SPH news

Posted Date: April 13, 2017

2017 end of year celebration
The UNT Health Science Center School of Public Health (SPH) recently celebrated National Public Health Week by recognizing 2016-17 academic year student, faculty and staff accomplishments at its annual End of Year Celebration.

MHA student Chelsea Kleen was presented with the Richard S. Kurz Award, given to an outstanding public health graduate exemplifying the leadership, accomplishments and visionary qualities of the school’s Dean Emeritus, who led the SPH from 2007 to 2015. This award was established in 2012 by the school’s faculty leadership.

At the ceremony, two SPH students were admitted into the Alpha Sigma Chapter of Delta Omega public health national honor society: Chelsea Kleen (MHA program) and Heidi Threadgill-Honza (MPH Professional Option). These two students, as presented by faculty member Dr. Brad Cannell, were selected for their “demonstrated academic excellence, leadership, activity and commitment to and in the field of public health and ensuring the health of all people.”

Alumni inductees into Delta Omega were Dr. Diana Cervantes, Chief Epidemiologist with the Texas Health Department of State Health Services (DSHS) Region 2/3, and Sophia Anyatonwu, Epidemiologist II/Regional FLU Surveillance Coordinator with DSHS Region 7.

Dr. Katherine Fogelberg from the SPH faculty was also inducted into Delta Omega, as was an honorary community recipient, Jon Wilcox. Wilcox was introduced by Fort Worth community leader Libby Watson, who was named to Delta Omega by the UNTHSC School of Public Health in 2014. Wilcox has long been involved in volunteerism and leadership for non-profit organizations and public health-related programs and activities on both a local level and with a national/international scope.

Students named to the SPH Dean’s List were Amy Board, Clara Ramirez, Erica Stockbridge, Heidi Honza, Chelsea Kleen, Ruchi Shah, Rasheedat Sadiq-Onilenia, Kristyn Mathewson, Thomas Gans, Fanni Mandy, Jennifer Liou, Sarah Abdelhadi, Ashnia Taher and Gopi Vinjamuri.

This year’s Leon Brachman Award was presented to Fanni Mandy (MPH – Epidemiology). The award is given annually to a public health student in the MPH or MHA program demonstrating exemplary academic achievement in his or her graduate course of study. The award is named in honor of the community leader and philanthropist who helped establish the UNTHSC School of Public Health in 1999.

The 2017 Kenneth Cooper Award winner was Victoria Kwentua (MPH – Maternal and Child Health). This award – presented to an outstanding MPH or MHA student demonstrating excellence and quality in the application of research methods in preparation for the thesis or other research activities – is named for best-selling author and internationally known health/wellness guru Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper, who started the Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas in 1970 and pioneered the concept of preventive medicine and healthy lifestyle.

Pooja Mehta (MPH – Epidemiology) was presented with the Bob Crow Award, named for the former executive director of the Texas charitable Amon G. Carter Foundation and past member of the school’s Steering Committee, recognizing an outstanding MPH or MHA student with exemplary leadership and service to the school and community.

Amy Board (MPH Professional Option) was presented with the Dean’s Award for Scholarly Excellence in Academics, and Erica Stockbridge (PhD – Health Services and Policy Research) received the Dean’s Award for Scholarly Excellence in Research.

The UNTHSC Public Health Student Government Association also presented honors, highlighting faculty and staff members for going above and beyond in support of SPH students.

Recognized were Dr. Subhash Aryal for Outstanding Faculty in Teaching; Dr. Tania Lopez for Outstanding Faculty in Online Teaching; Dr. Katherine Fogelberg, Outstanding Faculty Advisor; and Elizabeth Heyerdahl as Outstanding Public Health Staff Member.

Posted Date: March 30, 2017
Thad Miller Mexico

Dr. Miller (seated left, foreground) and volunteers help patients in the clinic

As the sun rises over Eagle Pass, just across the U.S. border into Mexico, a small caravan of trucks and cargo trailers slowly makes its way toward the State of Coahuila in the country’s northwestern region.

The travelers are doctors, nurses and other volunteers who for more than 30 years have been the main source of medical care for isolated desert villages that would otherwise go without.
For the last 10 years, Dr. Thad Miller and his family have been a part of this group. A UNT Health Science Center public health professor, Dr. Miller recently spent his spring break on one of the trips, visiting three villages.

“The closest town is six hours away from some of these remote communities, across rugged desert terrain. There is scant infrastructure and few resources,” he said. “These families have so little—no electricity, running water, stores or routine communication with the outside. And without us, they would have no medical care.”

Thad Miller Mexico 2

Dr. Miller and his nephew on one of the Mision de Candelilla Mexico trips

Volunteers help however they can, and the situations vary. This trip, Dr. Miller managed the visiting clinic’s pharmacy, dispensing patient medications. He leads trips, and even helped a community build a water well during one visit. Along the way, he has also worked on vehicle repairs and changed a few flat tires as needed.

“It’s challenging under the best circumstances, and a lot can go wrong. But experience is a great teacher,” Dr. Miller said.

“The roads are so bad into these remote areas that we always risk car trouble. One year, a trailer simply broke apart hours from the nearest town,” he said.

Dr. Miller speaks enough conversational Spanish to get by, and over the years, he and his family have forged friendships that go beyond words. His wife is a pediatrician, his sister is a registered dietitian, and his brother-in-law is a firefighter and paramedic. All of their children have come along on trips, as well as Dr. Miller’s 74-year-old mother.

“Our kids have grown up being a part of the medical mission trips, since my oldest daughter, who is now entering college, was about eight years old,” he said. “Our children used to play with the local kids while their parents were at the clinic, and now, each time we return, it’s like a family reunion.”

Dr. Miller serves on the Board of Mision de Candelilla, the Fredericksburg, Texas, non-profit organization that has coordinated the trips since 1986.

When first he joined as a volunteer, Dr. Miller was looking for a meaningful way to help people and to give his children an understanding of the world and the values of service.

“I had been on medical mission trips to other countries before where the health problems were more than visiting volunteers could take on,” he said. “Good health care in a resource poor region requires consistency, relationships and continuity. It takes years, and single visits by well-meaning medical teams really can’t do much.”

“The ongoing relationships we have built with these little villages in Mexico are enabling us to address health issues typical of those in any primary practice–diabetes, high blood pressure, the need for antibiotics and conditions that can be helped by a wellness visit or minor surgical procedure, “ he said.

Mision de Candelilla cares for 12 Mexican villages overall, visiting each community on its “route” at regular six-month intervals. By providing a 180-day supply of necessary routine medications, the organization is able to effectively manage a great majority of the medical needs seen.

Dr. Miller estimates that Mision de Candelilla provides more than 2,000 patient encounters and distributes medication with a retail prescription value of more than $1 million each year, all of which comes through donations, fundraising and volunteer efforts, never at a cost to the people it serves.

Mision de Candelilla takes its name from the candelilla desert plant that grows in Mexico, which is harvested for wax used in candles, cosmetics and other beauty products. The name is symbolic of bringing light to others in a region where the stark challenges of daily living mirror the long, labor-intensive process villagers use to extract and prepare the wax for sale.

“Being a part of something like this really helps you get your perspective,” Dr. Miller said. “You put your own needs on the shelf and spend the week serving others first. We gain as much from the friendships and experience as the people we care for.”

“While we can’t fix every problem, we help where we can. It’s just good folks doing the things that need to be done.”

Posted Date: March 14, 2017

A new study published in The American Journal of Public Health provides recommendations for community-based and individual level prevention strategies to reduce alcohol use among American Indian and white teens living in multicultural rural communities.

UNT Health Science Center researcher Melvin Livingston, PhD, led the statistical design and analysis of the study, which was supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA), part of the National Institutes of Health, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Dr. Livingston is Assistant Professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the UNTHSC School of Public Health.

“This study is one of the largest alcohol prevention trials ever conducted with an American Indian population, and the first to demonstrate the effectiveness of screening and brief counseling
intervention in significantly reducing youth alcohol use at a community level,” said NIAAA Director George F. Koob, PhD.

American Indian teens and other rural youth initiate alcohol use at younger ages and have higher rates of alcohol-related problems than other groups. Early prevention is critical in these populations, but both American Indians and rural communities have been underrepresented in studies aimed at finding effective solutions for underage drinking.

To address this gap, a team of researchers led by Kelli A. Komro, PhD, of Emory University, worked with students in the Cherokee Nation, northeastern Oklahoma, to evaluate the effects of two strategies that previous research has indicated may be beneficial.

The first strategy, Communities Mobilizing for Change on Alcohol (CMCA), is a citizen-led community-organizing effort that holds local officials responsible for taking action to reduce alcohol access, use and consequences among underage youth.

The second strategy, called CONNECT, is a school-based, one-on-one health screening and brief intervention in which trained health coaches meet with students each semester to motivate healthy behaviors related to alcohol consumption.

High school students in six communities were randomly assigned to treatment or control conditions over a three-year period. Two communities received both intervention strategies, while students in two other communities received neither intervention strategy. Another community received only CMCA, and one received only CONNECT.

Results showed that alcohol use in the past 30 days, including any consumption and heavy drinking episodes (five or more drinks on at least one occasion), was significantly reduced among students receiving either or both of the interventions.

“The two distinct interventions alone and in combination resulted in similar patterns of effect across time,” said Dr. Komro, “but, interestingly, we found no evidence that the two interventions combined had significantly greater effects than either alone.”

“We found that community and school support and engagement in prevention is critical to shaping a more healthful environment for teens. Strategies such as ones conducted in this study should be further investigated with a focus on sustainability,” she said.

Posted Date: March 7, 2017


Dr. Yoav Hoffman_2

Dr. Yoav Hoffman

Two physicians who have served on the front lines of war, caring for northern border Israeli civilians and war casualties from neighboring countries, most recently Syrian refugees, will speak at UNT Health Science Center on Monday, April 3.

Dr. Yoav Hoffman and Dr. Tal Marshak of Galilee Medical Center will discuss their work and share personal experiences with emergency preparedness during times of war, co-hosted by the UNTHSC School of Public Health and TCOM.

This visit is part of Partnership2Gether, a joint program of the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County and the Jewish Agency, to promote mutually beneficial endeavors and connections between the local community and the Western Galilee region.

Dr. Hoffman is Assistant Director of the hospital’s Pediatric Intensive Care Department (PICU).  Since 2013, the PICU has taken care of pediatric casualties from Syria as well as serving the local population.

With responsibility for mass casualty events preparedness, Dr. Hoffman leads the hospital during emergency situations such as war, fires and chemical disasters.

Dr. Tal_Marshak

Dr. Tal Marshak

Dr. Marshak is Senior Surgeon and Head of the Rhinology and Skull Base Surgery Unit.

Since 1956, Galilee Medical Center has served as the largest government hospital in its region and currently treats a local population of 600,000.

After the medical center was bombed during the 2006 Lebanon War, an entire underground hospital was created, to provide uninterrupted service during times of crisis.

The April 3 conversation with these physicians is open to UNTHSC students, faculty, staff and the community and is the kickoff event for Public Health Week 2017. The event will be held from 3-4 pm in MET 125.  Advance registration is not required.

For more information, contact Dr. Marcy L. Paul, UNTHSC School of Public Health, at marcy.paul@unthsc.edu or 817-735-0537.

Posted Date: March 1, 2017
Smoke Free3

Melaine Akakuru and Caren Gonzalez

Smoke Free1

Amruta Barve, Samyuktha Kolluru, Jennifer Cofer with Smoke-Free Fort Worth, and Elisa Benavides

Smoke Free2

Alice Miank and Megan Bhatti provide information to booth visitors











UNT Health Science Center public health students volunteered at the recent Cowtown Marathon Health and Fitness Expo February 24-25, 2017, sharing information about the Smoke-Free Fort Worth effort to pass a comprehensive smoke-free city ordinance in public locations and workplaces. School of Public Health Epidemiology student Kayan Dunnigan led the student volunteer group to help staff the organization’s exhibit booth.

Posted Date: February 22, 2017

Stephanie Spohr

Stephanie Spohr, MA, a UNTHSC public health student working toward her PhD in Public Health Sciences (Behavioral and Community Health concentration), has been named as one of 400 finalists from among 7,000 applicants for the U.S. Presidential Management Fellowship, a flagship leadership development program for graduate-level candidates.

The program is designed to develop potential government leaders and build a spirit of public service. Students who receive a two-year appointment will work at a Federal agency, with opportunities to participate in rotations at other governmental divisions throughout the program. More than 160 hours of interactive leadership, management and policy training are provided, as well as on-the-job mentoring.

On completion, Fellows can convert to permanent or term positions with a Federal agency, or may choose to pursue the private sector, academia or non-profit leadership positions.

“I am honored to be selected as a finalist for this prestigious program,” Spohr said. “I applied for this Fellowship because it has great opportunity for me to gain practical and influential management experience in public health. I had previously interned with the Region 6 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in Dallas, and the Presidential Management Fellowship would be a valuable combination for me to achieve.”

Spohr said she hopes to continue building toward a future career position with the Department of Health and Human Services or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, to continue her research in technology-based substance abuse interventions for vulnerable populations.

Posted Date: January 31, 2017

Nicaragua_Etienne_JaimeUNTHSC School of Public Health graduate Etienne Jaime (MPH ’16) found a path to helping underserved Nicaraguan communities through last year’s American Public Health Association (APHA) conference.

By networking with presenters and taking advantage of section meetings and events, he connected with staff from AMOS Health and Hope, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the health of communities suffering from poverty, disease and preventable deaths. The organization works alongside communities in health, education and development.

Jaime interned last summer and was hired for a full-time position after graduation.

As Monitoring and Evaluation Manager, he is involved in community-based participatory research and data analysis to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of AMOS programs.

He is currently assisting with outreach efforts addressing clean water and sanitation, maternal and child health, child malnutrition and Zika virus prevention.

Nicaragua_Etienne_Jaime_3“The most interesting part of my work is connecting with community members and community health workers and being able to see changes happening in Nicaraguan communities,” Jaime said.  “The organization’s culture and values fit with mine, and the AMOS team has such an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Jaime said his UNTHSC training has been important in preparing him for this role in international public health.

“Because the School of Public Health supports students in attending conferences like APHA, I was able to find AMOS and this unique experience. I encourage other students to be involved in associations and networking, because it really helps in connecting with causes and programs and building career options,” he said.

At UNTHSC, Jaime combined studies, receiving both the MPH in Behavioral and Community Health and a Graduate Certificate in Global Health.

Posted Date: January 23, 2017

Walters_storyAbout two thirds of people in the criminal justice system abuse alcohol or drugs, yet less than half ever complete treatment.

A recent study by Scott Walters, PhD, and colleagues, looks at the factors that motivate people to successfully complete probation and exit the justice system. The study was published in the January 2017 issue of Evaluation and Program Planning (People’s Reasons for Wanting to Complete Probation: Use and Predictive Validity in an e-Health Intervention).

“Historically, the US criminal justice system has relied on external factors to try and motivate people to comply with justice conditions, including increased fees, monitoring or jail time, but most people have a broader set of reasons as to why they want to exit the justice system, such as family, employment or improved quality of life. If we could identify these reasons ahead of time, we could do a better job in motivating people to comply with their probation requirements,” said Dr. Walters, who serves as Professor and Chair of Health Behavior and Health Systems for the UNT Health Science Center School of Public Health.

To find those motivating factors, the research team created survey questions around two themes: “tangible loss,” focused on external and present-focused reasons to finish probation; and “better life,” focused on internal, future-oriented reasons.

113 substance-using probationers from Dallas, Texas, and Baltimore City, Maryland, participated in the study. The average age was 35. Approximately two thirds were male. The questions were embedded in MAPIT (Motivational Assessment Program to Initiate Treatment), an online intervention tool for probationers that was being evaluated in a randomized clinical trial.

“Tangible-loss reasons for wanting to complete probation are things like wanting to avoid fees and court costs; the time it takes to attend court hearings; having to check in with others, or being required to tell others about the probation, such as an employer,” Dr. Walters said. “On the other hand, people seeking a better life may want to set an example for others, make their families proud, relieve guilt or be able to move on with their lives in a positive way.”

Among those surveyed, “getting on with life” was cited as the top reason for wanting to complete probation (nearly 87%), followed by legal pressure (73.5%) and time (60%). Relationships and having freedom were important motivators for 55.8% of participants. About half of those surveyed indicated that finances were an important reason for complying with probation conditions.

“It turns out that people’s reasons for change predicted what they actually did on probation. People who chose more ‘better life’ reasons were more likely to go to treatment, and less likely to use drugs. On the other hand, ‘tangible loss’ reasons weren’t related to outcome at all. This kind of information can give us advance notice of who might do well or poorly on probation, and it can also serve as the basis for delivering more effective interventions. By highlighting internal, future focused reasons, probation officers might be able to stimulate change early in the probation process,” Dr. Walters said. “When we tailored our online intervention trial based on these factors, people were quite positive about the perceived accuracy and helpfulness of such a program.”

Dr. Walters completed the study with UNT Health Science Center public health doctoral student Stephanie A. Spohr and Dr. Faye S. Taxman, University Professor, George Mason University.

Posted Date: January 20, 2017
MHA ACHE winners photo

Pictured from left to right: Dr. Aman Kaila, Ashnia Taher, ACHE mentor Paul Aslin, Martin Ostensen, Patrick Li, Chelsea Kleen and Shriya Sarin


Problems were immense for a West Coast safety net health system that became the focus of a 2014 Harvard Business Review case study. The system was in financial trouble and had lost its CEO. Operational inefficiencies ran deep, and morale had tanked.

“Imagine the challenge of trying to turn that situation around,” said UNTHSC Assistant Professor Martin Ostensen, JD, MBA, MHA.

Ostensen, who serves as MHA Program Director for the School of Public Health, helped coach a team of five UNTHSC students who took on this challenge, recently winning first place at the annual North Texas American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) Case Competition.

The UNTHSC team was given three weeks to develop a written analysis and recommendations, culminating in a presentation to an expert panel of judges.

Team members Dr. Aman Kaila, Chelsea Kleen, Patrick Li, Shriya Sarin and Ashnia Taher first worked through a SWOT analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing the health system.

From there, they prioritized problems and developed advice for a turnaround plan.

An ACHE mentor, Paul Aslin, FACHE, Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Wise Health Clinics, Wise Health System, counseled the team through the process, as well as Thomas Fairchild, PhD, UNTHSC Vice President for Organizational Excellence.

The students took home awards that included a cash prize, paid registration to ACHE’s 2017 Congress on Healthcare Leadership and an invitation to attend ACHE North Texas Chapter Board meetings for the coming year.







Posted Date: January 9, 2017

Dr. Emily Spence-Almaguer & Dr. Tracey Barnett

As the School of Public Health (SPH) moves into 2017, plans are in the works to strengthen programs, build deeper community partnerships and enhance academic quality. To help support those goals, two new Associate Deans have recently been appointed, and departments within the SPH have been updated, under the direction of two new Chairs.

Dr. Emily Spence-Almaguer has been named to the newly-developed position of Associate Dean for Community Engagement and Health Equity, where she will serve as the primary SPH representative to community organizations and partners interested in or engaged with faculty, staff, students or School infrastructure. She will also establish and monitor School objectives related to faculty and student community service; community-based learning experiences for students, including MPH practice experiences; community-based research and evaluation services; and public health workforce training for the North Texas region, strengthening UNTHSC’s capacity for community-engaged work.

Also joining the SPH Executive Team is Dr. Tracey Barnett, who will serve as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. In this role, she will provide leadership to enhance the quality of academic programs and revise curricula in line with recently updated Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) accreditation criteria.

Dr. Spence-Almaguer has been with the SPH since 2012, as Associate Professor of Behavioral and Community Health and Director, Community Outreach Core, for the Texas Center for Health Disparities.  She has worked extensively in the local community on research and interventions related to intimate partner violence, sexual violence and stalking, and was instrumental in developing a 2013 study on the victimization experiences and health challenges of homeless women in Fort Worth, in partnership with the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition, Salvation Army and other agencies (https://www.unthsc.edu/school-of-public-health/new-study-focuses-on-victimization-of-fort-worth-homeless-women/). She has extensive experience in the development, administration and evaluation of social service programs. Dr. Spence-Almaguer holds a PhD in Social Welfare from Florida International University.

Dr. Barnett joins the SPH from the University of Florida, Gainesville, where she most recently served as Associate Professor, Department of Epidemiology, College of Public Health and Health Professions and College of Medicine, and as Director, Social and Behavioral Sciences Concentration, for the PhD in Public Health program. She is trained as a medical sociologist and has experience in behavioral/social epidemiology and health services research. Dr. Barnett’s research on tobacco and alternative tobacco use has been supported by the National Cancer Institute, U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the American Cancer Society. She holds a PhD in Medical and Applied Sociology from Western Michigan University and also served a postdoctoral Health Services Research Fellowship through the Rehabilitation Outcomes Research Center/South Georgia Veterans Health System, Florida.

Dr. Sumihiro Suzuki

Dr. Sumihiro Suzuki

Dr. Sumihiro Suzuki has been named as Chair of the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, which will now include the public health biostatics, epidemiology and environmental health programs.

Dr. Scott Walters has been maned as Chair for the new Department of Health Behavior and Health Systems, which will encompass health management and policy, behavioral and community health, maternal and child health and public health education programs.

These changes in department structure align with recent Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approval effective January 1, 2017.

Dr. Suzuki has been with the SPH since 2007 and was named Associate Professor in 2014. He served as Interim Chair for Biostatistics and Epidemiology from 2015 to 2016 and has been Program Director for the MPH in Biostatistics and PhD in Biostatistics and Epidemiology since 2014. His research interests include statistical methodology research in the area of sequential analysis, as well as applied research in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and obesity.  Dr. Suzuki received his PhD in Mathematical Sciences with a major in Statistics from the University of Texas at Dallas.

Dr. Scott Walters

Dr. Scott Walters

Dr. Walters joined the SPH in 2011 as Professor of Behavioral and Community Health. His research focuses on the use of motivational interviewing and technology as behavioral health interventions. His current projects involve testing in-person and web-based interventions for increasing judicial probation compliance, technology-assisted health coaching for people in permanent supportive housing, and a screening and intervention program to reduce interpersonal violence. He has served as a standing member of the NIH/NIAAA Epidemiology, Prevention and Treatment review subcommittee. Dr. Walters holds a PhD in Clinical Psychology from the University of New Mexico.