UMass School of Public Health and Health Sciences Honored with National Association’s Annual Community Service Award

For developing enduring and dynamic community partnerships especially in the past three years, a period marked by the challenges of a global pandemic, the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences was honored March 22 with the 2022 Harrison C. Spencer Award for Outstanding Community Service, given by the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) at the organization’s annual meeting.

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Anna Maria Siega-Riz   ​

UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences dean Anna Maria Siega-Riz

This annual award is given to an ASPPH-member and CEPH-accredited school or program of public health that has demonstrated a major institutional commitment to addressing community needs through education, practice and/or research. The award, created in 2018, honors the memory of Dr. Spencer, former ASPPH president and a pioneer in public health with a long-standing commitment to principles of social justice and a focus on community engagement to address the social determinants of health. He died in 2016.

“It is an honor to accept this award on behalf of the school and the community we serve,” says Anna Maria Siega-Riz, dean of the School of Public Health and Health Sciences. “Our faculty, staff and students in partnership with Western Massachusetts local boards of health, community health centers and hospitals, civic partners and state legislators, to name just a few, are committed to improving and protecting health and eliminating inequities in the social determinants of health.”

Siega-Riz notes that more than a third of the school’s faculty and more than half of the student body are engaged in community activities. “This award recognizes the hard work and value of cultural humility in creating partnerships and demonstrates that collectively we can do good work,” she says.

The school places health equity at the core of its community-engaged activities through its work with the Office for Public Health Practice and Outreach, the Western Massachusetts Health Equity Network and the Center for Community Health Equity Research.

The outreach office works with state congressional leaders and the state Department of Public Health to support legislative initiatives, create internship pipelines and help organize public forums on critical public health issues, such as vaccine hesitancy and the opioid epidemic. “It has been great to see the school grow to include so many staff and faculty committed to the development of authentic and sustainable community partnerships that strive to mutually benefit both our communities and the educational experience of our students,” says Risa Silverman, who earned her master’s degree in public health from UMass Amherst and leads the office.

Silverman also leads the health equity network, which is housed in the school. The network encompasses a broad coalition of community members who advance health equity by addressing the social determinants of health, exploring the root causes of institutional and structural racism, and other barriers to healthcare access and support.

“It’s wonderful to see the School of Public Health and Health Sciences receive recognition for its commitment to social justice and its outstanding contributions to health equity in the region,” says Jeffrey Harness, director of community health and government relations at Cooley Dickinson Health Care, who also earned his master’s in public health from UMass Amherst. “We are proud to be longtime partners in the Western Mass Health Equity Network.”

The Center for Community Health Equity Research, also based at the school, aims to advance understanding of health equity, cultivate equitable partnerships with communities, promote community-engaged research at the school and support youth programs to diversify the health equity research workforce. Brenda Evans, the center’s community research liaison, helps faculty identify and establish contact with potential community partners for research collaborations.

“The center’s core faculty members and affiliates are engaged in many valuable participatory research projects that promote health equity,” says Susan Shaw, director of the center, who also serves as an associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Policy. “These projects rely on long-term community partnerships to generate actionable findings on sexual and reproductive health, chronic disease management and prevention, and substance use disorders, among other topics.”

Siega-Riz accepted the honor on behalf of the school at the association’s virtual annual meeting. “Today, we can say that the bond between the school and our community is strong and enduring,” she says. “That engagement will continue to thrive and be at the center of our mission.”

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