Aug. 31 2018

Off to an Auspicious Start

Students from 30 countries and 42 U.S. states join our community; they include Columbia’s largest ever cohort pursuing an MPH degree

After a weeklong Orientation, classes begin on Tuesday for the nearly 700 students embarking on their studies at Columbia Public Health. Among them are more than 450 Master of Public Health students—the biggest cohort in our School’s history. These students bring unique backgrounds, interests, and aspirations to our School.

A few snapshots: Like many incoming students, Lauren Gorfinkel from Vancouver was already active in public health, as part of a research team examining addictions, including the abuse of prescription opioids. Marisha Kashyal joins our School from Noida, India, where she recently conducted research on households’ use of government health schemes. Joshua Floyd, a New York resident and graduate of the School’s Summer Public Health Scholars program, worked with the New York City Housing Authority to implement a no-smoking policy.

On Monday afternoon, Lauren, Marisha, and Joshua were among hundreds of students who embarked on a weeklong Orientation that kicked off with a welcome address by Dean Linda P. Fried, followed by a collective recitation of our Public Health Oath, an affirmation of our community’s commitment to health as a human right. This year, students were joined by Laura Magaña, president and CEO of the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health, who was on hand to observe the ceremony.

“You each will have the opportunity as public health professionals to significantly impact lives by the dozens, thousands and even millions,” Dean Fried told new students. “That is a tremendous responsibility and opportunity…  There is no more important time for great public health professionals and great public health leadership than right now.”

Through the rest of the week, students took part in Orientation activities such as departmental receptions, lectures, and programs, including Self, Social, Global Awareness, which is designed to stimulate discussion around issues of identity and privilege.

New Offerings

New this year is the RISE Peer Mentoring Program, jointly offered through the Office of Student Affairs and the Office of Diversity, Culture, and Inclusion. Two dozen first-generation and underrepresented minority students are paired with a dozen returning students who serve as peer mentors, offering one-on-one guidance and leading group outings.

In other School firsts, beginning next semester, students in the top quartile of their class can apply to be members of the Delta Omega honor society, a national organization of public health students, and some Accelerated MPH and Dual-Degree students can now complete several Core modules online—a pilot program to give them greater flexibility in how they manage their learning.

“We are continually looking for ways to enhance the student experience,” says Julie Kornfeld, vice dean for Education who gave new students an introductory talk on important trends in public health on Wednesday. “It is incredibly exciting to welcome so many impressive students to campus. They bring tremendous passion and energy, and we look forward to working closely with them to train and prepare them to have an impact as public health professionals.”

A Full Calendar

Beyond Orientation, the fall calendar is chock full of marquee events, from the Alumni Summit on September 14 to the Calderone Prize lecture on November 14. One highlight will be the launch of a new School-wide program called Global Health, Justice and Governance that will launch with an October 22 event featuring Cecile Richards, the former president of Planned Parenthood, and Natalia Kanem, the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund.

Several important milestones will take place this academic year. The School is celebrating 20 years with the Mailman family name; their $30 million gift in 1998 was then the largest ever to a school of public health. ICAP is marking 15 years of fighting HIV and other infectious diseases around the world, culminating in an October 30 event at Low Library. Throughout the year, the Department of Sociomedical Sciences is commemorating a half-century since its creation as the first department of its kind in a public health school. Early next year, the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health will celebrate the completion of its second decade.

These events will complement a regular roster of seminars and symposia, including Grand Rounds, the Chronic Disease Seminar series, and the second annual series on food hosted by Mark Bittman.

Incoming students got their first taste of Columbia Mailman lectures during Orientation with a series of faculty talks called Public Health Now that explored topics like aging, big data, health equity, obesity, and the future of health insurance. MPH student Lauren Gorfinkel spoke with Daniel Giovenco, assistant professor of Sociomedical Sciences, after his lecture on e-cigarettes as a harm reduction tool, which reviewed his research conducted in New York City.

“I especially find interesting the comparison between e-cigarettes, which are easily available from convenient stores, with opioid agonist therapy, a harm reduction tool that is highly regulated,” she said. “I came to Columbia for its combined focus on research and on-the-ground experience. New York is also an amazing city, with really inspiring people.”