Celebrating 20 years with an eye toward the future


Published: November 15, 2019

By Sally Crocker

Sph 20th Anniversary: Founders Day Luncheon. Sph 20th Anniversary: Founders Day Luncheon. Sph 20th Anniversary: Founders Day Luncheon. Sph 20th Anniversary: Founders Day Luncheon.

The 2019-20 academic year marks the 20th anniversary of the UNTHSC School of Public Health, with various celebrations going on throughout the fall and spring semesters.

Recently, the SPH hosted a Founders Luncheon for faculty, students and staff to hear from some of the early community leaders, faculty members and employees who were a part of the school’s early history.

Five panelists were on hand to talk about the early days and some of the successes and challenges the school faced 20 years ago.

Joining the program was Dr. Tom Yorio, UNT Health Science Center faculty and former Provost, who was instrumental in starting the School of Public Health back in the days when he served as Dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

Libby Watson, a strong supporter and benefactor of UNTHSC and the School of Public Health and one of the early community leaders who advocated for establishing a school of public health in Fort Worth, also participated in the event to look back at the history of the SPH and share reflections from the early days.

Watson served as Fort Worth’s Assistant City Manager at that time and was instrumental in helping to recruit local leaders to support the launch of the SPH.

Also on the program was SPH Senior Administrative Associate Ywanda Carter, who is believed to be the longest serving UNTHSC employee. Carter has lived the University’s history over the last 43 years and shared interesting stories about both UNTHSC and the School of Public Health from the 1970s forward.

Retired SPH faculty member Dr. Terry Gratton came on board in 2000 after a long career with the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, where he spent 18 years with the Indian Health Service in Oklahoma, Kansas and Arizona, and five years with the Bureau of Prisons in Fort Worth. His experiences helped inform his teaching, both in the classroom and in the field, and in the early years with the SPH, he taught a special, cross-disciplinary Border Health course that took students to Laredo for Spring Break.

Another panelist was Dr. Karan Singh, former Chair of the SPH Department of Biostatistics, who served in many roles during his time with UNTHSC. Currently, Dr. Singh is Professor and Founding Chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the School of Community and Rural Health at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler.

“We express appreciation to the panelists who joined the event, as well as those who attended,” said Dr. Dennis Thombs, School of Public Health Dean. “It’s so interesting to look back over the last 20 years to see how far we’ve come, and exciting to consider where we will go from here.”

Sph 20th Anniversary: Founders Day Luncheon.From the beginning, the UNTHSC School of Public Health has been committed to public health education, research, service and community partnerships.

The idea of developing a public health program in Fort Worth started with collaboration between UNTHSC, North Texas community leaders and public health officials. Their hard work culminated in July 1995, when the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved the institution’s request to offer a Master of Public Health Degree (MPH) in collaboration with the University of North Texas, Denton.

After several years of offering this degree, the Board of Regents authorized UNTHSC to submit a proposal to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to create a School of Public Health and to request funds from the Texas Legislature to fund the School and its corresponding programs.

On December 1, 1997, the Association of Schools of Public Health (now ASPPH, the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health) accepted UNTHSC’s Public Health Program as an affiliate member.

Five years later, in June 2002, the UNTHSC School of Public Health was accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH).

The needs of communities are always changing, impacting the work of public health researchers and professionals in the field. The goal of the UNTHSC School of Public Health is to help find solutions for healthier communities, which includes a focus on the following critical public health issues of today:

The opioid crisisDr. Scott Walters is Steering Committee Chair for an aggressive, National Institutes of Health (NIH) effort to speed scientific solutions to the nation’s opioid crisis. More than $350 million is supporting this multi-year study to reduce opioid deaths by at least 40% over a three-year period in nearly 70 communities hard hit by the opioid crisis across Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York and Ohio.

Alcohol use among teens and young adultsDr. Melissa A. Lewis and Dr. Dana M. Litt are involved in studies addressing risky alcohol use and behaviors among teens, young adults and college freshmen in age groups 15-25. The research team hopes to better understand motivations and influences for drinking, to develop prevention and intervention recommendations to reach these groups when they are most apt to make risky drinking decisions. Recently, the researchers received a new, three-year $630,000 grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to develop a parent-based intervention addressing the impact of social networking sites on teen and young adult alcohol use.

Tuberculosis preventionDr. Thad Miller and colleagues are focused on eliminating tuberculosis. Dr. Miller is leader of the CDC’s Tuberculosis Epidemiologic Studies Consortium (TBESC) site at UNTHSC – one of 10 funded TBESC sites across the country – and the North Texas TB Trials Consortium.

Vaping, e-cigarettesDr. Tracey Barnett is concerned about the dramatic rise in high school and college students, even middle schoolers, who have tried or might try vapes or electronic cigarettes, which have been cleverly marketed to youth by tobacco and e-cig companies eager to lock in a new generation of consumers. She’s doing all she can to educate and inform the community about the dangers.

Interpersonal violence – Every year, more than 10 million people in the U.S. become victims of interpersonal violence. TESSA (Technology Enhanced Screening and Supportive Assistance) is a program led by Dr. Emily Spence and colleagues, supported by the State of Texas, Office of the Governor, Criminal Justice Division, that collaborates with healthcare providers and community resources to give a voice to victims and help them connect with the care they need and feel physically and emotionally safe, noticed and listened to. This program recently received $1 million in new funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (USDHHS) Office on Women’s Health to further expand domestic violence support services in Tarrant County, Texas.

Mosquito monitoring and other insect-borne infectious diseasesDr. Joon Lee leads a team that partners with the City of Fort Worth and Tarrant County Public Health on West Nile virus surveillance and response to protect local citizens.

Vaccines, immunizationsDr. Erika Thompson is involved in research and advocacy for the HPV vaccine and others, and is active with the Immunization Collaboration of Tarrant County.

Sph 20th Anniversary: Founders Day Luncheon.Sph 20th Anniversary: Founders Day Luncheon.