Bringing Learning to Life. These words appear along the top of a banner inside the main office at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health-McAllen Campus. They serve as a constant reminder of one of the school’s primary roles.

Established in 2000, this A&M campus moved to its current location at 2101 S. McColl Road in 2004. The brightly colored walls with sparkling mosaic tile baseboards create an atmosphere of prestige and sophistication. One large classroom contains the latest in distance learning technology, allowing students in College Station to attend lectures on the McAllen campus via web technology and McAllen Campus students to participate in lectures conducted on the College Station campus. Conference rooms in the building allow the school to host special guests, and high-level research will be conducted in the site’s laboratory.

Valley students interested in earning a Master of Public Health degree may choose between two concentrations: Border Health or Health Policy and Management. Both are 45-hour programs and require a practicum, which provides students with hands-on experience in their chosen area of expertise. All courses are taught at the McAllen campus.

The concentration in Border Health is offered through A&M’s Department of Social and Behavioral Health. According to the school’s web site (www.srph.tamhsc.edu), “graduates can create, implement and evaluate health-promotion interventions and facilitate community development activities, including those for rural and underserved populations.” Some of the courses offered in this concentration are Border Public Health Systems and Practices, Introduction to Health Policy and Management, and Fundamentals of Epidemiology. Students who choose this concentration may seek employment with such entities as non-profits, local and state health departments, federal health agencies, clinics and hospitals.

The Health Policy and Management concentration provides students with a mixture of management instruction and the study of health policy. Social and Behavioral Determinants of Health, Introduction to Health Economics and Health Policy and Politics are a sampling of the courses required for this concentration. Career goals for graduates of an MPH in Health Policy and Management range from healthcare management and public health administration to advocacy and policy development or research.

Feb. 8, 2010, Olga Gabriel started her new job as MPH Director, but her knowledge of the program has spanned the past 10 years. After completing her bachelor’s in Health Education from the University of Texas-Pan American, Gabriel became part of the first MPH cohort in 2000 and went on to earn her MPH in Community Public Health and Management in 2003.

Gabriel served as the first director of Children’s Defense Fund Texas-Rio Grande Valley and the director of U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett’s district office in McAllen. She still teaches a Personal Health and Wellness course at UTPA for future teachers, which allows her to stay current with classroom teaching, an obvious benefit in her new position.

“Our mission is education, research and outreach,” Gabriel said. Outreach includes educating people in the Valley about the MPH Program. There is a common misconception that potential students must hold a bachelor’s in a health-related field. Not true.

“We have students from all backgrounds,” said Cynthia Torres-Beltran, health career program coordinator. “Our students have undergraduate degrees in journalism and a wide variety of other fields, too, not just the sciences.”

The distance learning component of the MPH Program provides Valley students with access to Texas A&M —College Station faculty while remaining in South Texas. “Our students are working professionals, so they cannot travel. This program allows them to earn a master’s in Public Health with specialties,” Gabriel said. Students may choose between taking classes part-time or full-time. Going full-time, students should complete the program in two years. Part-time students will likely complete it in three.

Each course is held one night a week from 5:30-8:30 p.m. for 15 weeks. Break rooms within the facility offer students a place to heat and eat their dinner or a snack since most of them go directly from work to class.

Dr. Ann Millard (Ph.D., Associate Professor), Dr. Miguel Zuniga (M.D., Dr. P.H., Assistant Professor), Dr. Nelda Mier (Ph.D., Associate Professor) and Dr. Genny Carrillo Zuniga (M.D., Sc.D., Assistant Professor) serve as the program’s full-time faculty. Dr. Maria Alen (M.D., Adjunct Professor and Clinical Coordinator), rounds out the campus-based faculty. Adjunct professors from UTPA teach courses such as statistics while A&M professors teach McAllen Campus students sometimes via distance learning and sometimes on site.

Prospective students are required to hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university with a 3.0 grade point average. Students must submit Graduate Record Exam (GRE) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) scores. International students must provide the program with their Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) scores. MPH hopefuls must also submit an online application, available at www.sophas.org.

May 1 is the application deadline for early (summer) admission and June 1 is the deadline for regular (fall) admission. McAllen residents who are accepted into the program qualify for a small amount of tuition assistance.

Olga Gabriel’s new position is a perfect fit. “The first day I walked into this place as a student, I was home,” she said. “I knew this was it for me. Now, with people like Dr. Blakely (Craig Blakely, dean of Texas A&M HSC-School of Rural Public Health) and Dr. Moore (J. Steven Moore, executive associate dean) providing such excellent leadership and support, along with the phenomenal staff here and the faculty who has the health of our community as its priority…Wow!…top notch.”