AJPH special issue: Berkeley brings innovation to education through collaboration and leadership training

March 17, 2015

The American Journal of Public Health released a special supplement issue in March 2015, devoted to innovations in public health education, featuring articles about two groundbreaking programs at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. These commentaries share two ways in which the School is shifting the paradigm for public health education—through small interdisciplinary teams designed to develop problem-solving skills and by giving leadership training for graduate students equal priority to the technical competencies on which programs currently focus.

illustration of San QuentinIn Solutions That Stick, coauthors Jaspal Sandhu, Nap Hosang, and Kristine Madsen recount the creation of Eat.Think.Design, a public health innovations course that debuted in spring 2011 and is currently one of the 10 highest rated courses offered by the School. In taking the course, students gain skills in systematic innovation while collaborating in cross-disciplinary teams on domestic and global health projects with client organizations.

“Human-centered design and design thinking have traditionally been applied to consumer challenges, but increasingly they are being used to address societal problems,” they write in the commentary. “Our course was about developing innovative solutions to existing challenges in public health.”

The commentary provides blueprints for the popular course “with the hope that other institutions whose students could benefit will borrow from our model.” It describes the course’s key components: students in disciplines outside of public health, semester-long team projects for organizational clients, curriculum featuring different industry guests each year, and one or more “champion” faculty members.

2016 CHL Fellows

In Redefining Leadership Education in Graduate Public Health Programs, Jennifer Lachance and Jeffrey Oxendine address the idea that graduates need leadership skills in order to be effective in the complex, changing public health environment. They believe public health education should shift to a new paradigm in which technical and leadership skills have equal priority as core competencies for graduate students. 

“At the Center for Health Leadership (CHL) at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, we prepare students to become effective leaders and professionals by developing skills that allow them to lead from any role,” they write. “Our definition of a leader, developed in concert with students, is someone who motivates, empowers, and inspires a group of people to work toward and achieve a common goal or vision.”

Some of the principles they believe should guide leadership education include engaging students at various levels of commitment, a substantive practice-based component, a focus on process to support development, adaptive and experimental approaches, and diverse interdisciplinary teams. Through evaluation of CHL initiatives, the team has found that students engage with the concept of “leading from where you are,” and that the CHL program is seen as a differentiator for the School. Additionally, exit surveys showed that more than 80 percent of Leadership Fellows felt “much or somewhat stronger” in core CHL competency areas such as communication, relationship building, self-confidence, and self-development and awareness.

"While Eat.Think.Design. and CHL are distinct efforts, they attract similar types of students, those that are seeking new models for collaboration and problem solving," says Sandhu. "Fourteen CHL Fellows have taken our innovations course over the past four years, including five in this year's class. Two fellows, Beth Keolanui (HPM MPH) and Dave Resnick (HSB MPH), are working on a project this semester with Emily Yao (MBA) that seeks to make 'fruits and vegetables so irresistibly fun' for kids. To better understand their customer, they GoPro'd a six-year-old child to experience grocery shopping from his perspective."

Sandhu and Hosang are both lecturers at the School of Public Health, and Hosang directs the On-Campus/Online MPH Degree Program. Madsen is an associate professor with the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program and Public Health Nutrition. Lachance is associate director of CHL and Oxendine is associate dean for public health practice and executive director of the Center for Public Health Practice.

By Linda Anderberg