UI College of Public Health, Cornell College create new dual degree

 Aerial photo of Cornell College campusThe University of Iowa and Cornell College are teaming up to give students more opportunities, enhancing their prospects for careers and graduate study with a new dual-degree program in public health.

What started out as a discussion among Cornell faculty about interest in a new public and global health program is now becoming a reality as the two schools officially announce the kickoff of the new collaborative program. It will lead to a Master of Public Health degree in just five years, instead of the typical six years.

“This agreement will save students time and money as we get them on the fast track to getting their Master of Public Health degree,” said Cornell Professor of Biology Barbara Christie-Pope, who helped develop this new program. “We are thrilled to work together with the UI College of Public Health to give our students more opportunities.”

University of Iowa leaders said the new dual-degree program reflects the two institutions’ shared values and commitment to improving the wellbeing of communities.

“We are thrilled to start this new journey,” said Anjali Deshpande, director of the Master of Public Health degree program in the UI College of Public Health. “Cornell’s priorities of knowledge, inquiry, reasoning, communication, intercultural literacy, ethical behavior, citizenship, vocation, and well-being completely align with the mission of public health. This is a wonderful opportunity to bring our institutions together to train the next generation of public health professionals and strengthen public health in Iowa and beyond.”

Cornell students enrolling in this program will earn a bachelor’s degree from Cornell and a master’s degree from the University of Iowa.

“Our new partnership with the UI College of Public Health will provide a wonderful opportunity for Cornell students from a wide variety of majors who are interested in pursuing a graduate degree in public health,” said Cornell College Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College Joe Dieker. “Public health is a booming field with many career options for graduates of the program.”

Those who graduate from the program will be prepared for a variety of careers related to public health, such as epidemiology, biostatistics, community and behavioral health, occupational and environmental health, or health policy.

Students in this program will take four online courses offered by the UI College of Public Health during their time at Cornell, which will count toward their undergraduate degrees. After graduation, students will complete two semesters at the College of Public Health with the goal of having a master’s degree in hand by the end of the fifth year.

Cornell students of any major will be considered for admission into the dual-degree program, which will happen with an application submitted by Feb. 1 of their junior year.

For more information, visit www.public-health.uiowa.edu/undergrad-to-grad/ and cornellcollege.edu/public-health/.

Photo courtesy of Cornell College

Q&A: New CPH undergrads

Leighton HillLeighton Hill
Minneapolis, Minn.
B.S. in Public Health


Are you involved in any clubs or organizations?
I’m exploring a variety of different organizations that are really interesting to me and plan to join a health advocacy organization and play badminton for fun.

Why did you choose public health as your major?
I chose public health as my major because it is essential in our lives, and it is a diverse and exciting field. I’ve always been interested in studying an area related to health, and I knew I wanted to become involved in public health once I learned more about its focus on preventing health issues. With an education in public health, there are so many opportunities to help communities and society. It is constantly evolving, and the work done here makes a significant difference in our world.

What about the University of Iowa made you decide to come here?
The University of Iowa is a Big Ten school with all the resources and benefits of a large university, yet it still has the feeling of a smaller, more personal school. I feel very fortunate to be one of the first students in the College of Public Health undergraduate program. The campus felt very welcoming when I toured, and now as a student I have made so many wonderful connections and feel like I truly belong here.

What’s your favorite thing about campus or the university?
The best part of the university is the people. Everyone I’ve met here has been so friendly, motivated, and hard-working. There’s a strong sense of pride in being a Hawkeye, and I love the excitement and energy around campus.

What’s been your best experience in school so far?
The football games are awesome! It’s really fun to cheer with my friends and watch the Hawkeyes score a touchdown.

What are your professional plans, goals, and aspirations?
I’m planning to study epidemiology and research how to prevent the spread of certain diseases and understand the outbreaks that caused them. I’m also studying Spanish, and I would like to travel abroad to learn how other countries address their public health issues.

Anything else you’d like to add?
I’m really excited about this new program, and I’m proud to be a Hawkeye!


Elliot Smith Elliot Smith
West Des Moines, Iowa
B.A. in Public Health


Are you involved in any clubs or organizations?
I’m a member of oSTEM, a group for LGBT STEM majors and their allies. Additionally, I’m a member of Trans Alliance and am helping to organize IC Red Week. I’m also a pledge for the multicultural fraternity Delta Lambda Phi.

Why did you choose public health as your major?
I’ve always known that my ultimate goal was to make the world a kinder, safer, and better place. This was the reason I became dedicated to social justice principles. Ultimately, it was also the reason why I chose public health as my major. Public health offers a way to discover the sources of difficulty in peoples’ lives and to work to amend them. I’m particularly interested in addressing the ways in which health issues affect different communities with different levels of severity. I believe sincerely that a society with fully equitable public health would also have complete social justice; the two go hand-in-hand.

What about the University of Iowa made you decide to come here?
The new undergraduate public health program drew me to the school. The facilities for public health students are beautiful, the professors are experienced, and the students have a true sense of community as the first class of undergraduate public health majors.

What’s been your best experience in school so far?
Although I have 19 credit hours this semester, I always enjoy my studies because I’m passionate about my classes—and so are my classmates and professors. In particular, I’ve been thrilled with all of my public health classes. I’ve written an essay about social justice and community health in a hypothetical zombie apocalypse; I’ve reflected on how gentrification is a public health issue; I’ve attended a lecture on parallels between the Zika virus and health of people in ancient civilizations.

What are your professional plans, goals, and aspirations?
I hope to pursue a master’s degree in public health. I’m also considering seeking an MFA, because I love to write. After graduate school, I’d like to work as a community health worker within marginalized communities. As someone who is transgender, the health of the LGBT community is an area I understand on a personal level. Therefore, my ideal job would involve working on issues that affect that community, either domestically or abroad. Someday, I’d like to work with the national government, focusing on global or LGBT health.

Anything else you’d like to add?
I hope to be proof to the world that transgender people are more than tragic statistics. It is a fact that transgender people—particularly transgender women of color—face higher rates of murder, sexual assault, job discrimination, and homelessness than their cisgender counterparts. This is a public health issue. But with the right support, we can be anything we dream of being. In my future, I hope to work towards providing that support to all people in all communities.

Photos by John Choate

This story originally appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of InSight.

Student experience: Undergrad to Grad program trailblazers

Jarren Santos and Gina Chieffo, two of the first students enrolled in the College of Public Health’s new Undergraduate to Graduate program, talk about their path to public health and future goals.


Completing both an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in five years may not be part of every student’s plan, but for ambitious learners who have found their academic calling, an Undergraduate to Graduate program (U2G) can be a real time- and money-saver.

The recently established U2G program at the University of Iowa College of Public Health enables students to earn their undergraduate degree and a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree or Master of Science (MS) degree in five years instead of the typical six.

portrait of Jarren Santos
Jarren Santos

Jarren Santos, a fourth-year student at Grinnell College, is one of nine students currently enrolled in the College of Public Health’s U2G program. Santos, who is majoring in general sciences-biology and minoring in statistics, has already begun coursework that will lead to a MPH degree in quantitative methods.

Santos traces his path to the U2G program to a series of events that began when he hit a wall with a research project.

“At one point while doing summer research, I felt absolutely frustrated while conducting statistical analyses on my collected data because I honestly had no idea what test to use and what my analyses actually told me about the underlying differences,” says Santos, who is originally from Las Vegas, Nev. “After that experience, I decided to pursue some statistics coursework at Grinnell, and I immediately got hooked. I thought it was so fascinating to see that data, whether big or small, had a story to tell if organized well. I wanted to move forward with a career that could combine elements of health and elements of statistics, and pursuing the U2G option felt like my best opportunity to do so.”

A Diverse Field

“Public health is a diverse, multidisciplinary field that fits a lot of students’ interests and skills,” adds Tanya Uden-Holman, associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Public Health. “The Undergrad to Grad program is a great option for motivated students who are interested in improving the health of communities and populations. It saves time, money, and prepares them to enter a public health career or go on to further study.”

Currently, the U2G program is open to undergraduate students at the University of Iowa, Coe College, and Grinnell College who meet academic requirements. Students begin by taking the introductory course Fundamentals of Public Health during their freshman or sophomore year. During their junior year, they can apply to the U2G program after taking the GRE exam.

In addition to their undergraduate degree, students can choose to earn an MPH in community and behavioral health, epidemiology, occupational and environmental health, policy, or quantitative methods. Master of Science degrees are available in epidemiology or industrial hygiene.

A Path to Public Health

portrait of Gina Chieffo
Gina Chieffo

Gina Chieffo, a University of Iowa senior from Bettendorf, Iowa, is pursuing a double major in psychology and engaged social innovation along with an MPH in community and behavioral health.

“I got interested in public health because I took some public health courses for my engaged social innovation major. I realized that I really liked it and wanted to do the master’s program,” Chieffo says.

The engaged social innovation (ESI) track is an interdepartmental studies major established in 2014 that encourages students to seek out and develop solutions to social problems. Designed to pair with an existing major and extend that major’s scope into areas of social concern, the ESI track enables students to apply their learning in real-world settings.

“I did a lot of volunteer work with Crisis Center of Johnson County,” Chieffo continues. “I talked to a lot of people with mental health issues who didn’t have the resources or support network to get help. I was originally interested in doing clinical psychology, but seeing the social and structural issues instead of the individual-level issues from my volunteer work is what led me to want to do public health.”

Making Connections

Chieffo is also working with Natoshia Askelson, assistant professor of community and behavioral health, as a research assistant. She helps write blog posts for “I Am In Control,” a blog for teens on health, relationship, and life topics funded by the Iowa Department of Public Health. She also helps with data collection and coding as needed for a variety of projects.

“Having connections with professors helps add to my experience, since I can’t always attend the different talks the college offers,” Chieffo says of her research assistant experience. “It’s nice to be connected to what’s happening in the college outside of class.”

For Santos, being part of a UI graduate program that’s based an hour away from the Grinnell campus has both benefits and challenges. Students from Coe and Grinnell take their initial public health classes online and, during Year 5 of the program, complete their graduate coursework on the University of Iowa campus.

“It feels nice to know that you already have a post-undergraduate plan while the rest of the seniors are struggling to find jobs and apply to graduate schools,” he says. “However, I do feel slightly disconnected from my UI peers since I am not physically there and spending time with them in other classes and such. Being a part of a new program like this, I’m genuinely excited and look forward to the many opportunities and interactions with public health professionals.”

Looking to the Future

As for future plans, both Santos and Chieffo are eager to put their degrees to use.

“I hope to pursue a career in data analytics or data management, especially in the health or business sectors,” says Santos. “I’m passionate about taking a data-driven approach when it comes to conducting research and making decisions. We have so much data available, so we should make sure to take advantage of such resources and use it to the best of our ability.  Although data does not tell us all of the story, it does give us a new perspective on any given situation.”

“I want to work with an NGO at some point, and I’m interested in working globally too, but right now I’m interested in seeing all the different options public health has,” Chieffo says. “I could see myself working at a lot of different levels, maybe going back to get my PhD in community and behavioral health and doing research. I want to have a really broad perspective by working in different places. I just want to get into the field and see what connections I can make from there.”

For more information on the U2G program at the UI College of Public Health, visit www.public-health.uiowa.edu/undergrad-to-grad/.


Photo of Jarren Santos by Justin Hayworth/Grinnell College

Photo of Gina Chieffo by John Choate/University of Iowa

CPH welcomes new students