program — Epidemiology and Biostatistics faculty work with the Lead Free Kids program to prevent lead poisoning in Boston’s children, and Health Law faculty offer a symposium on “The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code: Relevance for Modern Medical Ethics”
1990: HIV/AIDS and Substance Abuse Education Certificate Program established for community health workers and Social and Behavioral Sciences faculty begin a five-year study to reduce maternal marijuana and cocaine use during pregnancy
1991: The Certified Nurse-Midwifery Program established in response to infant mortality crisis in Boston and around the country, while the Geriatric Training Certificate Program is created for front-line health providers in response to the need for culturally-appropriate integration of health and social services programs. Join Together program established through a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to help community-based substance abuse groups across the country to develop comprehensive awareness, treatment, and prevention strategies
1992: The Departments of Environmental Health, Epidemiology, and Biostatistics release the results of the Upper Cape cancer study, and the Medicaid Working Group is formed to find innovative ways to provide comprehensive services for people with severe disability and chronic illness through managed care.
1993: Dr. Robert Meenan assumes leadership of the school, while the Norman A. Scotch Award for Excellence in Teaching is established to provide annual recognition for outstanding faculty.
1994: The Department of Environmental Health begins work with the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative to clean up local hazardous waste sites, while the Boston Environmental Hazards Center, a cooperative project with the Boston Veterans Administration Medical Center, is established to perform research connected with unexplained illness among veterans of the Persian Gulf conflict
1995: University Trustees vote to approve the establishment of a department and concentration in International Health. Trustees also approve the renovation of the Talbot Building as the new home of the BU School of Public Health.
1996: BUSPH is re-accredited by the Council on Education in Public Health. University Trustees vote to approve a department and concentration in Maternal and Child Health, and SPH Directors are formally recognized as Deans. In the largest graduating class to date, 215 graduates receive MPH degrees and 5 receive doctorates.
1997: SPH departments move into Talbot Building in November 1997. For the first time in 20 years, all School departments will be in one building. An MS in Epidemiology approved by University Trustees and Health Law faculty submit amicus brief to the US Supreme Court on whether there is a constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide.
2000: The Trustees of Boston University approve the separation of Epidemiology and Biostatistics into two separate departments. Adrienne Cupples was named chair of the Departments of Biostatistics. Robert Horsburgh was named chair of the Department of Epidemiology.
2001: BUSPH celebrates 25 years since the School of Public Health was founded as a program within the BU Medical School. More than 500 alumni and friends attend an open house in the recently renovated Talbot Building
2003: Roberta White, an expert in environmental toxicology, named chair of the Department of Environmental Health
2004: the inaugural session of the School’s rigorous Summer Institute for Training in Biostatistics with 24 undergraduates from across the US. The innovative six-week program included classroom sessions that introduced students to the principles of biostatistics, epidemiology, and statistical genetics.
2005: The Youth Alcohol Prevention Center began its first programming sessions. The Center was founded with a $10 million grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a division of the NIH. The award marked the first time the School had ever received a center grant from the NIH, as well as the first time the NIAAA had awarded a center grant to a school of public health.
2006: New track in pharmaceutical health policy established to train students in the political and financial contexts in which drugs are developed
2007: BU Board of Trustees approves request to change the Department of Health Services to the Department of Health Policy and Management
2008: After 30 years in the role of associate dean of academic affairs, Leonard Glantz steps does the position in July to return to full-time teaching as a professor of health law, bioethics and human rights. In his spare time, Glantz oversees the School’s rigorous self-study process for reaccreditation by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH)
2009: The BUSPH-based Center for Global Health and Development receives an $8.4 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation for a large-scale trial in Zambia to prove that using a antiseptic wash to clean babies’ umbilical soups can reduce neonatal mortality.
2010: About 75 staff, students, faculty, and alumni participate in BU’s inaugural Global Day of Service on April 12. BUSPH sponsored volunteer sites throughout Boston, including Habitat for Humanity, Health Care for the Homeless, the Franklin Park Zoo, Greater Boston Food Bank, and the Pine Street Inn.
2011: Boston University School of Public Health advanced two places to number 11 in the U.S. News & World Report ranking of schools of public health, released in March 2011.
2012: In September, the School enrolled 456 new students, 373 of whom were new MPH matriculants. The MPH class was the largest and best qualified in the history of the school, and it was our most international class ever.
2013: The School of Public Health graduated 388 students: 359 with Master of Public Health degrees, 57 of which were dual degrees with other schools at Boston University; 12 with Master of Science degrees; and 17 with doctoral degrees (9 with PhD and 8 with DrPH). Additionally, 8 students received a Master of Arts in Biostatistics and 9 received a PhD in Biostatistics through our joint program with the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
2014: Robert Meenan steps down as Dean after 21 years on the job; at the time he was the longest serving dean of a school of public health nationwide and the longest serving dean at BU.
2015: Sandro Galea, physician, epidemiologist, scholar, author, and internationally recognized public health leader, is named dean of Boston University School of Public Health effective January 1. He previously held academic and leadership positions at Columbia University, the University of Michigan, and the New York Academy of Medicine
2016: In 2016, Galea is awarded the Robert A. Knox Professorship, designated to support a Boston University faculty member who demonstrates excellence in scholarship, research, teaching, and impact on society. For the first time, SPH comes in at #10 among all schools of public health in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, which assess the quality of schools accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health.
2016 Continued: Christopher Gill, an associate professor of global health at SPH and a research scientist at the Center for Global Health & Development, was honored with the University’s highest teaching accolade, the Metcalf Cup and Prize, at the University’s 143rd Commencement in May
2017: Sophie Godley, a clinical assistant professor of community health sciences, receives a Metcalf Award for Excellence in Teaching, one of the University’s highest teaching accolades. Godley joined Lisa Sullivan (2001), Wayne LaMorte (2011) as past winners from SPH.
2018: James Wolff, receives a Metcalf Award for Excellence in Teaching, capping an unprecedented three-year span of recognition of the quality of teaching at SPH.
2019: SPH caps another strong year of enrollment, with 1,000 students enrolled and 2,283 applications received in the spring.
2020: Like many schools, the coronavirus pandemic forces SPH to move to virtual instruction to close the spring semester, with a mix of virtual and in-person classes resuming in the fall.
2021: With an increase in virtual attendance at the School’s events, the number of people engaged in Public Health Conversations – in person and online — rises to more than 140,000 over the past six years.
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