Public health champion prepares for TPHA presidency

Melissa Oden
Melissa Oden

By Sally Crocker

When Melissa Oden, DHEd, takes over as Texas Public Health Association (TPHA) President in April, she will celebrate a relationship that has lasted more than a dozen years and has impacted both her own career and the futures of many UNT Health Science Center students.

“I can’t say enough good things about TPHA, their mission and what they do for Texas,” Dr. Oden said. “When I first joined the organization, they took me under their wing, and now I am able to do the same for student members through networking and mentoring. My career wouldn’t be the same without TPHA.”

As the UNTHSC School of Public Health’s Practice Experience Liaison and an adjunct instructor in Behavioral and Community Health, Dr. Oden has worked in a number of different TPHA volunteer positions over the years, from the executive board to different vice president roles, to what she calls one of her most significant responsibilities to date, helping coalitions across the state apply for national public health improvement grants.

In this role – for which she was honored last year with TPHA’s Outstanding Service Award – she served as liaison between TPHA, the American Planning Association and the American Public Health Association, helping Texas coalitions gain three Plan4Health grants. Among the awardees was the Healthy Tarrant County Collaboration, which received $100,000 in funding toward community health efforts.

“This was really one of the most rewarding aspects of my work with TPHA, to be able to help Texas gain assistance in efforts to reduce chronic disease through community-based strategies focused on health care access, nutrition, physical activity and reduced tobacco exposure,” she said.

With a mission during her upcoming presidential year to help TPHA “keep Texas safe and healthy,” Dr. Oden looks forward to “bringing even more people together on this important effort,” especially students new to the organization.

“We want to plug students in with the TPHA family across the state, help them network, learn from colleagues in other public health disciplines than their own, and find a real place within the organization … just like the way I was welcomed and have grown both personally and professionally since becoming a member,” she said.

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