Eleven students from five countries made history May 25 as they became the first graduates of Cornell’s Master of Public Health (M.P.H.) program. The students received their hoods in a ceremony marking the occasion at the College of Veterinary Medicine.
“It is rare in the history of a 154-year-old institution that people ever get to be the first at anything, but all of you have done just that,” said Lorin D. Warnick, D.V.M., Ph.D. ’94, the Austin O. Hooey Dean of Veterinary Medicine. “You are true pioneers.”
Housed in the Graduate School and administered through the college, the M.P.H. program launched in fall 2017.
“Public health is taught in disciplines throughout Cornell’s campus, but we never offered professional public health training that tied it together before this program,” said Alexander Travis, program director and associate dean for international programs and public health.
The program is among the first of its kind to be formed under new public health competency guidelines, and incorporates two fields of study for students to choose from: infectious disease epidemiology or food systems and health. Underpinning the whole program are the core concepts of sustainability, equity and engagement.
“These two concentration areas are signature strengths of Cornell,” Travis said. “What really sets our program apart are our involvement of small teams of students in real life problems with partners outside of academia, and our consideration of the massive environmental challenges facing our planet today. These affect every dimension of our lives, especially our health and well-being.
“If we don’t start to make sustainability a core part of public health, future generations will suffer for it,” Travis said. “We have to think about sustainability as an equity issue across generations.”
The graduating M.P.H. cohort has already made an impact in New York state, with projects that approach public health issues like food accessibility and vector-borne disease in Tompkins County. Each student partnered with organizations like Cornell Cooperative Extension, Healthy Food for All, the Cayuga Center for Healthy Living and various school districts.
“We are training the next generation of public health leaders,” said Travis, who is committed to keeping the cohort sizes small so that the program can continue its engaged approach working with community partners. Next steps for the program include pursuit of formal accreditation from the Council on Education for Public Health.
“Although our Master of Public Health program is brand new, Cornell has played a leading role in advancing public health since its own founding,” Warnick said. “Today, though, we focus on your role as pioneers: you, the founding class, and this milestone of your graduation.”
In addition to the M.P.H. graduates, the college also celebrated the commencement of 96 veterinary students. Five students each earned their Ph.D. in the graduate field of biomedical and biological sciences; some of those will remain to finish a combined D.V.M. degree or work in a postdoctoral position.
More graduates are on the horizon: Four students will complete the Master in Professional Studies – Veterinary Parasitology program by the end of summer 2019.
Melanie Greaver Cordova is a staff writer with the College of Veterinary Medicine.