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Faculty Honored with ASPPH’s Undergraduate Education Award

For Karin Opacich, PhD, Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) School of Public Health, education in the health sciences starts with philosophy.

“No matter where I’ve been, no matter what health science program I’ve been working on, it entails an examination of what we’re trying to create,” Opacich said. “What do we believe, what will create the kind of public health graduate who can not only be an informed citizen but is ready to serve in public health?”

Her career-long dedication to program development in the health sciences, including the founding of UIC’s Bachelor of Arts in Public Health program, earned her the Riegelman Award for Excellence in Public Health Undergraduate Education from the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH).

“This particular group of people [at ASPPH] are so devoted and talented and knowledgeable and thoughtful about education,” Opacich said. “It is a tremendous honor to get this award.”

Opacich arrived at UIC in 2009 after years teaching in physician education and graduate-level occupational therapy.  She also served as an accreditor for health sciences programs and consulted in 19 different states.  Through it all, she never strayed far from teaching and curriculum development.

Charged with developing the undergraduate public health program at the state’s only fully accredited public health school, Opacich and fellow faculty focused on building a participatory learning experience aligned with community engagement.  They pursued a confluent education model, honoring the lived experiences of UIC students, and a commitment to action learning to prepare students for the ever-evolving fields in the health sciences.

Today, the BA in Public Health program is a four-year program with its own dedicated faculty continuing to evolve public health education in Chicago’s urban context.

“Looking at our graduates now and what they have accomplished is just stunning,” Opacich said. “Some are in public health, some are outside public health, but they are all working with public health minds and mindsets, and that is tremendously rewarding.”

She is quick to credit her colleagues at UIC and at other institutions for enhancing her work as an educator.  She cites the faculty in the BA program who come from a variety of disciplines in the health sciences and liberal arts who have worked for years developing and honing the undergraduate program.  Opacich also credits her efforts with the UIC Senate Committee on Educational Policy with shaping her educational philosophy.

“I have colleagues who have won this award before me who I respect immensely,” Opacich said. “To be among them is just spectacular.”