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The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Office of Public Health Studies will receive $100,000 in new funding to develop a robust public health workforce in Hawaiʻi. The funding is part of a $25 million grant awarded to the Hawaiʻi State Department of Health from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to address health disparities among high-risk and underserved populations. The new workforce development contract will support the creation of opportunities for students from diverse backgrounds to learn about public health, enhance their successful entry into a higher education institution and build enthusiasm for public health careers.

“To build a strong public health workforce, engagement with students needs to start early,” said Lisa Kehl, practicum coordinator and co-investigator on the contract. “These new activities and resources will help identify educational pathways to public health careers and facilitate students’ participation in them.”

The new workforce development activities will include student field experience opportunities, development of a summer program, expansion of online resources and more. The funding will also aid students’ routes into the state workforce, particularly students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a disproportionate toll on the Native Hawaiian, other Pacific Islander and Filipino communities in Hawaiʻi. We want to continue to build a strong workforce of public health practitioners and educators from these communities,” said Tetine Sentell, interim dean of the Thompson School of Social Work & Public Health, which includes the Office of Public Health Studies. “These new opportunities for students will help with this goal.”

The Community Health Scholars Program

As part of the contract, the Office of Public Health Studies will launch a pilot Community Health Scholars Program during summer 2022. The program’s goals include introducing high school and incoming college students to the public health field and increasing the number of underrepresented students entering public health professional training programs, such as the bachelor of arts in public health at UH Mānoa.

“By investing in the students of today, we are investing in the future of our community,” said Denise Nelson-Hurwitz, the principal investigator on the contract. “The Community Health Scholars Program will facilitate the education and training of future public health leaders who can improve health outcomes for our underserved communities.”

Nelson-Hurwitz is also the instructor for Public Health 201-Introduction to Public Health, which will be offered for college credit at no cost to program participants. Other program activities include public health workshops; activities that promote academic and social readiness for college; and a community service project.

“The Community Health Scholars Program provides opportunities for students to begin exploring the public health field,” said Michelle Tagorda-Kama, program coordinator. “The funding allows us to provide these opportunities free of cost, thereby lowering barriers to entry for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

The program will run from June 13 to July 23, 2022. Those eligible for participation are Hawaiʻi students who will be high school juniors, seniors and incoming freshmen at any UH campus this fall, and are in good academic standing. Preference will be given to students who attend an educationally disadvantaged high school, are the first to go to college in their family, or are of an ethnic background considered an underrepresented minority in healthcare. The application deadline is April 6, 2022.

This effort is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Enhancing Student Success (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

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