Public Health in Practice: Development of an Undergraduate Domestic Off-Campus Public Health Program

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Abstract

An innovative program, Public Health in Practice, successfully combines the best practices of academic civic engagement (service learning) with domestic off-campus study. Although our college does not offer a public health major or minor, there is strong student interest in this field of study. As a response, we developed a program where students enroll in two sequential introductory public health courses; between the two courses, students study off-campus with the same instructor. Unlike the majority of U.S. undergraduate public health off-campus experiences that involve travel abroad, this program focused on domestic public health. By working on local community-based projects and traveling to Minneapolis/St. Paul and Washington, DC, the students were able to compare public health efforts at local, state, and national scales. Our mixed-methods approach of evaluation using student pre/post surveys along with integrative reflections indicated that participants demonstrated an increase in (1) knowledge related to nationally identified public health competencies, (2) sense of agency in effecting change in communities, (3) understanding of how to work ethically with and in communities, and (4) personal awareness and clarification of future career paths. The combination of local, community-based ACE projects with a domestic study away resulted in improved student learning outcomes, increased confidence, and a shift in student attitudes.

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