The Health Science Department at SJSU was formed in the late 1960s, stimulated in part by the merger of parts of the old Home Economics Department and the School Health Program from Education. Community-based from the start, "science" referred to the social science framing of the issues and concerns of the new department.
In the 1970s, the Master of Public Health Program was added and immediately accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health. The Health Science major began taking on some of the basic components that persist to this day: health and society, group dynamics, epidemiology, health care organization, and internships.
In the 1980s, the Department was a founding member of the new Division of Health Professions. This interdisciplinary team was host to an exciting Multicultural Health Promotion grant, which involved the university and local community-based organizations. The opportunity to hire new faculty would begin in the late 1980s and result in the arrival on campus of several of the faculty in senior leadership roles today.
In the 1990s, the Gerontology Program was established and resided, for a short time, in the department. More new faculty were hired, but many senior faculty left, almost overnight, when the state offered a one-time "golden handshake" facilitating early retirement in hopes of significant salary savings. Left on their own and without experienced leadership, the junior faculty struggled to find their own voice and vision. During this time, the faculty began developing a strategy to infuse public health concepts throughout the undergraduate curriculum, beginning with our new Core GE course HS 1 Understanding Your Health.
The year 2000 marked the beginning of a challenging period for Health Science. While our MPH program was receiving national attention and Dr. Kathleen Roe was named the SJSU Outstanding Professor, a perfect storm of external factors left the Department in danger of being dissolved due to low undergraduate enrollments and a deteriorating state budget. We regrouped, planned strategically, made hard choices, and built back up. By 2010, we were once again thriving – this time, beyond our wildest dreams – with hundreds of majors, thousands of students in GE courses, and the MPH program admitting its first cohorts of distance students through International and Extended Studies. We hired junior faculty and developed a strong cadre of part-time instructors. Not surprisingly, it was during this challenging time that we adopted our department motto: Make a Choice that Matters!
The period from 2011-2013 will be remembered as a time of growth, excitement, and lively possibilities. In Fall 2013, Dr. Kathleen Roe completed three terms, 12 years, as Department Chair and returned to the full-time faculty. Dr. Jack Wall, Director of the SJSU School of Social Work, is the Interim Chair for AY 2013-14 as we prepare for an important accreditation year and shape our future. Our majors are strong, our GE courses in popular demand, our MPH program strong in both campus and distance formats. We have developed and sustained important community partnerships that enrich our courses and scholarship. We are providing leadership to university initiatives and once again to national and regional professional organizations. Our focus is growing to include global citizenship and new transdisciplinary possibilities, while, at the same time, we reaffirm our commitment to the core skills and sensibilities required to eliminate disparities and achieve health equity. We look to the future with confidence and commitment.