Workshop to Juggernaut: USF’s MPH in Global Disaster Management and Humanitarian Relief

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For more than 15 years, the USF College of Public Health has trained students, practitioners and organizations in public health preparedness.

It all started in 1998, when Dr. Wayne Westhoff offered a two-day workshop, inviting representatives from other academic institutions, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and SOUTHCOM to identify the direction of developing disaster management courses in higher education. The consensus was that there was a lack of graduate courses.

Wayne Westhoff, PhD

Wayne Westhoff, PhD

Westhoff began developing four courses in 1999 that became the graduate certificate in disaster management. This was the first online certificate in disaster management and is one of only a handful of fully online degrees in disaster management and humanitarian relief that are offered with a public health focus.

After he developed the Public Health Emergencies in Large Populations course for the disaster management certificate, Westhoff realized it was too much for one course. He then expanded it into four courses. By 2005, the online graduate certificate in humanitarian assistance was offered USF COPH, and the course offerings had doubled.

“It was only natural at that point to take the eight courses and make them the concentration for an MPH degree,” Westhoff said.

It was in 2009 that the state of Florida approved the MPH in GDM/HR concentration. It was established as a reduced-rate program, offering non-Florida residents reduced tuition.

Many of the program’s graduate students are serving in the military or as United States Public Health Service Corps officers, and others are veterans of either or both. Still others are practitioners in the field, management for international organizations and non-governmental organizations, medical doctors, emergency medical responders or nurses.

In all, the Department of Global Health is home to three online graduate programs, as well as an on-campus undergraduate public health minor and undergraduate certificate aimed at equipping students with knowledge and real-world exposure to public health preparedness.

Moreover, Global Health offers the only accredited MPH in Global Disaster Management and Humanitarian Relief in a virtual format.  Providing students with the ability to view disaster management and humanitarian action in an academic and public health context gives professionals unique tools for success in multiple areas.

The online MPH in GDM/HR allows those unable to choose between the certificates to pursue that multi-dimensional perspective while obtaining additional expertise in epidemiology, policy and management, social and behavioral health, biostatistics, and environmental and occupational health to become public health practitioners.

COPH also offers an undergraduate minor and on-campus undergraduate certificate in Community Engagement Homeland Security and Emergency Management.  This certificate provides a broad homeland security and emergency management foundation for people seeking careers in local, state or national government, in military service or in the global arena.

Additionally, a graduate certificate in disaster management addresses management, preparedness, response and recovery from natural and man-made disasters. By focusing on humanitarian foundations and principles, a graduate certificate in humanitarian assistance teaches students leadership and management skills needed for work with special populations, particularly international refugees, internally displaced persons and those affected by emergencies.

The department launched the community engagement programs in 2013. In the first year, about 60 students enrolled in the two undergraduate courses. Both enrollment and course offerings have since doubled, and eight faculty members now teach 18 graduate and undergraduate courses. Most are practitioners who work in the field and then teach courses in their respective areas of expertise, bridging the gap between theory and practice in a unique program that is quickly becoming a public health juggernaut.

Story by Elizabeth Dunn and David Brothers, USF College of Public Health