Public Health

Overview | Requirements | Courses | Faculty


These and other questions are at the center of public health.  Public health is a field geared toward serving others and improving people’s health and well-being.  Public health seeks to improve human health through the development and application of knowledge that prevents disease, protects the public from harm, and promotes health throughout local communities, the state, the nation, and the world. The field of public health confronts complex health issues, such as improving access to health care, controlling infectious disease, and reducing environmental hazards, violence, substance abuse, and injury.

Through the Public Health Minor at Occidental College, students develop and apply knowledge from multiple disciplines for the promotion and protection of the health of the human population, giving due consideration to principles of human rights and cultural perspectives that abound in our multicultural country and world.  The minor, like the field itself, is interdisciplinary, including the natural sciences and the social sciences.  Students will learn about the scientific aspects of disease as well as the political and policy issues involved in improving people’s health and well-being.  The minor is jointly administered by the departments of BiologyKinesiology, and Urban & Environmental Policy (UEP), with course offerings from multiple departments.


Introduction to Public Health (UEP 203), and a course on Statistics (BIO 268* or MATH 146 ) followed by Epidemiology (BIO 238) are mandatory.  In addition the two (2) elective course offerings provide exposure to a variety of cross cutting issues in urban and global public health including scientific understanding of disease prevention and treatment, social justice, ethical, and environmental issues.  Each elective course selection must be from a different department. As new courses develop, more options may be added to this list.  Students will be strongly encouraged participate in one or more internship, volunteer, or research opportunities within the field of public health, such as Public Health Practicum (UEP 307**), before they graduate. 

* Prerequisite is one 100-level Biology class
** Prerequisite is UEP 203, which is a core class for the public health minor

Elective classes include:

DWA/UEP 248 (Global Public Health);
DWA/UEP 249 (Public Health and Human Rights: Global and Local Practices);
HIST 274 (Medicine and Disease in Western Society);
HIST 277 (Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Women and Community Health);
KINE 104 (Introduction to Kinesiology);
***KINE 307 (Human Physiology);
***KINE 312 (Diet, Disease, and Exercise);
PHIL 250 (Bioethics);
***PSYC 334 (Health Psychology);
***SOC 320 Health and Illness;
UEP 201 (Environmental Health and Policy);
**UEP 307 (Public Health Practicum).
WRD 275 (Rhetoric in the Health Professions)

** Prerequisite is UEP 203, which is a core class for the public health minor
***Additional departmental prerequisites required


Core Courses

Students only required to take one core statistics course: BIO 268 Biostatistics or MATH 146 Stat

UEP 203 - Introduction to Public Health

This course explores the nation's public health challenges, the epidemiological basis of public health, and ways that public health functions as a combination of science and politics. The course examines the special vulnerabilities of low income and medically underserved populations who often work, reside, attend school, and play in neighborhoods with disproportionate exposures and poor quality medical care. The goal is to acquaint students with current public health issues, especially as they concern community, societal, and environmental influences on health and well-being.

BIO 268 - Biostatistics

The application of statistical methods to the solution of biological problems. Focus will be on applied statistics (as opposed to mathematical statistics) to study variation in nature. This course will survey descriptive statistics, probability and probability distributions, and methods of hypothesis testing (e.g., analysis of variance, regression, correlation, goodness of fit as well as selected nonparametric procedures). Course includes laboratory workshops sessions. Prerequisite: Bio 130 and Bio 105, 106, 110, or 115 or permission of instructor.

MATH 146 - Statistics

Comprehensive study of measures of central tendency, variation, probability, the normal distribution, sampling, estimation, confidence intervals and hypothesis testing. Introduction to use of technology in statistics. Real-life problems are used to illustrate methods. Weekly lab. Not open to students who have completed or are currently enrolled in Psychology 201, Biology 368, Mathematics 150, or any Mathematics course above 200.

BIO 238 - Epidemiology

This course is designed to introduce the basic concepts, principles, and methods of epidemiologic research. In our pursuit to understand the interplay of risk factors and patterns of human disease and health, we will cover the history of epidemiology, the principles of epidemiologic thinking and of causal inference, the basic measures of disease frequency and of association and how to compute them. We will also learn about the major types of epidemiologic study designs and explore the major fields of epidemiologic investigation (such as global health, infectious diseases, outbreaks, occupational and environmental epidemiology). Prerequisite: Introductory Biology (Bio 105, Bio 106, Bio 110, Bio 115 or Bio 130) and statistics (Math 146, Math 150, Bio 268 or Bio 368)

Elective Courses

No result

UEP 249 - Public Health & Human Rights: Global and Local Practices

This course explores core concepts in global public health, the development of human rights instruments and mechanisms, and the intersecting of these fields in global public health and human rights advocacy. Specifically, we will review public health analysis to human rights problems and vice versa, examining how a rights-based approach to health can inform more critical and more productive approaches to issues such as gender-based violence, HIV/AIDS and other sexual and reproductive health concerns. Finally, this course examines how global public health issues have generated dramatically different responses across and within regions, countries, and communities and launched myriad human rights movements at the international and local levels. Same as DWA 249.

HIST 274 - Medicine And Disease In Western Society

A study of three aspects of the history of medicine: theory and practice from ancient times to the present; great doctors and healers, both male and female, examined in their social contexts; the effects of epidemics, such as the Black Death, on the course of Western civilization. We will end with some historically based speculations about the medical future.

DWA 248 - Global Public Health

The course will examine major global public health problems and the range of responses from international organizations, transnational networks, and domestic and community-based institutions. Despite improvements in the health status of low- and middle-income countries over the last half-century, the challenges to advance global public health remain daunting. What are the sorts of strategies these actors have used in addressing such health issues as HIV/AIDS, malaria, unsafe food and water, tobacco use, and others? What is the role of human rights in addressing the underlying determinants of ill-health? The course will present basic concepts for understanding global public health, including morbidity, mortality, demography, epidemiology, and the political, social and economic determinants of health. We will utilize a case study method to examine successful and less successful efforts to improve global health and to debate enduring political, economic, social and cultural controversies in the arenas of global health. Students can expect to gain knowledge of the major issues and actors in global public health and an introduction to the analytic and quantitative skills needed to monitor and evaluate evidence used in formulating policies and programs. Same as UEP 248

HIST 277 - Women and Community Health

This course explores the history of women as promoters of community health in the diverse cultures of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century United States. Although women have not traditionally held power in mainstream biomedical occupations and institutions, women have nevertheless been critical to health and healing in local communities as caregivers, activists, and even scapegoats for disease. Furthermore, women's role in community health has been heavily shaped by gendered constructions of the body, disease, and wellbeing. Thus, while the focus of the course is on the social history of women's health and healing, the theoretical framework of the course also aims to explore how ideologies of gender, race, class, and sexuality shape the women's relationship to community health as both caregivers and health-seekers. The course is organized by a set of common themes that cut across time, space, and racial/ethnic boundaries in U.S. History. Themes include: spirituality and healing; work and health; sexuality and reproduction; activism for health justice.

KINE 104 - Introduction to Kinesiology

Survey of kinesiology subdisciplines: human anatomy, exercise physiology, nutrition, motor learning and sport and exercise psychology. Not open to Seniors.

KINE 304 - Human Physiology

Introduction of principles of human physiology, with special emphasis on a systems approach. Presentation of an integrative approach to basic physiology of major organs and organ systems, covering aspects of cell function, including membrane transport, excitability, metabolism and functions of organs from the nervous, muscular, respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, renal, endocrine and reproductive systems. Includes one three-hour laboratory per week. Prerequisite: Kinesiology 301 or Biology 115

KINE 308 - Diet, Disease, and Exercise

This advanced level course focuses on the etiology of the major degenerative diseases in our society and the role genetics, diet, and exercise play in their development and treatment. Diseases covered include heart disease, cancer, non-insulin dependent diabetes, osteoporosis, and hypertension. Focus of course will look into treatment and prevention of disease through diet, exercise, and lifestyle modifications. The current scientific research covering the metabolic, cellular and system changes involved in disease progression and treatment will be of particular focus. Prerequisites: Chemistry 120 and Kinesiology 307

PHIL 250 - Bioethics

This course is an introduction to the methods of ethics developed for addressing moral issues in the practice of health care and research.  Methods addressed will include: professional ethics (practice standards and professional norms), casuistry, the principles of biomedical ethics, applied normative theory, feminist bioethics, and narrative ethics.  We will use these methods to address a host of topics of concern to those participating in health care institutions, either (directly) as providers or (somewhat less directly) as policy makers.  Given in alternate years. 

PSYC 334 - Health Psychology

Consideration of psychological influences on health and illness, including health-and illness-promoting behavior and lifestyles, cognitive and emotional processes, and social and institutional practices. Prerequisite: Psychology 200 with a grade of C- or better.

SOC 320 - Health and Illness

This course surveys sociological theories of health, illness, and medicine. Rather than focusing on the individual body as the site of disease, the course examines the role of social context in shaping health and access to the healthcare system across population groups. The course focuses especially on medical intervention and the medicalization of disease, social disparities in health, and contemporary healthcare changes and challenges in the United States. Prerequisite: SOC 101

UEP 201 - Environmental Health and Policy

This course is designed to provide students with an understanding of the environmental factors impacting human and ecological health, including consequences of natural and human-made hazards.  Environmental health is a rapidly growing and interdisciplinary field that involves both science and public policy.  It is integrated into numerous aspects of our lives, both directly and indirectly. Topics to be covered include food safety, water access and equality, pesticides, air quality, the identification of environmental hazards, the assessment of various risks (including exposure to dangerous chemicals used in toys, food, workplaces, and other activities), and the social and biological causes of disease (epidemiology), Students will gain an understanding of environmental health analytical and scientific methods. We will also explore ways that communities and policy-makers seek to address environmental health challenges.  A common thread running through the course will be an examination of how exposure to environmental and health risks vary among different population groups, in the Los Angeles area, in the United States, and around the world and the ways that scientific issues become embedded in and inseparable from issues of policy, regulation, and justice. We will also explore the role of science in environmental policy-making, the enforcement of regulations, and the efforts of community groups to influence public policy.  (Students are encouraged to enroll in Geology 150, a laboratory science, that in parallel explores the spatial and geographic dimensions of environmental health. Prerequisite: Not open to frosh without instructor permission.


UEP 307 - Public Health Practicum

The community health internship course is designed to provide students with real-world experiences to develop new skills and enhance insights into myriad community health issues, concerns, and solutions. Under supervision of the course instructor and in collaboration with a community proctor/partner, students will intern for 8-hours a week at a health focused non-profit organization, community clinic, or government agency. A combination of internship experience, class discussions, written reports, and journal entries will help students reflect on how health and health care are delivered in underserved communities. Before registering students should check to make sure that they are available during the preset internship hours. Internship hours and activities can be viewed at the Community Health Engagement website:
Prerequisite: UEP 203 (may be taken concurrently) or UEP 305. May be repeated one time.


Regular Faculty

Peter Dreier, chair

E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics, Politics, Urban and Environmental Policy

B.A., Syracuse University M.A., Ph.D., University of Chicago

Sharla Fett

Associate Professor, History; Advisory Committee, American Studies

B.A., Carleton College; M.A., Stanford University; Ph.D., Rutgers University

Nina Gelbart

Professor, History

A.B., Harvard University; M.A., Ph.D., University of Chicago

Alan Knoerr

Associate Professor, Mathematics, Cognitive Science

B.A., Oberlin College; Sc.M., Ph.D., Brown University

Krystale E. Littlejohn

Assistant Professor of Sociology

A.B, Occidental College; M.A., Ph.D., Stanford University

Lynn Mehl

Professor, Kinesiology and Psychology

B.S., M.S., Ph.D., University of Southern California

Clair Morrissey

Assistant Professor, Philosophy

B.A., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; M.A., University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Ph.D., University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Stuart Rugg

Professor, Kinesiology

B.S., University of California, Davis; Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles

Bhavna Shamasunder

Assistant Professor, Urban and Environmental Policy

B.S./B.A., UC San Diego; M.ES., Yale University; Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Kerry Thompson

Associate Professor, Biology; Advisory Committee, Biochemistry; Advisory Committee, Neuroscience

B.A., M.A., Ph.D., UCLA

On Special Appointment

Heather Banis

Full-Time Non-Tenure Track Associate Professor, Psychology

A.B., Occidental; M.A., Ph.D., USC

Heng Lam Foong

Non-Tenure Track Instructor, Urban & Environmental Policy

B.A. College of New Rochelle, M.S. Capella University

Jane Schmitz

Non-Tenure Track Assistant Professor, Urban & Environmental Policy

B.A., UC Davis; M.P.H., Ph.D., UC Los Angeles

Nicole Vick

Non-Tenure Track Instructor, Urban & Environmental Policy

B.S., M.P.H., University of Southern California

Jacqueline Valenzuela

Non-Tenure Track Instructor, Urban & Environmental Policy

B.A., California State University, Northridge; M.P.H., University of Southern California