Southern Arkansas University now offers a degree in Public Health, a field Jennifer Kelton-Huff, program coordinator, said offers a rewarding career path to students with a “servant’s heart.”

In addition to core public health courses, the 120-hour Bachelor of Science in Public Health degree plan includes courses in nursing, biology, psychology, sociology, health sciences, and recreation. The curriculum also incorporates an upper-level public health internship, which emphasizes the importance of community collaboration and SAU’s commitment to meaningful career preparation, skills development, and effective citizenship. The program is being offered for the first time this fall at SAU.

According to a press release, Kelton-Huff comes to SAU from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, bringing years of professional and academic experience to the new curriculum at Magnolia. She thinks of the public health field as an “unknown gem,” attracting students who want to serve in their communities.

“We want to invite young adults who, for clinical or academic reasons, don’t want to become doctors or nurses, but want to work in health care,” Kelton-Huff said. “They take a look at what public health has to offer and say, ‘That’s what I really want to do.’”

The Public Health program focuses on improving and protecting community health and well-being, with an emphasis on disease prevention. Kelton-Huff said it is important that she develop a relationship with the Magnolia community.

“You can’t work in public health without having the heart of a servant,” she said. “You have to love people. I think this program is going to be really good for the community.”

She looks forward to working closely with local officials and assessing the health needs of Columbia County, and getting students involved in the effort.

“It’s important for us to engage the community and earn trust,” she said.

In addition to advising students at Middle Tennessee State, Kelton-Huff also worked in an emergency room while in college. The experience gave her a love for the people she served and inspired her passion for public health care.

Many people might not be aware of the scope of public health. “It is everything,” Kelton-Huff said. “The restaurants we eat in are graded by a health inspector,” she said. “Seat belt policies are an example of public health. Immunizations determine whether you can be admitted into school. Someone tests the water to make sure it is safe to drink."

Career opportunities in public health are numerous, including community health educator, disease intervention specialist, and environmental health specialist. “It is a springboard to many fields. We are preparing our students to be good citizens and understand the populations with which they’ll be working,” Kelton-Huff said.

According to the Association of Schools of Public Health, which represents all public health schools and programs accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health, the nation will, by 2020, be facing a shortfall of more than 250,000 public health workers. The current public health workforce is inadequate to meet health needs locally and globally, with lots of vacancies in local and state health departments, especially in the light of more than 4,000 low-income people in Arkansas losing Medicaid coverage this month.

“Offering a B.S. in a Public Health program places Southern Arkansas University at the forefront of building public health education capacity and workforce in the state,” Dr. Abdel Bachri, dean of the College of Science and Engineering, said. “I have no doubt that under the leadership of Jennifer Kelton-Huff, who is a seasoned public health professional, our program will serve and develop strong ties to the community and beyond, further sealing SAU’s commitment to its surroundings and the world.”

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