Asking the questions others aren’t — UAB School of Public Health planning to maintain success

Under the guidance of Dean Max Michael, M.D., since 2001, the SOPH has identified five areas of focus for the next five years.

max michael edgeMax Michael, M.D., dean of the schoolThe University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health has outlined five key areas of focus to guide the school into the next five years: education; research and discovery; living, learning and working environment; resource development; and community.

The only accredited school of public health in Alabama, the UAB SOPH is also ranked No. 19 among graduate degree programs of public health in the United States by U.S. News & World Report.

Max Michael, M.D., dean of the school since 2001, works to increase the local, national and international visibility of its faculty and programs, and facilitate a culture of creativity and innovation in research and education. The school’s strategic plan guides these efforts.

“Our planning process has been very informative — we’ve involved a lot of stakeholders, from our faculty, staff, students and external stakeholders — and I think overall it’s been very important for some of the future activities,” Michael said. “Particularly around expanding our online presence, expanding our undergraduate programs and expanding dual-degree programs, and then really thinking through other sources of revenue besides the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.”

From a steering committee to town hall meetings, Associate Dean for Academic and Strategic Programs Donna Arnett, Ph.D. — who chaired the committee — says an important part of determining the goals of the strategic plan was to give everyone a voice, growing ideas from students, faculty, staff and others.

“From an engagement perspective, we viewed it as critical to have as much participation and buy-in to the planning itself to take us to where we want to grow in terms of excellence and size,” Arnett said. “It was the right time to ask big questions about who we are and who we want to be.”


The SOPH has seen a surge of interest in dual-degree programs and aims to continue to attract outstanding students and increase enrollment in undergraduate and graduate education programs.

The SOPH undergraduate degree program began just two years ago and has exceeded all expectations, and the school was recently ranked No. 2 in the country for its online master’s in public health. The school will continue to focus on building quantity and quality in its excellent online education offerings.

Research and discovery

UAB’s SOPH is the No. 4 public university school of public health in NIH funding and takes pride in asking innovative, thoughtful, distinctive questions that others are not asking.

From 2012-2014, 92 SOPH faculty members produced more than 400 papers and an annual average of more than $30 million in extramural funds. SOPH faculty are heavily cited and produce large numbers of manuscripts with an average first- or senior-authored paper count of five per year/per faculty member.

During the next five years, school leadership wants to continue to expand the most creative, diverse and innovative public health research portfolio.

Living, learning and working environment

The SOPH believes it is important to improve administrative effectiveness and efficiency, and to nurture an environment consistent with the school’s values that is collegial and diverse, has integrity, and is inclusive with a focus on quality of life.

With this in mind, the SOPH reflected on its core values and created new ones that are aligned with the school’s vision and mission. Those included collegiality, diversity, communication and transparency.

In fall 2015, the SOPH will conduct a climate survey with faculty and staff as a tool to collect feedback and help leadership nurture the environment within the workplace.

Resource development

The SOPH wants to attract the financial resources essential to advancing its vision, including endowments for education and research.

Endowments are important to attract outstanding students, so the school will focus on building the ability to provide full scholarship support to as many students as possible. Building engagement with SOPH students and encouraging them to become engaged, loyal alumni is a priority.

It is also important to the school, which prides itself on being distinctive in teaching and research portfolios, to pursue the funds necessary to complete the innovative research the SOPH likes to put forth. This type of distinctive research — while important — can be difficult to fund because there is no preliminary data, or the research is so distinct that it is not yet widely appreciated by extramural funding bodies.

Community service

The SOPH is heavily engaged with the community and strives to be a partner of choice for community members. The school will continue to partner with community and state organizations to improve education, health and quality of life. Ultimately, the SOPH wants its values to reflect public health as a field, which is about serving communities.

This means providing leadership for three community-based organizations to develop and continue to grow: Congregations for Public Health, The Coalition for Tobacco-Free Jefferson County, and The South Central Preparedness and Emergency Response Center.

The all-encompassing tagline for the UAB School of Public Health’s strategic plan is: be distinctive, forge knowledge and build healthy communities.

“Our School of Public Health faculty and students make an impact on public health that stretches from home in Birmingham, all the way to the continent of Africa and beyond,” said UAB President Ray L. Watts. “We are proud of the school, its students, faculty, staff and alumni, and look forward to its continued success under the guidance of thoughtful leadership and a solid strategic plan.”