Department of Health and Human Services streamlines its majors for greater student flexibility

September 14, 2018

Starting this fall, HHS now will offer students a single nimble major with three professionally focused concentrations.

The front facade of the Fairlane Center South Campus during the spring with a group of students walking out towards the parking lot.

For students interested in the health and human services fields, the choose-your-own-adventure process of picking a major will suddenly get a lot simpler. As of the fall 2018 semester, the Health and Human Services department is retiring its current four-choice major menu in favor of a single major that Chair Patricia Wren said deals undergraduates a stronger hand.

“I think the challenge we wanted to address is that our previous degree structure offered a lot of sound-alike programs — mostly focused on fine distinctions within the field of public health,” Wren said. “So we surveyed the courses that we offer, the faculty strengths we have and the professional preparation that we think students need. We then harnessed that power to make three coherent concentrations within a single overarching degree in health and human services.”

One concentration within the new major remains focused on public health, with courses in health education, health policy, epidemiology and biostatistics. Another will target human services fields, like social work, child life studies, addiction and substance abuse counseling, and child and family services. The third concentration covers all of the pre-health professions. That one is great for students who have their sights set on specialized graduate training in fields like medicine, physical therapy, occupational therapy or pharmacy.

Best of all, Wren said, the new major is structured so that students can easily switch between concentrations without having to completely change up a major.

“So if you thought you wanted to be a physician assistant and discover you pass out at the sight of blood, now you can easily pivot to epidemiology, health research or something else. We think that gives students more fluidity as they hone in on who they are, the course experiences they really enjoy, and what this means for what they want to do with their lives.”

There’s also a new slate of classes coming to support the new program, ranging from a wide-angle course in global health to a new fundraising and grant writing class. One of the offerings Wren is most excited about is the all-new HHS 100, which is being reimagined as a crash course in personal health and wellness.

“Students from across campus can learn about stress management, sleep hygiene and all of the long-term health impacts of the personal and lifestyle behavior choices they’re just kicking off now in their own lives.”

Wren hopes new courses like that — and the broader, better-branded major — will help draw more students to consider studies in this space, which she said is not only experiencing a strong job outlook but stacks up as one of the more flexible professional degrees you can get.

“The fun part of what we do in the Health and Human Services Department actually touches almost everything,” Wren said. “If you want to work on food or housing insecurity, or non-motorized transportation or global health, or work at a large health insurance company, we can help prepare you for any of that. There really isn't an industry or job setting out there where our graduates aren't finding success.”