SPH news

Posted Date: May 13, 2016


During a recent trip to South Korea in which he represented the UNTHSC School of Public Health (SPH), Joon Lee, PhD, Associate Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, presented two of his research studies to scholarly and governmental audiences.

He spoke on “An Application of Entomology in Urban Social Environment” at Andong National University and also presented “An Integrative West Nile virus Vector Management-Case of Fort Worth, Texas, USA” to both Chungbuk National University and the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While there, he was also hosted at the Seoul Metropolitan Government Research Institute of Public Health and Environment, where he learned about the government’s management system for food, air and water quality monitoring and response, along with their public risk communications system.

“Students at the two universities I visited were interested in learning about graduate study in the U.S. and the types of opportunities we offer through the UNTHSC MPH programs,” Dr. Lee said.

Dr. Lee’s work on West Nile virus prevention efforts in North Texas over the last several years, and his recent advice to local communities and the news media regarding growing Zika virus concerns, also led to meetings with high-ranking government officials during his visit, to explore opportunities for collaborative research and projects in the future.

“Following last year’s outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in South Korea – the largest virus spread outside the Arabian Peninsula, with potential death tolls for the disease of about 3-4 of every 10 patients diagnosed – the government is very interested in developing a vigilant system to detect and prevent future virus threats like Zika,” he said, “and I am hoping to get involved with these governmental institutions over the next few months, so we can work together on solutions for this current global public health concern.”

Posted Date: May 2, 2016

As part of National Public Health Week 2016, SPH students were HealthInnovationsContest2016invited to present their ideas for improving the world in this year’s Health Innovations Contest.

The national theme for this year’s celebration was “Healthiest Nation 2030,” sponsored by the American Public Health Association, with a focus on building a nation of safe, healthy communities; helping all young people graduate from high school; the relationship between increased economic mobility and better health; social justice and health; giving everyone a choice of healthy food; preparing for the health effects of climate change; providing quality health care for everyone; and strengthening the public health infrastructure.

Six UNTHSC public health students shared proposals, with Shelby Graves and Etienne Jaime Hinojosa winning the contest in a tie. Both are pursuing their MPH degrees in Community Health.

Shelby presented an idea for a new cell phone app called “Is this Love?” to encourage young adults toward healthy relationships.

“The idea,” she said, “is about empowerment and growth. There are so many issues today with teenage interpersonal violence, harassment, threats, respect, boundaries and building healthy romantic relationships, that it is important for young adults to have a tool to help them.”

She proposed that the app would be free and could include a customizable format for setting and tracking goals, a chat component, daily activity logs, thoughts and reflections through a personal journal, and an opportunity to connect with a mentor or trusted adult. A teen committee could help guide development of the app by offering advice on preferences and usability, she said.

Etienne’s idea focused on a natural mosquito repellant from the Neem tree, or Indian lilac tree, a tropical evergreen native to India and other southeast countries that has long been used as a natural medicine for healing various health conditions.

Neem oil as a repellant was developed in Mexico, and Etienne’s presentation looked at how a Neem topical solution or spray could now be distributed as a safe, chemical-free alternative for repelling mosquitoes in pregnant women, to prevent spread of the Zika virus.

He will be working in Nicaragua this summer on a professional practice experience, where he hopes to look more into this healthy alternative for Zika prevention.

Posted Date: April 27, 2016
Kwynn Gonzalez

Dr. Emily Spence-Almaguer presents the 2016 Richard S. Kurz Award to Kwynn Gonzalez-Pons.

National Public Health Week 2016 concluded with the UNTHSC School of Public Health (SPH) annual awards ceremony, held at Marquis on Magnolia in Fort Worth, where student, faculty, staff and community special honors were presented.

Kwynn Gonzalez-Pons, MPH, Community Health, 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 retired in August 2015. This award was established in 2012 by the school’s faculty leadership.

The Kurz award was presented by Emily Spence-Almaguer, MSW, PhD, SPH Associate Professor of Behavioral and Community Health, who said in a nomination letter, “During her MPH program, Kwynn has pursued opportunities to extend her knowledge of oppressed populations and identify solutions that promote social justice.”

Dr. Spence-Almaguer noted Kwynn’s work as a graduate assistant helping to study local homelessness; her work as co-investigator on mental health research; her 2015 summer internship with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children; and recognition from the Yale University Global Health Innovations competition, where she was invited this spring to present her idea for a wearable tracking device to help prevent international sex trafficking.

“Kwynn is an excellent scholar and produces high quality work.  She is a valuable collaborator and is extraordinarily competent. I feel grateful for the opportunity to have worked with Kwynn during her MPH program and am confident she will continue to be an innovator when she graduates,” Dr. Spence-Almaguer said.

At the ceremony, five SPH students were admitted into the Alpha Sigma Chapter of Delta Omega public health national honor society: Lauren Hall, Alexandra Johnson, Alita Andrews, Nnamdi Maduabum and Kikelomo Akintunde.

Alumni inductees into Delta Omega were Dr. Matt Richardson, Director, Denton Health Department, and Aditoun Sodimu, Interim Clinical Research Manager, UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Dr. Joon Lee from the SPH faculty was inducted into Delta Omega, as were two community members, Mrs. Loretta Burns, founder and Executive Director of AB Christian Learning Center, and the Reverend Ralph W. Emerson, who serves as Chairperson of the John Peter Smith Pastor’s Council, Chair of the JPS Board of Managers, Chair of the Healthy Moms-Healthy Babies-Healthy Community (H3) initiative, and has served as a member of the UNTHSC Dean’s Steering Committee.

Both Mrs. Burns and Reverend Emerson were founding chairs of the H3 initiative, and they both coordinate Freedom Schools (Children’s Defense Fund), a summer program for children in Southeast Fort Worth.

Students named to the SPH Dean’s List were Alexandra Johnson, Shelly Barnes, Udoka Obinwa, Kevin Kalinowski, Laura Lockwood, Alex Espinoza, Swetha Murthi and Kwynn Gonzalez-Pons.

This year’s Leon Brachman Award was presented to Laura Lockwood. 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 2016 Kenneth Cooper Award winner was Peng Chen. The award – presented to an outstanding MPH or MHA student demonstrating excellence and quality in the application of research methods 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.

Alexandra Johnson Fields, MPH, Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, 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.

Lauren Hall was presented with the Dean’s Award for Scholarly Excellence in Academics, and the Public Health Student Association presented honors to faculty and staff members selected for going “above and beyond for students.”

Recognized were Dr. Sumi Suzuki for Outstanding Faculty in Teaching; Steve Jacob for Outstanding Faculty in Online Teaching; Dr. Witold Migala, Outstanding Faculty Advisor; and Dr. Misty Smethers as Outstanding Public Health Staff Member.

Student co-chairs of the National Public Health Week celebration were Soha Patel, Health Management and Policy, and Shlesma Chhetri, PhD, Behavioral and Community Health.

Posted Date: April 22, 2016

Karen Bell, PhD, and Martin Ostensen, JD, MBA, MHA, each found their passion for public health as UNT Health Science Center students.

Now, both have accepted faculty leadership roles within the School of Public Health (SPH), where they will be helping to inspire and teach public health leaders of tomorrow.

Dr. Bell has been named Assistant Professor and Director of the school’s MPH-Community Health program, and Ostensen will take on the role of Assistant Professor and MHA Program Director.

Dr. Bell completed her MPH degree in 2004 and went on to receive her PhD in Health Studies from Texas Woman’s University in 2015. She worked for the City of Fort Worth as a Health Education Specialist from 2004 to 2007 and began working as Assistant Dean for Campus Life at TCU in 2007. She has been involved in a number of community organizations, including the American Heart Association and American Cancer Society, and served on the board of the Tarrant Area Food Bank for six years.

“I have had a lot of fulfilling moments in my professional career, yet I feel that some of my best work was when I served the community of Fort Worth as a health education specialist,” Dr. Bell said.

“My SPH education and training equipped me for that work and I am very excited about the chance to return to the school to help facilitate that type of academic and professional development for future public health practitioners,” she explained.

Ostensen, who graduated from the SPH MHA program in 2015, is also looking forward to working with students in his new role.

“As to why I want to teach, I can think of a few reasons,” he said.  “Teaching graduate level students is fun, creative, demanding, interesting, challenging, fulfilling.  I am learning so much.  I enjoy challenging smart students to learn and experience more, and I enjoy being part of a formative experience.”

Ostensen had been teaching Public Health Law and Intro to Health Management & Policy prior to assuming his new position, and now will also be teaching Health Care Law, as well as Professional and Academic Development courses, while guiding the continued growth of the school’s MHA program.

“Teaching and mentoring in public health aligns with my personal values, one of which is a commitment to justice, and public health is about justice,” he said.

Prior to working on his MHA at UNTHSC, Ostensen completed MBA degrees from Cornell University and Queen’s University, Ontario, Canada, and his law degree from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.  Born in Oslo, Norway, he also attended school in Australia, bringing an international approach to his view of public health, law and health care administration.

Posted Date: April 15, 2016

UNTHSC School of Public Health (SPH) Adjunct Instructor and Practice ExperienceMelissa Oden APA Liaison Melissa Oden, DHEd, recently attended the American Planning Association’s (APA) national conference in Phoenix, Arizona, to participate in a panel discussion on building collaborations and the Plan4Health grant that she has been involved with for the last 18 months.

Dr. Oden was invited to speak on behalf of the Austin Plan4Health 2015-2016 cohort and as a leadership representative of the Texas Public Health Association (TPHA).  She recently assumed the role of TPHA President for this coming year.

The Austin project was one of only three programs to be highlighted at the conference.

The Plan4Health community envisions the full integration of planning and public health where communities live, work and play.

Coalitions work with communities to increase access to healthy food and opportunities for active living.

Dr. Oden has been invited to the APA Texas Chapter’s state conference in November to represent the second Plan4Health cohort, related to the Healthy Tarrant County Collaboration.



Posted Date: April 8, 2016
Courtney Searles with Director-General of WHO

SPH student Courtney Searles with Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO

UNTHSC student Courtney Searles decided to study public health because of her dad.

Diagnosed with cancer at age 24, her father had grown up close to a chemical plant, where environmental factors may have contributed to his illness.

Her father lost his battle with the disease at 30, inspiring Courtney toward a career where she could help find solutions for better health and a safer world environment.

A first-year Health Management and Policy MPH student, she hopes to combine her public health focus with a future medical degree.Courtney_Searles_WHO2

It was likely that Courtney’s story touched top management at the World Health Organization (WHO) when she was selected as one of four students from among thousands of international candidates for a six-week internship at WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

“It seemed like such a longshot when I applied,” she said. “The forms advised not to call or contact WHO in follow up … that if you didn’t hear back, it meant you weren’t selected and that was it. I thought, no way will I get this, but I still wanted to try. So I sent off my personal essay and pretty much forgot about it.”

“The next thing you know,” she said, “I was boarding an airplane for a life-changing experience. It feels like such a dream; I blinked and then I was back home.”

Courtney’s job involved analyzing data collected over 14 months following the 2014 Ebola outbreak, to evaluate results of international interventions to the crisis. This report, soon to be published by WHO, has identified 16 African countries at highest risk for spread of the disease.

“Experiences like this, in the international sense, are so important. Diseases strike every area of the world, and it was empowering to watch countries come together to work on solutions and to learn about other cultures and norms through the process,” she said. “I was able to learn the work, at a global level, that goes into public health emergencies when a pandemic like Ebola occurs.”

Courtney’s goal is to one day work full-time for WHO, either at headquarters or deployed anywhere around the world.

“This internship took me outside my comfort zone and taught me that no dream is impossible or too big. You never know until you try, and I hope to be part of that international family again sometime in the future,” she said.

Posted Date: March 11, 2016


Scientists have long recognized the connection between diseases in animals and diseases in people.

Tuberculosis, brucellosis and African sleeping sickness, for example, are common infections passed from livestock to individuals in some third-world countries.

So when Katherine Fogelberg, DVM, PhD, with the UNTHSC School of Public Health announced a practice experience opportunity in Uganda to her students, best friends Conner Carlsen, Jordan Killion and Haylea Stuteville decided right away to apply. All three are MPH Epidemiology students planning to graduate in May.

Dr. Fogelberg, Assistant Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences and a veterinarian, was asked by the international Veterinarians Without Borders to join the University of Georgia, University of California-Davis and Makerere University-Uganda in a new partnership adding a first-time public health perspective to veterinary efforts of assistance.

“It was inspiring to work on the ‘people’ side of zoonotic disease issues,” Carlsen said. “This is where public health and veterinary medicine come together, because so many illnesses in cows, sheep, goats and other animals can be passed on to people, making testing, education and preventive efforts so critical in remote areas like those we visited.”Uganda2

Imagine going house to house with a translator to inform communities about free testing available to families, then setting up outdoor lab stations in the middle of challenging conditions where wind, dust, temperature, insects and weather can all have an impact.

“We learned to be flexible; it was all about adapting to the environment and the local culture. Sometimes the heat reached 102 degrees. Sometimes the generator went out and we lost power to the microscopes and equipment. Sometimes we worked from the car. We were able to see firsthand what we had only read about or covered before in class,” Stuteville said.

“So many people wanted to be tested,” she said. “There were households where we walked in and found 30 to 40 people waiting, whether or not they were from the same family. It was complicated, because we needed accurate residence data in order to report the results back after the tests had been analyzed.”

The group also visited a local prison to test jailers involved with livestock through work release programs, as well as villages near the border of South Sudan, where a large refugee population resides.

Next steps following testing will include education, which often starts in the schools.

Students learn, teach their parents about prevention, and as Killion said, “can become the generation that makes change.”

For UNT Health Science Center, the journey has just begun, as two other public health professors and several students will be picking up where this group started, taking trips of their own over the spring and summer months.

That story is still to unfold and is hoped to be just the beginning of a longstanding working relationship with Veterinarians Without Borders.

After all of the experiences, the challenges, the 19-hour flight plus layovers, and another eight hours of drive time to reach some of these faraway Ugandan communities, would the students do it again?

In a heartbeat.

“It’s a chance to see how public health can have a great impact,” Killion said.

“The most rewarding aspect was to see how regardless of living conditions and how much or how little these people had, they were still so thankful and welcoming,” Stuteville said. “It meant a lot to be able to help make a difference.”

Posted Date: February 16, 2016
Dr. Melissa Oden

Dr. Melissa Oden

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 so far 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.

“There is such a sense of community within TPHA, and one of my plans for closing out my presidential term in 2017 is to bring the annual conference to Fort Worth, to show off my city, UNTHSC and the great things that are happening here. I’m ready for an exciting year ahead,” she said.

Posted Date: January 6, 2016

SPH student Chandler Sparks and his wife, Emily, found a most special way to give back over the holiday season. Chandler is pursuing his Master of Public Health degree through the SPH in tandem with his TCOM medical degree.  Read more about the family’s special story here.

This holiday season, an abandoned newborn boy has a loving home because medical student Chandler Sparks, 24, and his wife, Emily, feel called to serve humankind.

They are the foster parents of a baby born this fall whose mother left him at the hospital. He went into foster care immediately, and his mother hasn’t visited him since.

The Sparkses also have two biological children, a 3-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter. Santa Claus will be busy at the Sparks house this year; Chandler and Emily will care for an additional 5-year old during the holidays. They’ll be providing respite for the child’s usual foster family, which must travel out of the state.

During Sparks’ first year of medical school, the couple took the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services’ foster training and became licensed in May 2015 to care for foster children.

In addition to earning a degree at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, Chandler Sparks is a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force and will serve at least four years after completing medical training. He also is a Rural Scholar, taking additional training to prepare him for practice in a rural community, and is earning a Master of Public Health degree in tandem with his medical degree.

It’s a busy schedule, but “I like to wear a lot of hats,” he said, adding with a chuckle, “I get bored if I do the same thing day after day.”

Sparks refers to all the kids living in his home as his children, not distinguishing between his biological children and the foster kids. The Sparkses’ first foster children were a toddler and an infant whose brothers and sisters were in other foster homes. They have since been reunited with all their siblings in a home able to care for their large sibling group – a rarity in foster care. “Of course we were sad to see them go, but foster care isn’t about us – it’s about them.”

Combining a rigorous medical education with parenting a changing set of youngsters is demanding. But parenthood enhances his education, Sparks said.

“I have a totally different perspective from students who aren’t parents,” he said. “I’m dedicated in multiple places. I have more challenges. It’s enriching, and it’s a juggling act, but it’s completely worthwhile.”

What makes a young person so dedicated at a time of life when many are overwhelmed by school alone and unsure of their career path?

“A lot of people influenced me,” he said. “I was brought up in a Christian home, and I feel that it’s our responsibility as people with education and privilege to stand in the gap for families in need. My wife cultivated in me a love for orphan care.”

Emily has a degree in social work and is currently a stay-at-home mom. “She has known since she was 12 that she would be a social worker and a foster parent,” Sparks said.

This Christmas, his first as a foster dad, has a new dimension. “It’s always about the birth of my Lord and Savior, but this year I’m blessed to share my family’s Christmas with children who wouldn’t otherwise have one.”

Sparks hopes his story will inspire more people to become foster parents.

“If you have room in your home and in your heart for a child in need,” he said, “please consider foster care.”

Posted Date: January 6, 2016

Professor Emeritus Terry Gratton, DrPH, remembers his years of teaching for the UNT Health Science Center School of Public Health as one of the most rewarding times of his career.

He cares so much about students and furthering work in Environmental and Occupational Health
that he and his wife of 42 years have found a way to help UNTHSC doctoral students along that career path, through the new Terrence and Ramona Gratton Endowed Scholarship, created to honor the history and future of public health.

Since 1969, Dr. Gratton has been involved in the field, starting out with the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District and then spending 18 years traveling through Oklahoma, Kansas and Arizona on behalf of the U.S. Public Health Service/Division of Indian Health Service, before making his way to Fort Worth for a position as infection control officer with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He also served as a licensed sanitarian for 44 years.

It would hardly be fair to say he “retired” in 2000 when he left the federal health service, because that’s when he took on a completely new direction teaching full-time for UNTHSC. Even now, officially retired for a second time in 2010, Dr. Gratton continues to lead one of the School of Public Health spring core courses each year.

He remembers the early years teaching a cross-disciplinary Border Health course that took students to Laredo for spring break, providing elements of social and behavioral concepts along with environmental aspects of life and health.

“This was probably one of the most unique courses I taught, because it offered students what I call the OMG experience,” he said. “Complementing the classroom topics, students saw firsthand, through field experience, what their work would be like in real practice. We met only twice before packing up for the trip, where they learned from actual situations.”

Over the years, Dr. Gratton saw the School of Public Health grow and the profession advance in meaningful ways.

“Environmental health is very interesting and broad. It’s defined as the physical, chemical and biological determinants of health, which covers so much. Even those who practice the profession – those who teach the concepts and those who make the policies, laws, regulations and guidelines – can’t come up with a concise, all-encompassing definition,” he said.

“Our students here at the UNTHSC School of Public Health will be important in taking the field into the future, to help build healthier communities around the world,” he said. “Ramona and I are happy to be a part of encouraging students through this new scholarship opportunity.”