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Dornsife School of Public Health Wins Inaugural Harrison Spencer Community Service Award

February 22 2018

Logo for the ASPPH Harrison C. Spencer Award

The Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health (ASPPH), the leading organization representing schools and programs of public health around the world, officially named Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health as the country’s top school for community-engaged public health work.

“We are the inaugural recipients of the Harrison Spencer Community Service Award, which was created by ASPPH in honor of a renowned public health leader who headed the organization for many years,” said the Dornsife School of Public Health’s dean, Ana Diez Roux, MD, PhD, MPH. “Community engagement and the translation of evidence into action are core to our mission, so we are truly thrilled to be the first recognized for this by the ASPPH.” 

“Drexel’s level of community engagement is exceptional,” said Laura Magaña, PhD, MS, the current president and CEO of ASPPH. “The depth and breadth of their work with the Philadelphia community is astonishing and reflects the commitment the school and its faculty, staff and students have for the region they serve.  Their work is a model for others in the academic public health community.”

Work from faculty, students and staff, along with affiliated centers, were highlighted in the application for this award, which was put together chiefly by Jennifer Kolker, MPH, associate dean for Public Health Practice and an associate clinical professor at Dornsife.

“Our school was founded as a ‘school without walls’ and has maintained a fundamental commitment to community service and, particularly, to our partnerships here in Philadelphia,” Kolker said. “Being recognized by our peer institutions and the ASPPH for this work is something that we are very proud of.”

In the spirit of community service, the award carries a $5,000 prize for the winner to grant to a community organization. The Dornsife School of Public Health chose Prevention Point Philadelphia, a non-profit that provides services to those living with addiction, particularly involving opioids.

Often, professors from the school will partner with Prevention Point Philadelphia for research. Dornsife students get involved with the organization for experiential learning and to participate in community service. 

“Our partnership with the Dornsife School of Public Health is long-standing and provides research and educational opportunities that benefit our community,” said Prevention Point Philadelphia’s executive director, Jose Benitez. “This funding will go to assist in meeting our mission by providing overdose prevention training, Narcan distribution, shelter for the homeless, case management services, food for the hungry, medically assisted treatment and syringe services.”

In every aspect, the Dornsife School of Public Health emphasizes community.

In their first year, Master’s of public health (MPH) students are matched with one of the more than 100 organizations that partner with the school to get an in-depth practice experience in their field. Many master’s students also do a practice again in their second year. In addition, students engage in regular service and volunteer activities with our community partners, such as Prevention Point Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.

On the faculty side, well over half take part in community service or practice, with roughly 30 percent serving in a leadership role in a Philadelphia-based organization. That includes faculty who serve on the board or in advisory committees of such landmark organizations as the Maternity Care Coalition of Philadelphia, Philadelphia’s Home Preservation Initiative, the Asian Health Collaborative of Greater Philadelphia, and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. 

Community service efforts are often run through a number of centers affiliated with the Dornsife School of Public Health. This includes: 

“Being recognized for this award means that our students, faculty and staff are fulfilling our mission of improving population health, not only through research and learning, but by having active partnerships and being out in the communities we hope to make a positive change in,” Kolker said. “We are not only adding to the body of knowledge in public health, but translating that knowledge into action.”

Everyone at the school is thrilled by the award, but they don’t expect to get complacent.

“We are re-energized to keep doing what we are doing — and to do even more,” Diez Roux said. “We need to conduct research that is community and policy relevant, to train students in real-world public health, and to constantly ask ourselves what we can do both directly and through the academic enterprise to promote health and health equity here in Philadelphia and all over the world.”