The Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences (SPHHS) at the University of Massachusetts has been named the recipient of the 2022 Harrison C. Spencer Award for Outstanding Community Service by the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH).
This prestigious award is given annually to an ASPPH member, school, or CEPH-accredited public health program that demonstrates a major institutional commitment to meeting the needs of the community through education, practice and/or or research. It was created in 2018 to honor Dr. Spencer, former president of ASPPH and a pioneer in public health with a longstanding commitment to the principles of social justice with an emphasis on community engagement to address the determinants social health.
SPHHS is recognized for the work done over the past three years at a time of many public health challenges. The school has actively engaged with community partners in the area, resulting in impactful educational and intervention programs, as well as internship opportunities that have empowered community members and created genuine campus-community partnerships.
These partnerships were not built overnight, but rather reflect two decades of active engagement with communities in Western Massachusetts. An example of this work is the making of the film “Intergenerational Conversations on Racism and Health” which will premiere in April on the UMass campus and various other venues in the region. The film highlights the voices of people of color in the region and will provide a unique opportunity to learn about current community issues related to racism as a public health crisis and what our communities are doing to address inequalities. .
“It is an honor to accept this award on behalf of the school and the community we serve,” said Anna Maria Siega-Riz, Dean of the School of Public Health and Health Sciences. “Our faculty, staff, and students, in partnership with local Western Massachusetts health boards, community health centers and hospitals, civic partners, and state legislators, to name a few -one, are committed to improving and protecting health and eliminating inequalities in the social determinants of health. Currently, we have over a third of our faculty engaged in community activities with over 50% of the student body participating. This award recognizes hard work and the value of cultural humility in building partnerships and demonstrates that collectively we can do great work.
The school places health equity at the heart of its community activities through its work with the Office for Public Health Practice and Outreach (OPHPO), the Western Massachusetts Health Equity Network (WMHEN), and the Center for Community Health Equity Research (CHECK).
The OPHPO, led by Risa Silverman ’91MPH, works to strengthen the school’s relationship with the local and statewide public health community. The office works closely with state congressional leaders and the state Department of Public Health, providing support for legislative initiatives, creating internship pathways, and helping to organize public forums on critical public health issues, such as vaccine hesitancy and the opioid epidemic that has devastated rural communities in western MA in particular. The OPHPO engages students in practice and outreach opportunities, and assists the school in developing its workforce.
Says Silverman, “It’s been great to see SPHHS grow—since I started in 1996!—to include so many staff and faculty committed to developing genuine, lasting community partnerships that strive to mutually benefit the both to our communities and to the educational experience of our students.”
Silverman also leads the Western Massachusetts Health Equity Network (WMHEN), a broad cross-sectional coalition of community members in Western Massachusetts. SPHHS hosts this network and works with WMHEN to advance health equity by addressing the social determinants of health, exploring the root causes of institutional and structural racism and other barriers to health care access and support. health. WMHEN engages community partners in the development of a bi-annual SPHHS Health Equity Summit, offering annual policy town halls and providing guidance for other special events such as an annual policy town hall hosted in partnership with Massachusetts Public Health Association.
The Center for Community Health Equity Research (CCHER), also centered within SPHHS, aims to advance understanding of health equity, cultivate equitable partnerships with communities, promote engaged community research in school and supporting youth programs to diversify the health equity research workforce. . CCHER’s Community Research Liaison, Brenda Evans, MPH, helps faculty identify and connect with potential community partners for research collaborations. Through campus-wide training and workshops, CCHER helps faculty build their capacity to build equitable partnerships with community organizations that share research interests.
“CCHER’s core faculty members and their affiliates are involved in many valuable participatory research projects that advance health equity,” says CCHER Director Susan Shaw, who is also an associate professor in the Department of Advocacy and health policies. “These projects build on long-term community partnerships to generate actionable results on sexual and reproductive health, chronic disease management and prevention, and substance use disorders, among other topics.”
“Today, we can say that the bond between the school and our community is strong and lasting,” says Siega-Riz. “This commitment will continue to thrive and be central to our mission.”
Dean Siega-Riz will accept the Spencer Award on behalf of SPHHS faculty and staff at the ASPPH Annual Meeting to be held March 22-24.