Step 4: What's in a name?
Having gone through self-reflection, narrowed our focus, and explored the target audience for the program, we then approached the intriguing question of what to call the new program. Again, we stayed grounded in the threefold mission of the college of medicine. From the standpoint of the medical school, incorporating the term homeland security into the degree title and the phrase public health preparedness into the program title reinforced the program's alignment with our organizational mission. This was also consistent with the organization of homeland security within the government of our home state, starting within the Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security.
Accordingly, the college of medicine proposed that the degree title be master of homeland security. Continuing with the parallel, PA-DOH features an Office of Public Health Preparedness that “coordinates and supports PA-DOH efforts to prepare for, protect against, respond to, and recover from all acts of bioterrorism and other public health emergencies that affect the civilian population …, serves as liaison with the Office of Homeland Security and [the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency] PEMA …, [and] represents DOH to other federal agencies and [the] private sector.”16 Therefore, the proposed MHS degree would be conferred to those completing the newly proposed graduate program, titled Public Health Preparedness. In all, the decision about what to call the evolving graduate degree program ensured consistency with corresponding government organizational structures and had the further benefit of aligning with the growing number of undergraduate programs with the same name.17
Step 5: Define your educational goals
With the program beginning to take on an identity, we turned our attention to perhaps the core issue of the effort: what competencies did we want to develop among program participants? This decision was particularly difficult to tease out because there was no well-defined professional discipline associated with homeland security. At the time, there were no professional organizations, societies, or officially recognized journals to turn to for assistance. Federal and state government agencies were also struggling to define a clear set of strategic priorities. In addition, there were no colleges or universities with experience in developing an advanced academic program of this kind. Against that backdrop, the multidisciplinary project team consulted with internal and external partners to ultimately select the following core areas of focus:
- ▪ public health preparedness,
- ▪ epidemiologic evaluation,
- ▪ disaster communication,
- ▪ agricultural biosecurity,
- ▪ disaster psychology, and
- ▪ critical infrastructure protection.
Only recently has there been literature on developing a set of core educational competencies to teach terrorism and disaster preparedness to health professions students.18 List 2 provides information on the program's current course offerings and content. Information is also available from the program's Web site (http://www.worldcampus.psu.edu/MasterinHomelandSecurity.shtml).
Step 6: Recruit internal and external partners
With the program competencies identified, the project team shifted to identifying faculty, authors, practitioners, and others with significant expertise in these competencies to develop and instruct the courses to support them. Again, because homeland security is not an established professional discipline, the challenge was seeking out lead faculty from multiple disciplines for each of the specific competencies. The vision assumed that, with lead faculty members in place to oversee each competency, those individuals would in turn oversee the development of relevant course work and instruction by recruiting internal and external experts with specific expertise in that area.
Each of these subgroups would then coalesce around a common theme and develop a set of graduate-level course goals, objectives, materials, activities, and assessments. Because we had found early on that no single individual possessed a complete set of skills and knowledge around all of the competencies, we reached out to a diverse group of faculty in trauma and emergency medicine, epidemiology, psychology, communications, agricultural sciences, geosciences, political science, and criminal justice. In all, eight different academic departments, from six different colleges, in three separate Penn State campus locations, were recruited to collaborate on course development and instruction. In many cases, the lead faculty members also brought in external consultants with “real-world experience” to assist in curriculum development, including members of the Pennsylvania National Guards and members of disaster medical assistance teams.
In all, this multidisciplinary recruiting effort represented the cultivation of a loose, decentralized network of strategic alliances that would come together to create value for the program. To that end, the project team established a working relationship with the Office of Public Health Preparedness in Pennsylvania. For its part, the program chair for the new degree now serves on the state's Advisory Committee for Preparedness, and in return, several individuals from PA-DOH have been tapped to participate in the new degree program's advisory board. Beyond state government, the project team has also reached out to the HSDEC to discuss standardizing educational goals and curriculum on a national level.
Step 7: Decide how to deliver the content
The next, and perhaps least intuitive, step involved determining how to deliver the degree program. A key challenge for the development team, the instructors, and the potential audience involved was geographical. With PA-DOH located in Harrisburg, Penn State's College of Medicine located in Hershey, the graduate school and World Campus administration located at University Park, instructors located throughout the state, and potential students located across the country, the challenge was to make the program accessible and attractive to the practicing professional in the field. This required another measure of creativity. After thorough discussion and exploration, the program team arrived at a decision that would not have been possible even 10 short years ago: the program would be offered entirely online. Two key factors drove the decision to do this. First, it was felt that offering the program as a traditional, entirely residential program—at the opposite end of the spectrum—would make it far less attractive to the target audience that had been identified in step three above, namely, the practicing professional already working in the field. Second, a middle-of-the-road approach combining some residential and some online components, a so-called blended learning approach, might be cumbersome and expensive, and therefore become a potential barrier in attracting the most talented pool of applicants already working in the field.
The use of distance education to earn advanced degrees for health care professionals was already possible. For many, online degrees have become increasingly more attractive and convenient as a means to educational advancement.19 There are now master of public health degrees in health services administration,20 public health nutrition,21 and public health leadership22 that can be obtained through distance learning. In addition, online learning programs leading to a master degree are also available in nursing,23 primary health care,24 rehabilitation counseling,25 and health care education,26 as well as public health.27
The decision to pursue a distance education format was particularly attractive because of the success and experience of Penn State's World Campus, the primary academic outreach arm for the university. The World Campus has partnered with a number of academic units within Penn State to deliver 13 undergraduate and nine graduate degree programs. All of them are offered through an online, distance education format. The World Campus provides a full range of student services, including financial aid information, academic advising, and technical support. An instructional design and development team is in place to assist faculty members with creating and formatting course content for Internet use. The World Campus also has divisions of academic affairs, marketing communications, and program planning and management. This preexisting and well-established structure allowed us to focus more heavily on the academic development of the program.
Step 8: Identify sources of funding
There was a recognized need for funding to support course development, instructional design, teaching, and marketing of the new program. Even before submission of the program and course proposals to the graduate council and the university trustees, we sought internal commitment from the schools and academic departments that were involved. Penn State's World Campus agreed to provide financial support for the program. The commitment followed extensive Athat there would be a population of professionals interested in pursuing such a degree. In addition, the government has a history of providing university grant support to develop bioterrorism educational programs to train health care personnel.28,29 The Pennsylvania Office of Public Health Preparedness was also interested in providing financial support for our degree program in return for the project team's expertise in developing a set of educational programs for the state.
Step 9: Ensure academic rigor
In examining the question of academic rigor, the core issue was how to deliver a high-quality program at a distance to individuals of varying educational backgrounds. In exploring this question, the first step was to establish whether the program would be a degree in graduate education or a professional program, because there is a distinct difference between the two. Graduate education implies that there is an educational foundation that has been established at the undergraduate level. Because it is still an emerging discipline, public health preparedness suffers from a paucity of relevant undergraduate academic experiences. Accordingly, we elected to create a professional degree that is consistent with meeting the needs of individuals who have working experience in the field but desire formal academic training to enhance their knowledge and abilities, to discover new methods and concepts through research, and to provide leadership to their field.
In addition, we needed to be confident that the distance education environment met the academic standards of graduate study at Penn State and that the program was a learning experience equivalent to residential instruction. Even in a virtual environment, academic success requires that students feel part of a broader academic community regardless of their physical locations. We also provided access to online and print library resources so that students were able to identify and locate articles, books, media, and other materials required for their studies. We learned over time that the use of distance learning for higher education30,31 and to advance bioterrorism education32 was showing promise. Moreover, there was ample experience within the university to support the effectiveness and quality of distance education. The project team therefore proceeded to use experienced instructional designers within the university to assist the faculty with course development.
Finally, an organizational structure was put into place to ensure academic rigor and program quality. Selected faculty members were appointed to a committee on admissions and academic affairs. This committee reports to the advisory board and is responsible for maintaining academic standards and enhancing the overall teaching effectiveness of the program. The committee not only coordinates the admissions process, but responds to and makes recommendations regarding faculty and student concerns. A program team was also formed, consisting of a program manager and representatives from students' services, instructional design, marketing, and client development. This team also reports to the advisory board and assists the program chair in meeting objectives and benchmarks related to educational goals, cost-effectiveness, and program access.
Step 10: Providing leadership and vision
Finally, throughout each of these steps in the process, clear communication and consistency in presenting the program's vision remained paramount. This proved essential for securing buy-in and for building and strengthening the network of strategic partners that would construct the program, a network rooted in Penn State's rich ties to national security research and education. Without strong multidisciplinary leadership, we would not have been able to achieve critical milestones in the program's development (see Figure 2).
The path that led to the development of an MSH in public health preparedness at the Penn State College of Medicine took just under three years to traverse. From the initial step of establishing the vision for the program, to gaining buy-in across disciplines, sectors, and administrative areas in a large, distributed, and highly structured institution, to cultivating a multidisciplinary program-development team and enlisting strategic partners to bring the vision to life, the story of the MHS in public health preparedness is one of collaboration. The resulting degree program serves as a timely case study in the type of collaboration required to adapt flexibly and quickly to the evolving homeland security environment in the United States. In this respect, its greatest value lies in leveraging the competencies of a network of partners and strategic alliances to meet the educational objectives of homeland security professionals while strengthening higher education's role in shaping this emerging professional discipline.
There were many individuals who participated in or supported the project team and who were thereby instrumental in the creation and development of this degree program. The authors wish to acknowledge a select group of these individuals who demonstrated enormous dedication, commitment, and passion to this extraordinary effort: Jay Moskowitz, associate vice president for health sciences research, College of Medicine; Mike Verderame, associate dean for graduate studies, College of Medicine; Regina Vasilatos-Younken, senior associate dean of the graduate school; Craig Meyers, professor of microbiology and immunology, College of Medicine; Kevin P. Furlong, professor of geosciences, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences; Jim Holliman, professor of emergency medicine, College of Medicine; Gretchen A. Kuldau, assistant professor of plant pathology, College of Agricultural Sciences; Kevin R. Murphy, professor and chair of psychology, College of Liberal Arts; Roxanne Parrott, professor of communication arts and sciences and health policy administration, College of Liberal Arts; Zhengmin Qian, assistant professor of health evaluation sciences; Peter Rubba, director of academic affairs, Penn State World Campus; Peter Forster, associate director, Academic Programs, Penn State World Campus; Norman “Tut” Bailey, senior marketing associate, Penn State World Campus; Col. Xavier Stewart, director, Military Support to Civil Authorities, Pennsylvania National Guard; Alice Grofebert, former workforce preparedness manager, Pennsylvania Office of Public Health Preparedness; and Guillermo J. Pierluisi, MD, MPH, Center of Operational Medicine, Medical College of Georgia.
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© 2007 Association of American Medical Colleges
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