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Leah Steimel, Director, Office of Community Affairs at UNM Health Sciences Center addresses the seminar “Designing Healthy Communities”

Inter-Professional Curriculum: ABCs Design for Community Health
By Tatyana Brown, Manager, Public Policy

The AIA’s Decade of Design is a Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to tap the power of design to advance public health and the effective use of natural, economic, and human resources. In September 2012 the AIA extended $40,000 in grants to three university architecture programs. Among them is a grant to the University of New Mexico (UNM) supporting the development of an inter-professional public health curriculum.

The initiative “ABCs Design for Community Health”, which stands for Albuquerque/Bernalillo County metro area, is supported by the University’s interdisciplinary Urban Health Equity Task Force. “Its dual goal,” explains principal investigator Leah Steimel, Director of the Office of Community Affairs at UNM Health Sciences Center, “is to improve the health of neighboring communities while creating opportunities for UNM students to practice inter-professional collaboration through related projects.”

As part of the initiative, UNM had launched a noontime film and faculty-facilitated eight-session discussion series that ran from October to November 2012. The fall series built interest and enthusiasm among faculty and students across the campus, as well as solicited feedback on designing an inter-professional curriculum. The series featured through-provoking episodes from the seminal documentary Unnatural Causes: is Inequality Making Us Sick? and the PBS series Designing Healthy Communities by Dr. Richard Jackson, Hon. AIA., MD, MPH from UCLA.

Notes taken during the seminar discussion after viewing an episode of Richard Jackson's PBS series "Designing Healthy Communities"

In follow-up to the film series, a two-credit pilot seminar “Designing Healthy Communities” began on February 4th, 2013. Four inter-disciplinary faculty are teaching nearly 50 students, about 20 in each module, as part of the spring seminar open to students in architecture and landscape architecture, medicine, public health, pharmacy, and business. Among the modules are case studies, community-based experiential learning, and facilitated conversations with national experts like Dr. Jackson.

In July 2013 students will also be able take the enhanced two-week graduate course “Health Equity: Introduction to Public Health” at the School of Medicine. Launched in 2011, this community-engaged class is now open to students in Architecture and Landscape Architecture; Medicine, Public Health, and Pharmacy; as well as Business and Law.

UNM’s initiative is a key step toward breaking inter-disciplinary silos at a time when America’s public health challenges require creative solutions. “We hope this initiative will be a transformational experience,” explains principal investigator Michaele Pride, AIA, NOMA, professor and associate dean at the UNM School of Architecture and Planning. “Students will leave with a better understanding of the built environment’s impact on health. They will also learn and practice the principles of community engagement within and beyond their discipline.”

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