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Monday, October 2, 2023

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Miguel Zavala (right) led a degree workshop session around public health alongside Kai-Chung Cheng, assistant professor of environmental health, at SDSU Imperial Valley. (SDSU) Miguel Zavala (right) led a degree workshop session around public health alongside Kai-Chung Cheng, assistant professor of environmental health, at SDSU Imperial Valley. (SDSU)

SDSU Imperial Valley to Open New Public Health Major

The Bachelor of Science in Public Health, set to start fall 2024, will examine environmental health issues that are prominent in Imperial Valley.
By Daniella Rodiles

Miguel Zavala, associate professor in the School of Public Health at SDSU Imperial Valley, saw damage to local agricultural landscapes in his hometown near Guanajuato, Mexico, from what he said were a result of activities by manufacturing industries. The effects were so profound, he said, that many of his close relatives were starting to have health issues.


“When you’re in a small, tight-knit community who work every day in agriculture or manufacturing industries, your motivation is to provide for your family and move forward with work duties,” said Zavala. “Yet, when you see people around you starting to get sick to the point of hospitalization, it opens your eyes to the long-term disparities that a damaging environment has on individuals of all ages.”


At the time, Zavala had little awareness of environmental health as it relates to the study of public health. Pulling from his personal experiences, Zavala’s current research focuses on air pollution. 


Zavala, alongside assistant professors of environmental health Linda Lara-Jacobo and Kai-Chung Cheng, will be launching SDSU Imperial Valley’s new Bachelor of Science in Public Health degree program to bolster the number of local public health professionals within the region. The program is expected to be offered fall 2024. 


“We have passionate, dedicated students who see the impacts of water and air pollution in our region and want to make a lasting change in our community,” said Guillermina Gina Nunez-Mchiri, dean of SDSU Imperial Valley. “Our new public health major will expand career opportunities and boost a mighty group of local experts to increase advocacy, support and research that we need in the Imperial Valley.”


The work of public health professionals involves ongoing research to develop, implement and assess programs to reduce threats to individuals’ health. According to Zavala, public health professionals are also heavily involved in connecting with community members through advocacy, education, and creating countywide resources that will improve their quality of life.


“Public health is all about community,” said Zavala. “You ingrain yourself into the socio-economic health disparities that people experience and you find action-based solutions that will make a difference in the lives of those you care about. For me, it has been a very rewarding journey.”


The new Bachelor of Science in Public Health degree program will specialize in disciplines of epidemiology, environmental health, occupational health, health services administration and behavioral health. Through this program, students will have internship opportunities with regional organizations to obtain jobs in hospitals, government agencies, international programs, private/volunteer agencies and clinics. Students can also pursue a Master of Public Health degree at SDSU. 


SDSU Imperial Valley’s new public health program builds on the university’s work to continue to expand its degree offerings and student support services. In May 2022, the university announced the creation of a new, accelerated pre-licensure Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. The SDSU Imperial Valley BSN program provides freshman entry students the opportunity to complete their BSN in three years and transfer eligible students in two years.