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For Emory undergrads, learning new perspectives on health is as easy as 1, 2, 3

First-year student Jessie Brightman participates in a class discussion in Health 200. Emory's peer-taught Health 1,2,3 Program draws on the principles of predictive health and opens avenues for students to have stewardship of their own health. Emory Photo/Video

If you’re going to change the way that college students talk about health, the first step is for students to do the talking.

It didn’t take long for Michelle Lampl to realize that. As director of Emory’s Center for the Study of Human Health, Lampl saw the success in a pilot “health partner” initiative conducted at the Center for Health Discovery and Well-Being, and turned it into the Human Health 1,2,3 Program for Emory College undergraduates.

The peer-taught program draws on the principles of predictive health and opens avenues for students to have stewardship of their own health. And, because Health 100 is required for every first-year Emory College student, the success of that foundational course has helped bolster student understanding of health.

“Emory is a leader in the paradigm shift in the science of health,” Lampl says. “Medicine is defined by disease. We focus on health. Our program is about changing the culture.”

Launched in 2012, human health is an interdisciplinary degree that has exploded in demand, from four majors its first year to 250 now. It has also attracted the notice of peer schools and beyond for its innovative approach that connects the liberal arts focus of Emory College with the groundbreaking research in public and global health sciences happening across the university.

Health 1,2,3 offers undergraduates the sort of education often reserved for graduate students: a framework to understand not only the science needed in health-related careers, but also the physical, mental and spiritual components of health.

Here’s how it works: All first-year students must take Health 100, which includes the study of timely health topics, such as getting enough sleep, and training for each student to set specific goals.

Students who find Health 100 informative can enroll in Health 200, where they get training on the science of health and how to lead peers in discussions.  Health 300 is the course where trained students become peer health partners for Health 100, overseeing the course with faculty supervision.

“The way I describe it is, this is a lifestyle approach to health,” says Dylan Hurley, a first-year student who enrolled in Health 200 this spring.

“This is an integration of science and discussion, to make the concepts come to life,” Hurley adds. “That’s what makes it so essential.”

Personalized health education

Lisa A. DuPree led the Emory Health Partners training program at the Center for Health Discovery and Well-Being 10 years ago and now serves as director of Health 1,2,3. A microbiologist and chemist by training, she later earned a master’s in exercise science and became an exercise physiologist out of her interest in that aspect of health.

As an educational endeavor, the program’s aim is for students to learn the science and reasoning of health.

By peer training, Dupree says, that knowledge becomes very personalized for students. They are required to set health goals and the class teaches them techniques to turn their specific goals into action. Peers can better connect to the goals and potential problems, making the experience more hands-on.

“My favorite part is when you can see the light bulb go off, say, on the importance of sleep,” DuPree says. “I know if they have an 'a-ha' moment now, it makes a huge difference by comparison with being 45 and trying to make a behavioral health change.”

Elizabeth Bryant, a first-year student now enrolled in Health 200, said the first class made her realize that being healthy was more than simply being free of disease.

“It’s memorable when you see yourself and see the statistics of what can happen if you don’t consider health as a comprehensive idea,” Bryant says. “It makes it more personal.”

Foundations for life

Lampl and DuPree are encouraged by that mindset. They know enthusiasm as undergraduates can have lasting effects on students’ lives and careers.

That’s what happened with Kylie McKenzie 14C and Brooke Woodward 13C.

The pair were roommates and All-American swimmers on Emory’s national championship swimming and diving team when they took Lampl’s “Predictive Health and Society” course. They went on to lead the inaugural Health 100 class the following fall. 

Before human health was even a major, their coursework inspired the two student-athletes to be proactive about their health well beyond the training they did for swimming.

When they realized the importance of nutrition not only to their athletic performance but to their overall wellbeing, they launched the Healthy Eating Partners program at the Dobbs University Center (DUC) dining hall.

Cosponsored by the Center for the Study of Human Health and Emory Dining, the program illustrates a growing emphasis on applying academics to make positive changes in daily life. The program – which helps students identify ingredients in the dining hall food and review a meal’s nutritional information – continues.

It also helped push McKenzie and Woodward on their career paths. McKenzie is pursuing a master’s degree in nutrition and working as an assistant swim coach at Drexel University. There, she is able to put what she learned in action both in the classroom and in guiding college athletes.

“My work at Emory challenged me to understand health through the lens of nutrition, exercise, behavioral motivation and interpersonal interactions," McKenzie says.  “I learned to connect with people and empower them in regards to their health.”

Woodward is working on a master’s degree in clinical counseling and family therapy with an eye toward a career as a professional counselor. Her goal is a private practice that combines holistic wellness and counseling on eating disorders.

“My involvement in the human health program really demonstrated the connection between all aspects of health,” she says. “Emory’s program is really revolutionary and changes the whole perception of health.”

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