Program Director Spotlight: Nang Tin Maung, Public Health Program
Dr. Nang Tin Maung is the Program Director for the Graduate Programs in Public Health at the College of Graduate and Professional Studies here at the University of New England.
She talks about her experience in public health, how she encourages her faculty to foster a sense of community, and how she feels that the program prepares students for life after graduation.
Can you tell me a little about your background and what drew you to UNE Online?
I have a BA in Biology from Simon’s Rock College, a PhD in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and an MPH in Global Health from Harvard School of Public Health. I decided to make a full career transition into public health after working in a science laboratory for many years. Because of this, when I went back to school to get an MPH, I had limited work experience in public health. My practicum advisor was extremely helpful as I tried to figure out what my future in public health might look like.
When I found an opening for the Practicum Coordinator position at UNE, I thought, “what better way to start my career in public health than guiding students through their public health journey?” I really liked that UNE Online strives to make quality education accessible to students, and the position had a perfect mix of teaching and administrative responsibilities. I started out as a Practicum Coordinator and I’ve been in the Program Director role for about a year and a half now.
Can you talk a bit about the Graduate Programs in Public Health?
We have two programs: Graduate Certificate in Public Health (GCPH) and Master of Public Health (MPH). Our GCPH program covers the foundational concepts in public health, and all of the credits can be used towards an MPH should a student decide to continue onto the full degree program.
Our MPH is a generalist program; what it means is that our required courses are designed to give students a strong foundation in the field of public health and students can choose any mix of electives that suit their needs or interest. As a generalist program, we do not have specializations or concentrations but we do have a variety of elective courses and students could focus on a particular area like epidemiology, for example.
Public health, by nature, complements well with a variety of careers. It teaches us to think at a systemic or population level, and to think about what types of infrastructure and preventative measures need to be in place to have healthy communities.
So, really, it doesn’t matter what type of work you do, you can benefit from public health education. If you are a clinician, you can incorporate public health into your practice to make an impact beyond individual patients. Or if you work in a role where you feel like you encounter the same issues day after day and wish you could understand or address the root causes, you might be attracted to public health as well. And of course, you might be interested in an MPH to work in the more “standard” public health fields like Biostatistics, Epidemiology, Public Health Policy, Public Health Education, Environmental Health and Administration/Management.
If you are already working in the field of public health, an MPH can help you get to the next level in your career ladder. In our program, we see a balanced mix of those who are already working in public health and those that we call “career changers” looking to move into public health.
What kind of backgrounds do your faculty have?
Within the public health programs, we have primary faculty and adjunct faculty. Primary faculty are full-time with the program and have both administrative and teaching responsibilities.
With our adjunct faculty, we follow a scholar-practitioner model. What that means is that we recruit and retain faculty who are actively working in the field of public health. Most of our faculty have a full-time position in public health, and make the time to teach with us because they have a passion for teaching and academic research. Having practitioners as instructors help us ensure that our curriculum remains relevant to the field, as faculty are able to bring in their knowledge from the field to course materials and classroom discussions.
Since they are active in the field, they present their academic research or professional activities at various conferences, which is very beneficial to our students and our program. Our faculty are also able to mentor students who might be interested in careers similar to theirs. Most of our faculty have doctoral degrees, and we pay a lot of attention to aligning academic credentials and work experience of faculty with courses that they teach or design.
What do you like best about working with UNE Online faculty?
Like I said before, our faculty have full-time jobs outside of UNE but they teach because they are passionate about working with students. They’re very committed to making sure that students understand the materials and feel supported at all times, which is critical for an online program like ours.
As a program, we do ask a lot from our faculty – they meet to talk about the course before, during and after each term; we have strict guidelines for communicating with students in a timely manner and giving high-quality feedback on students’ work; and faculty are expected to engage in research and scholarship activities. But our faculty have no problem going above and beyond what is expected, and I can see that they are committed to having a quality program for our students.
How do you encourage your faculty to foster a sense of community among your online students?
We have a few guidelines that help faculty engage students in an online classroom. For example, faculty post weekly announcements in which they not only review the materials but also talk share their observations from students’ assignments.
Many faculty will actively participate in discussion boards to ask questions or make comments on students’ posts. Even if they don’t jump into discussions, faculty are expected to give detailed feedback when grading the discussion posts so students know that their posts are being read or assessed by the faculty in a meaningful way. We also emphasize the importance of giving timely and detailed feedback on assignments to make students feel engaged.
What is your favorite aspect of the program?
First of all, I love that we are making quality education accessible to students regardless of where they live or work. One advantage of being an online program is that our student body is quite diverse – in addition to gender and ethnic diversity, we have students from many different professional backgrounds.
Most of our students choose our program because they can continue working while getting their public health degree. I was talking before about how our faculty bring in real-world experiences into the classroom, and our students do the same. Our learning environment is that much more enriched because we have students coming from diverse personal and professional backgrounds.
I also like that the faculty and staff work in a very collaborative way. As the Program Director, I work closely with not only faculty but also other departments within the college such as Marketing, Enrollment, Instructional Design, and Student Support to make sure we are recruiting and retaining the right students and graduating them with skills necessary to succeed.
How do you feel that you prepare your students for life after graduation?
First and foremost, I am very proud of our curriculum. We have a primary faculty who oversees the curriculum and makes sure that students achieve all relevant public health competencies through our curriculum. We have faculty advisors who can guide students as they define or refine their professional goals and prepare for life after graduation.
As I mentioned before, our adjunct faculty are also able to mentor students and give specific tips based on their own experiences in the field. This year, we added a full-time Assistant Director of Public Health Career Services to our team. She has been busy developing a web page with useful career resources, counseling students one-on-one, and running a professional development workshop, which is a required non-credit course for all of our new students starting this year.
Any words of wisdom for Public Health students?
People have said that online programs are “easier” but if you are one of our students, you know that it cannot be farther from the truth. You need really good time-management and communication skills to be successful in an online program. Our classes are fast-paced, so you cannot afford to fall behind. Connect with your instructors and Student Support Specialist; they’re there to help you succeed.
It is also important to remember that getting the certificate or degree should not be your only goal. Your ultimate goal really should be to become a successful public health practitioner. So, make sure you are taking the knowledge from the classroom and applying it in the field.
That often means that you need to network with other professionals and look for internship or volunteer opportunities in your communities. We all know that networking and internships can be helpful to find a job but more than that, they can help you figure out what skills and knowledge you need to gain in order to do the kind of job you want to do.