UWM School of Public Health to focus on city’s health issues

Construction on the new University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Public Health is scheduled to begin in a few months. While changes to the university’s budget may slow the intended growth of the new school, UWM officials are excited to move forward on the initiative.

“This has been a very exciting year for us in terms of preparations and faculty hiring,” said Stephen Percy, acting dean of the UWM School of Public Health. “The new facility will give the university the opportunity to create and educate a high quality public health workforce for the state, the region and even the nation.”

The university reached an agreement last fall to locate the new School of Public Health in a building at the former Pabst brewery complex in downtown Milwaukee.

The former brewery complex is being redeveloped by The Brewery Project LLC, which was formed by Zilber Ltd. founder Joseph Zilber, into a mixed-use urban neighborhood. Zilber contributed $10 million to the UWM School of Public Health project.

The UWM School of Public Health will occupy a 33,000-square-foot building located on the east side of North 10th Street between Juneau Avenue and Winnebago Street. A 23,000-square-foot addition will be added onto it.

According to Percy, the new facility will include several classrooms of varying sizes, an open commons area as well as office space for faculty in all areas of public health. In addition, there will be research space for graduate students and research faculty as well as the administrative offices of the school and a dedicated area for Milwaukee Health Department employees who will be permanently based there, Percy said.

“The downtown location offers tremendous opportunity and access to partners in the area,” Percy said. “We’ve already formed partnerships with the Milwaukee Health Department and plan to pursue partnerships with other local health departments, community organizations, state health agencies, Aurora Health Care and other higher education facilities in the area.”

The wet lab science portions of the school will remain on the traditional UWM campus to take advantage of specific facilities and maximize efficiency, Percy said.

“The new UWM School of Public Health is a great fit for the neighborhood,” said Richard “Rocky” Marcoux, commissioner for the Milwaukee Department of City Development. “The school’s laboratory is the city itself, and the challenges we face as a city, as a community in health; while daunting, can be resolved and I think this is exactly where those types of answers can come together and be realized.”

The school established its first PhD program in the fall of 2009, and started offering undergraduate classes in fall of 2010. Percy and the staff at the school are in the process of setting up courses and a curriculum to launch a Masters of Public Health program in the fall of this year.

“We’ve seen a lot of progress since we first launched,” Percy said. “Our goal is to become an accredited School of Public Health, which is determined by the council on education and requires a minimum of three doctoral programs and a strong base as a research enterprise.”

Currently, the school is conducting classes in the UWM Alumni House. Classes are tentatively scheduled to begin in the new facility in the fall of 2012, Percy said.

The UW-Milwaukee School of Public Health has already filled 4.5 faculty positions. According to Percy, the school has an additional 4.5 with signed letters of intent and hopes to recruit an additional three before the end of the academic school year.

Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget would force the university to cut $27 million out of its overall budget for the next two years and those cuts may slow the growth of both the School of Public Health as well as the UW-Milwaukee School of Fresh Water Sciences, said Tom Luljack vice chancellor of University relations and communications at UW-Milwaukee.

Percy has been named acting dean while a national search for a dean is in place as well.

The UWM School of Public Health is currently working on a collaborative research initiative for the Centers for Disease Control that acts as a good template for the projects the school will do even more of in the future, Percy said.

“We’re working with the Milwaukee Health Department and other community partners to conduct a health impact initiative on healthy birth outcomes in the community,” Percy said.

The study will determine ways to improve birth outcomes among women who are pregnant.

“We’re working in collaboration to bring academic expertise into real life situations to help provide solutions to health related problems in the community,” Percy said.

According to Percy, The Medical College of Wisconsin offers a masters of Public Health degree in addition to the UW-Madison School of Public Health and UW-Lacrosse.

“Our plan is to work collaboratively with the other institutions as well as state agencies to develop a strong public health workforce in the state,” Percy said. “Our emphasis is collaboration not competition with each other, because the work of these educational institutions is so important to the communities where they’re located.”

Marcoux also feels like the downtown location of the school will be key to its success.

“It is easy to get to, but is also in close enough proximity to the very neighborhoods where the research and the discussion, and ultimately the solutions that are going to come out of this great institution are going to meet the very people its going to impact the most,” Marcoux said. “We’re very excited about the potential partnerships and engagement that UWM is going to bring to the community. We fully support everything UWM has become and done to help shape Milwaukee’s future in a positive direction.”

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