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Column: Student group Public Health Discussions explains origins, campus goals

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This series of columns is from Public Health Discussions, a student consultancy and awareness group dedicated to identifying and addressing public health issues on campus. Founded in 2017, the group has 15 consultants who have worked on three campus projects regarding mental health, vaping and nutrition, and have hosted numerous public health awareness events on campus.

One chilly day in the fall of 2016, junior Husayn Ramji was in the residence halls when he was called to help out with a situation in one of the stairways. When Husayn went up there, he saw an unconscious freshman leaning against the brick wall. He appeared intoxicated but came to once the paramedics were on the scene. 

Two weeks later, Husayn saw a similar situation on campus corner when a tipsy individual fell off his bike. He was not wearing a helmet. 

It was experiences like this that led Husayn to believe more could be done by students to promote public health in the Norman community. This determination to do more, combined with the guidance of multiple mentors, are what laid the foundations of what eventually became Public Health Discussions (PHD).

There are two parts to PHD: outreach and engagement. 

The first part, outreach, involves trying to bring public health awareness by educating the OU community. Last April, PHD hosted an event on professional women and health with Becky Barker, director of the Center for Leadership Development and Volunteerism, and Norman Mayor-elect Breea Clark. 

This year, PHD held an event featuring Elaine Hsieh, a public health and communications professor at OU who detailed the interactions between public health, law and communication. This month, PHD had also organized OU’s first public health week from April 1 to April 5. 

PHD’s second half, engagement, is about creating targeted solutions to the public health issues students face on campus. Three teams of student consultants decide on pertinent campus public health issues and develop a project, gather data and formulate interventions that can then be executed to remedy the identified issues. 

This research is then presented at a symposium at the end of the semester. Currently, PHD is working on mental health education, nutrition, and vaping. 

Public Health Discussions is closely linked to the new public health programs on campus. PHD’s advisor, Jennifer Ross, is the coordinator of the community health and public health majors. Both programs launched just last summer, and Ross is currently working on a minor. 

Students can also get advised regarding a 4+1 master's program, where OU acts as a pipeline to the OU Hudson College of Public Health and essentially halves the time it takes to get a Master of Public Health. The department is also working on a study abroad experience, where students get to implement public health initiatives and see their results in real time. 

For any questions about the public health programs offered at OU, contact Jennifer Ross at jenross@ou.edu. If you have any questions about PHD and are interested in getting involved, feel free to reach out to them at ouphd1@gmail.com

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