University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
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University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign: What an innovative online MPH looks like

Moin Vahora was working as an undergraduate research assistant at a top US university when he discovered his passion for basic sciences and data analytics. The Master of Public Health (MPH) in Epidemiology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign felt like the natural next step to further his interest in public health.

“Illinois’s MPH programme looked like an ideal fit among the schools I applied to,” he says. “It offered a collaboration across departments, a strong multidisciplinary focus, and valuable opportunities to engage with local organisations, such as the Champaign Urbana Public Health District.”

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Source: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Growing up in India, Vahora became acutely aware of the country’s health challenges. There were glaring gaps in the emphasis on epidemiological methodologies for investigating disease outcomes. For instance, despite facing numerous health inequities during malaria outbreaks and other infectious diseases, his village did not even have a single public health professional.

“I was unaware of the field of epidemiology until the beginning of the pandemic, and my undergraduate programme played a significant role in my pursuit of an MPH. The research that I was able to conduct to address population health concerns sparked my interest in public health,” Vahora says.

By choosing Illinois, MPH students like Vahora can focus on improving the health of communities and populations as a whole. This programme equips students with the knowledge, skills, and competencies required to tackle global public health challenges. Graduates are prepared to pursue a wide range of career opportunities, spanning government positions, nonprofit organisations, academia, and the private sector. Just ask Vahora, who is applying everything he learned at Illinois at his job at Benchmark Risk Group.

“After graduation, I began working as an Associate Health Scientist, addressing complex human health risks posed by chemical, biological, and physical hazards,” he says. “On a daily basis, I apply numerous skills obtained during my MPH programme, including writing abilities, epidemiological approaches, and data cleaning and analysis.”

An MPH that tackles the pressing issues of our time

Offered at the College of Applied Health Sciences, the MPH programme represents the future of MPH education. Here, talented young faculty are dedicated to addressing the pressing issues of our time, which include climate change, health inequities, the syndemic of chronic and infectious diseases, population ageing, and brain health. “The future of public health is focused on those themes; therefore, it is a not a choice, but an obligation for our programme to incorporate those issues in our core curriculum,” says Professor Pedro Hallal, the Director of the Programme. These priorities align perfectly with the focus of the programme, positioning Illinois at the forefront of the future of public health — something Assistant Professor Emerson Sebastião can attest to.

“Through cutting-edge research and national and international collaborations, we have faculty that are dictating the agenda for those challenges and others that are contributing tremendously to increase our knowledge in those areas,” he says. “Our faculty are producing valuable knowledge to help alleviate some of those pressing global health issues.”

Here, learning is as hands-on as it’s guided by experts every step of the way. Vahora took an analytical epidemiology course and worked in a faculty member’s lab for a year. “It was incredible mentorship, alongside research and career guidance,” he says. “The course was beneficial in terms of using the statistical tool R, delving deeper into casual inference and epidemiological approaches, and learning how to critique scientific papers. Many of the skills I developed in this lab, and through the class are applicable in my work environment now.”

Many Illinois professors are involved in the SHIELD Illinois project which served as a model for effective pandemic management, reducing COVID-19 spread, hospital admissions, and deaths. In fact, the faculty in the Epidemiology concentration has incorporated the learnings from this project into the MPH programme’s curriculum to provide students with real-life insights.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Source: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Recently, Illinois launched the Institute for Health Innovation (IHI) to promote interdisciplinary collaboration among students with diverse academic backgrounds,including Kinesiology, Biology, Psychology, Community Health, Spanish, Nutrition, and more. The IHI addresses various aspects of human health, aligning with the MPH programme’s goals. It shares core components such as education, research, community engagement, partnerships, and entrepreneurial translation, supporting students’ public health education and training.

Fully online MPH coming soon

Starting Fall 2025, the Illinois MPH programme will be available online, with a strong focus on physical activity and health due to its association with Kinesiology. Students can join from anywhere, with asynchronous courses allowing self-paced learning.

Sebastião is confident that online students will gain equal benefits to on-campus students, thanks to extensive efforts by college and MPH programme leaders to preserve its unique sense of community and student collaboration. “The online programme does that through faculty training, cutting-edge educational technology utilisation, fostering a sense of belonging regardless of location, and encouraging students to share their realities experiences,” he says.

The online programme is set to fulfil the MPH’s mission to serve communities locally, nationally, and internationally too. “Thus, the programme will be able to ensure virtual students real-world experience by keeping its core values intact: accountability, dedication, excellence, inclusivity, relevance, integrity, self-awareness,” Sebastião says. “In addition, the real-world public health experience will be possible because of the diverse group of faculty that exists within the programme. Faculty with national and international experience can add significant value to students’ learning experiences.”

Click here to learn more about MPH at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

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