SPH news

Posted Date: November 24, 2015
Thombs, Dennis

Dr. Dennis Thombs

The year was 1986 when news stunned the country with reports that first-team, all American college basketball player Len Bias had died of a cocaine/alcohol overdose on the University of Maryland campus.

The young athlete – described by some sportswriters as one of the greatest college players ever – had just been drafted by the Boston Celtics two days before.

Ten days later, another prominent athlete, 23-year-old Don Rogers of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, was tragically reported dead from cocaine induced cardiac arrest on the night before his wedding. Rogers had been named the NFL’s 1984 AFC defensive rookie of the year.

UNTHSC School of Public Health Interim Dean Dennis Thombs, PhD, was a Maryland doctoral student at the time, and as a Residence Life official, oversaw the cluster of residence halls where Bias had overdosed.  Impact on the school was devastating, and Thombs remembers the era as a significant turning point for change.

“Our culture was in a very different place in the 80s,” he said. “College-age drinking was widespread, and the country was at the height of recreational drug use. This is when we began hearing about Quaaludes, heroin, cocaine, PCP. We saw the introduction of First Lady Nancy Reagan’s ‘just say no campaign,’ and American opinion polls ranked the crack cocaine epidemic as one of the nation’s biggest concerns.”

In the field of public health, it’s often a series of events that lead a person down a particular career path. With degrees in sociology and mental health counseling and a keen awareness of college challenges through his work at other universities, including Bowling Green State and the University of South Florida, Thombs found his doctoral interests taking him more and more toward advanced study in substance abuse and addictive behaviors.

“Public health is a field of discovery,” he said. “Many of us find our way into public health, rather than specifically choosing the profession; it’s different from deciding to be a physician or a fireman or lawyer at a young age.  There’s often a critical turning point we take to address a problem we want to help solve.”

Today, Thombs continues to work on research and solutions, and is recognized for his widely adopted textbook on addictive behavior, now in its 4th edition. In recent years, he made international news for his studies on the effects of alcohol mixed with energy drinks. He has also led research teams in extensive studies of the risks associated with late night drinking in bars and nightclubs catering to young adults. In the last 15 years, his research teams have conducted more than 25,000 face-to-face interviews with intoxicated bar and nightclub patrons late at night.

“Approximately 50 percent of American families are impacted by drug or alcohol addiction, through a first or second degree relative,” he said. “Not all individuals receive care or even recognize they need treatment. We see the results of addiction in the criminal justice system, the health care system and the toll on so many lives. Fortunately, many organizations both locally and nationally continue working to address these problems.”

Posted Date: November 12, 2015

The UNTHSC School of Public Health has received reaccreditation from the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH).ceph self study

CEPH assures quality in public health education and training, and accreditation helps demonstrate that a school is committed to leading and fostering innovation and continuous quality improvement in its education programs.

CEPH is an independent agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit schools of public health and public health programs offered in settings other than schools of public health.

The Council is a private, nonprofit corporation with the American Public Health Association (APHA) and the Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) as its two corporate members.

Reaccreditation for the SPH is for seven years, the maximum time period allowed.

Posted Date: November 12, 2015

When Tomi Huff was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at 54, she knew she was going to die. No matter what the doctors said, she felt like her life was already over.

Fast forward three rounds of chemotherapy and six years later, and Tomi is now cancer free with a renewed focus on keeping herself healthy.

She’s feeling stronger every day, and is able to “be there” for her four grown children and, hopefully someday, for future grandchildren.

Tomi credits an important part of her recovery to a UNT Health Science Center research study she joined six months ago, when she was approached Dr. Raheem Paxton, assistant professor in the School of Public Health’s Department of Behavioral and Community Health.

Dr. Paxton is working with cancer patients across the country to improve their survival rates through diet, exercise and healthy behaviors.

“Research has shown that cancer survivors can achieve longer-term, more positive outcomes and improved quality of life through diet and exercise,” Dr. Paxton said. “Regular physical activity can also help with pain management, anxiety, emotional well being, stamina and energy.”

With funding from the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Paxton began the ALIVE Lifestyle Intervention research study in 2014 for African American breast cancer survivors in North Texas. Working with other universities, health care organizations and cancer support groups across the U.S., Canada and Australia, he and colleagues have since grown the project to provide healthy lifestyle support to cancer patients of any diagnosis, race, gender or ethnicity. This fall, the program linked with the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation’s Army of Women, a cancer survivors’ network supported in part by the Avon Foundation. Nearly 300 participants nationwide are now enrolled in the study.

The program is Internet-based and starts with a simple online questionnaire, where patients select goals to create their personal healthy living plan. From there, they gain support through email or text, online resources, phone calls or printed materials, according to their preferences. For Tomi, the goals were to get stronger and eat better.

“After my diagnosis, I had retired from teaching and found myself alone with a lot of time on my hands. Three of my kids lived out of state. I was divorced, and although I had dated over the years, I had recently broken up with my boyfriend. So I found myself sitting on my couch – becoming a part of the couch, actually – playing games on my laptop and watching movies,” Tomi said. “I wasn’t living healthy. I actually went through eight seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in just two months.”

Just about the time she received an email invitation from Dr. Paxton, Tomi thought back to her own mother and grandmother, who had been diagnosed with cancer at later ages. Her grandmother survived uterine cancer in her 60s and lived to be 89, and Tomi said her mother survived breast cancer for 12 years even with a late diagnosis and unhealthy habits like smoking.

“That got me to thinking, I have a lot of life left and I want to be around for my children. I realized I needed to be proactive with my health or I would die,” she said.

Since joining the study, Tomi has lost 17 pounds, eats more fruits and vegetables, feels better, attends exercise classes and is about to join yoga. She’s gone back to work as a part-time math tutor and has seen improvement in her bone density measurements. Most significantly, she now feels that she has a “support network of people who care.”

“When you’re getting older, have aches and pains and are fighting a disease like cancer,” she said, “you feel like you’re falling apart. It’s hard to get motivated. It’s nice to know you’re not alone, that you have help. There is a lot more ahead of me. Who knows, maybe the love of my life is still out there waiting for me!”

Posted Date: October 21, 2015
blur people

The number of missing individuals worldwide continues to grow each year, and stopping this problem is a top priority for law enforcement and other agencies.

A UNTHSC public health student wants to stop international sex trafficking with a simple
piece of jewelry.

The “Safe Move” bracelet, designed by MPH graduate student Kwynn Gonzalez-Pons, has the potential to save countless lives around the world by helping law enforcement agencies locate missing children and adults.

Equipped with a global tracking device, this new invention can be worn just as is – or if risks of detection are too high, its locator chip can be removed to hide in a shoe or pocket.

The plan is to make the bracelets available through discreet Safe Move stations in hot-spot trafficking areas like airport restrooms, bus stations and hotel lobbies, where victims may be lured or transported.

The number of missing individuals worldwide continues to grow each year, and stopping this problem is a top priority for law enforcement and other agencies.

According to the FBI, the number of domestic and international victims, mostly females and children, is in the millions. Sex slavery and trafficking, the FBI reports, is happening not just in foreign countries but also “locally in cities and towns, both large and small, throughout the United States, right in citizens’ backyards.”

For Gonzalez-Pons, the inspiration to address this problem came from a challenge issued to School of Public Health students during National Public Health Week. Students with ideas for improving the world were invited to enter a Health Innovations Contest.

Not only did she win the contest, but Gonzalez-Pons received such encouragement from peers and faculty that she decided to keep working on the idea.

A summer internship with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children gave her additional perspective, and now she is hoping to take this idea to Yale University for the 2016 Global Health & Innovation Conference.

She’s already moved to the final round of selections for the event’s Social Impact Pitch. The next step is to submit a YouTube video explaining her idea for the judges.

Winners will present their global impact solutions to a select audience at Yale, where they will gain feedback and mentoring from conference speakers and other experts.

Posted Date: September 18, 2015

Dr. Sharon Homan, new Associate Dean of Research

Sharon Homan, MS, PhD, has been named as Associate Dean for Research for the UNT Health Science Center School of Public Health (SPH).

She had previously served as Biostatistics and Epidemiology Chair for the school.

Serving as Interim Chair of Biostatistics and Epidemiology is Associate Professor Sumihiro (Sumi) Suzuki, PhD.

Dr. Homan has a substantial background in research and research administration.  In this new role, she will lead the efforts of the school’s Research Committee to advance and further develop faculty research efforts and collaborations.

Dr. Suzuki’s background includes leadership of the school’s MPH program in Biostatistics.

SPH professors moving from assistant to associate professor are Hsueh-Fen Chen, PhD, Health Management and Policy; Joon-Hak Lee, PhD, Environmental and Occupational Health; and Rajesh Nandy, PhD, Biostatistics and Epidemiology.

Posted Date: September 11, 2015


A UNT Health Science Center project aimed at addressing interpersonal violence has been awarded $2.2 million in funding over the next three years by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health.

The project – called TESSA (Technology Enhanced Screening and Supportive Assistance) – is being led by Emily Spence-Almaguer, MSW, PhD, School of Public Health Associate Professor of Behavioral and Community Health. Four other UNTHSC professors are serving as co-investigators, partnering with nine North Texas health clinics through UNT Health Family Medicine, JPS Health Network and North Texas Area Community Health Centers, Inc.; the Women’s Center of Tarrant County; One Safe Place; Safe Haven; and MedStar Mobile Healthcare Area Ambulance Authority.

TESSA is a technology-assisted screening and intervention program that integrates services between primary health clinics and organizations serving interpersonal violence victims.

Interpersonal violence (IPV) places families and individuals at risk for injury and long-term health and mental health conditions associated with stress.

In 2013, among the 1.9 million residents of Tarrant County, 12,446 family violence incidents were reported to police, with an estimated 58 percent involving injuries.

Statistics show that poverty and homelessness place women at a higher risk for IPV, and among homeless women in Tarrant County in 2013, 46 percent experienced physical or sexual victimization, 20 percent reported intimate partner violence, and 17 percent reported incidents meeting the legal definition of rape in the prior 12 months.

Studies have shown that abused women are 60 percent more likely to report health problems and are at an increased risk for high cholesterol, heart attack, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, joint disease, asthma, activity limitations, smoking, binge drinking, depression and other mental health disorders.

Health care expenses for IPV survivors are 42 percent higher, and still many cases go unreported because victims are held back from seeking care due to fear, discomfort, apprehension and resources.

“The goal of TESSA is to increase immediate safety and promote long-term health among individuals who have experienced IPV, particularly persons who are homeless and living in poverty,” said Dr. Spence-Almaguer.

“IPV screenings are more likely to occur in emergency medical settings,” she said, “although many long-term health consequences of IPV are conditions addressed in primary care clinics. By establishing a collaborative, integrated system among health clinics and IPV-oriented organizations, our hope is to enhance and coordinate the process of identifying victims and providing access to immediate interventions for clinic patients, including medical assessment of injuries, crisis management, health coaching and health navigation services, and follow up support.”

TESSA will also provide training and support services for clinic personnel; a private, electronic check-in system with patient and clinician components; an electronic system for IPV screening and assessment of key stress, risk, protective and behavioral health indicators; and an online classification and guidance program for clinicians.

TESSA health advocates will be placed in organizations throughout Tarrant County to promote safety, health and establishment of a home base for victims’ medical and support services.  Health advocates will reach out face-to-face and through video calls for rapid response.

As TESSA project leader, Dr. Spence-Almaguer brings nearly 25 years of experience in the areas of rape crisis, domestic violence and stalking programs. Her 2013 study of victimization experiences and health needs of homeless women in Fort Worth, Texas, led to community changes including development of a victim advocacy program, shelter policy updates, and a homeless women’s outreach task force.


TESSA co-investigators include UNTHSC professors Scott Walters, PhD, Department of Behavioral and Community Health; Kimberly Fulda, DrPH, UNTHSC Family Medicine; Brad Cannell, PhD, MPH, Biostatistics and Epidemiology; and Sharon Homan, MS, PhD, School of Public Health Associate Dean for Research. Collectively, this team of investigators brings expertise in motivational interviewing, solution-focused practice, technology-enhanced human service interventions, primary care research, data analytics, women’s health and program evaluation.

Posted Date: September 8, 2015

KurzFor the first time at the UNT Health Science Center, The UNT System Board of Regents has bestowed the unique and special honor of the Dean Emeritus title to Richard S. Kurz, PhD, on the day of his retirement.

The announcement was made by Thomas Yorio, PhD, UNTHSC Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, who recognized Dr. Kurz for his distinguished service to the university and his contributions in helping to find solutions for a healthier community.

Dr. Kurz led the UNTHSC School of Public Health, serving as Dean and tenured Professor of Health Management and Policy, for eight years. He will continue as an adjunct faculty member following retirement to complete several projects.

Posted Date: August 27, 2015
Dean Kurz with new Interim Dean Dr. Dennis Thombs

Dean Kurz with new Interim Dean Dr. Dennis Thombs

Richard S. Kurz, PhD, Dean of the UNTHSC School of Public Health (SPH), will retire on August 31, after leading the SPH and serving as tenured Professor of Health Management and Policy for the last eight years. He will continue as an adjunct faculty member following retirement to complete several projects.

“Retirement is a decision my family and I have been considering for some time,” he said. “Over the last eight years, I have been very fortunate to work with an outstanding team of public health faculty and staff, and we have built a foundation for continued progress in the future. Our public health faculty, students, alumni and staff are making a difference in communities both locally and around the world.”

“As always, I send thanks to everyone I have worked with, both in and outside the school, for your support and commitment, and I hope you will continue to advance the momentum that we started,” Dr. Kurz said.

Left: Dean Kurz with new Interim Dean Dr. Dennis Thombs Right: Reverend Ralph Emerson wishes Dr. Kurz well in his retirement

Reverend Ralph Emerson wishes Dr. Kurz well in his retirement

Dr. Kurz retires after a lengthy career in academics and community service. He has served as Chair of the National Board of Public Health Examiners, as a Commissioner on the Accreditation for Healthcare Management Education, as Chair of the Association of University Programs in Health Administration, and on advisory boards and task forces for the CDC and Veterans Administration.

He has assisted the Texas Department of State Health Services with the accreditation of health departments and was recognized in the Dallas Business Journal’s “2013 Who’s Who in Health Care—25 People Who Are Changing the Industry in North Texas.” He received Texas Public Health Association’s 2013 President’s Award and the 2012 Healthcare Hero award from the Fort Worth, Texas, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and United Healthcare.

“We greatly appreciate Dr. Kurz’ leadership and vision,” said Thomas Yorio, PhD, UNTHSC Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs.

Dr. Yorio presents retirement gift to Dr. Kurz featuring the school's official seal

Dr. Yorio presents retirement gift to Dr. Kurz featuring the school’s official seal

“Under his leadership, the school launched a number of successful initiatives, including a Master of Health Administration program, a new doctorate program, online programs and the Texas Prevention Institute. Dr. Kurz has also been very active in leading community collaborations to study and solve some of our most pressing health issues, such as infant mortality.”

As a national search is conducted, Dennis Thombs, PhD, FAAHB, will serve as interim Dean of the SPH.

He has served as Professor and Chair of the school’s Department of Behavioral and Community Health for the last five years.

He is also Director of the school’s Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) program.

Dr. Thombs, a past President of the American Academy of Health Behavior, is the author of Introduction to Addictive Behaviors, now in its fourth edition.

His research on addictive behavior has been supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the National Institute of Mental Health and U.S. Department of Education.

He has authored 80 articles in peer-reviewed national and international journals.

Posted Date: August 14, 2015

Udoka_ObinwaUNT Health Science Center student Udoka Obinwa has been awarded the Dr. Gerry C. Gunnin Public Health Memorial Scholarship from Texas Health Resources.

Obinwa is a Master of Public Health (MPH) student in the UNTHSC School of Public Health’s Biostatistics and Epidemiology Department.

Prior to enrolling with UNTHSC, Obinwa studied parasitology, entomology and medical laboratory science, gaining skills in infectious disease diagnosis and prevention.

“I grew up in Nigeria, a country that still suffers greatly from infectious diseases like malaria, typhoid fever, schistosomiasis, HIV/AIDS and so on,” he said. “I chose to study parasitology and entomology at the university level to gain knowledge for combatting these diseases. After graduation, I volunteered at the Regional Reference laboratory of Global Health AIDS Initiative Nigeria (GhAIN) in Wukari, Taraba State, where I helped evaluate a large number of registered HIV patients due for free Antiretroviral Therapy. I later participated in a malaria indicator survey conducted by the Carter Center in Plateau State, Nigeria, where I witnessed a high burden of malaria and anemia among children in some rural areas. These experiences spurred me to seek further training in public health.”

Obinwa calls himself “passionate about improving the health of individuals, especially vulnerable groups like children.”

He has been involved in community health services and events with the Tarrant County Public Health Department, Baylor Scott and White Medical Center, UNTHSC Safe Transition and the Student Outbreak Response Team.

He currently works with Community-wide Children’s Health Assessment Survey data as an intern at the Community Health Research Department of Cook Children’s Health Care System.

“I hope to help alleviate some of the environmental-related health challenges kids suffer through my research efforts as an epidemiologist with sound biostatistics skills,” he said.

Obinwa says he hopes to someday start an organization where he can partner with governmental health agencies to organize intervention programs targeted at malaria and other parasitic diseases in Nigeria and other developing countries.

“This scholarship is indeed an encouragement and a great boost to my dreams,” he said.

Posted Date: August 12, 2015

Students seeking a Master of Public Health degree in Health Management and Policy are now able to complete the program entirely online through the UNT Health Science Center School of Public Health.

This degree helps prepare students for careers in policy development, policy analysis and health systems management.

Course topics include health systems, health economics and finance, health insurance and managed care, health law and ethics, private and public sector management, and state and national health policy.

“As more and more students look for the convenience and flexibility of online learning options, the UNTHSC School of Public Health continues to explore different ways to meet their needs,” said Thad Miller, MPH, DrPH, Acting Chair, Health Management and Policy. “This new opportunity gives students another path for completing their degree.”