There’s a new College of Public Health in the area, and it’s making history as the first such college in Virginia.
The announcement to rename the College of Health and Human Services at George Mason University came after formal approval by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.
“The pandemic opened the country’s and the world’s eyes to what is public health, what’s infectious disease, what is epidemiology. Epidemiology became more of a household recognized term,” said Melissa Perry, dean of the George Mason College of Public Health.
Perry received a master’s and doctoral degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health before becoming a faculty member in Wisconsin, as well as a longtime faculty member at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.
She then worked at The George Washington University as a department chair in environmental and occupational health before becoming the inaugural dean of the College of Public Health at George Mason University.
“I have come to really appreciate how essential it is that we invest in educational opportunities, workforce opportunities, and critical research, to better prevent disease, and to reduce the impacts of health threats on the population,” Perry said.
The school includes the School of Nursing and the departments of Global and Community Health, Health Administration and Policy, Nutrition and Food Studies and Social Work.
“At the center of public health is the mission for health for all, access to health care, being able to live a healthy life,” Perry said.
The college enrolls more than 1,900 undergraduate and 1,300 graduate students in six undergraduate degrees, eight master’s degrees, five doctoral degrees, and six professional certificate programs.
Her hope for the college’s impact on health care?
“It’s essential that we take this momentous time and really rise to the occasion that we invest in the future generation of health care, public health, population, health leaders that can respond to the many stresses and strains that we faced as a globe as it related to the pandemic,” Perry said.
With this new change at George Mason, Virginia is now the 36th state in the country to have a College of Public Health.
“I see us having a direct impact on workforce … that can actually ensure that residents of the DMV area can get the best care possible and can learn how to keep themselves healthy,” Perry said.
She said they also want to make the college accessible to all.
They are offering online classes in an effort to be inclusive of all learning situations.
“As parents and as students and learners, we all had to pivot very rapidly into more creative, remote online distance education programs,” Perry said of learning during the pandemic. “We’ve learned that many find convenience a necessity in order to pursue education. So, we have a mixture of in-class, in person, on-campus programs, as well as online programs,” Perry said.
She said online options are offered in both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
“We’re trying to be as responsive to the needs of our learners as possible, so that we can be fully inclusive and also accessible,” Perry said.