Jackson State University receives $10M from U.S. Health and Human Services’ ONC division to create public health informatics curricula

(JACKSON, Miss.) — Jackson State University’s College of Health Sciences, “A CEPH-accredited School of Public Health,” has been awarded a $10 million cooperative grant from the U.S. Health and Human Services’ Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health Information Technology.

The ONC created a Public Health Informatics and Technology (PHIT) Workforce Development Program that will allow JSU to train public health professionals in collecting scientific data for improving clinical and medical decisions.

The collaborative grant also will allow JSU to partner with Alcorn State University’s Cora S. Balmat School of Nursing in Lorman, Mississippi, and develop curricula to train Alcorn students in nursing informatics. Moreover, JSU will offer certificate, undergraduate and graduate degrees in various informatics and analytics fields throughout all colleges in an interdisciplinary partnership to bolster professional skills.

Alisa Mosley, Ph.D., JSU Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs

“The grant from the U.S. Health and Human Services and its workforce development program will allow Jackson State University to promote inclusion and representation in the public health information technology sector,” said Alisa Mosley, Ph.D., JSU Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs. “This agreement expands our efforts to improve public health outcomes in underrepresented communities. Jackson State will be an important factor in developing people for public health information technology opportunities.”

Jointly, faculty and staff will assist with developing curricula for online and in-person courses that will train students and professionals in bioinformatics, data science, data analytics, nursing informatics, business analytics, health informatics and public health informatics. The College of Health Sciences will rely on JSU experts in the College of Business, College of Education and Human Development; College of Science, Engineering and Technology; Honors College; and the College of Liberal Arts.

Girmay Berhie, Ph.D., MSW, MSIS, principal investigator and dean of JSU’s College of Health Sciences

“As a transformative leader, I have always dreamed of developing and implementing informatics and analytics in public health informatics and technology so that we can provide opportunities for students to compete in a digital environment as well as break silos. I truly believe JSU is on that journey.  Additionally, by engaging stakeholders and community partners we can achieve our dream by articulating a vision and, ultimately, forging a distinctive identity for JSU,” said Girmay Berhie, Ph.D., MSW, MSIS, principal investigator and dean of JSU’s College of Health Sciences.

As a pre-eminent partner, Alcorn State University’s senior leadership and its School of Nursing are embracing informatics as the medical profession rapidly changes to keep up with advancements and new challenges.   

“We are excited about the opportunity to partner with Jackson State on such a groundbreaking program which will strengthen the competitiveness of our nursing students,” said Ontario Wooden, Ph.D., M.S., Provost and Senior Vice President at Alcorn State University. “This program will greatly benefit residents of southwest Mississippi and beyond to ensure the best medical decisions are made to enhance their well-being.”

Shirley Evers-Manly, Ph.D., MSN, Alcorn professor and interim dean of the School of Nursing, agrees with her colleague.

“This partnership between Jackson State University and Alcorn State University School of Nursing will provide an immersive experience for nursing students to gain expertise addressing informatics and nursing pedagogy,” Evers-Manly said. “One of the primary ways that informatics has changed the nursing practice is through documentation. Health informatics is an important part of care coordination in nursing.”

Even as the nursing field copes with rapid changes, federal partners such as the CDC have been working to address longstanding racial and ethnic inequities by hiring public health workers from communities of underrepresented minorities. 

Ultimately, the Public Health Informatics and Technology (PHIT) Workforce Development Program expects to build an expanded U.S. workforce that is better capable of responding to future public health and biological threats. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of jobs in health care informatics will grow by 22 percent by 2022 – twice as fast as employment overall.  However, a recent study by the Yale Global Health Justice Partnership reveals that “many health workforce disciplines report that 30-70 percent lack adequate training and background to fully use and engage with digital technology and information.” 

Although the HHS agreement is specifically designed for public health, nursing and related fields, Mario J. Azevedo, Ph.D., M.P.H., co-principal investigator and a professor in JSU’s Department of History and Philosophy, said the objective of the grant is to provide students with marketable skills and opportunities in an ever-changing technological world. 

“For the College of Liberal Arts, for example, our students may take the program’s general courses as well as specialized offerings, if they so wish. They can enroll in a certificate track or take two years after graduation and earn another degree of specialized content. Any way one looks at it, is a plus for JSU’s academic standing, and we are convinced that it will strengthen the caliber of our students and enhance their chances of getting good-paying jobs,” said Azevedo.

Fidelis Ikem, Ph.D., co-principal investigator and dean of the College of Business, said, “The College of Business is delighted to be a part of this project, and this presents an incredible opportunity for us to participate in building an infrastructure for public health informatics across the campus. This provides all College of Business students another avenue for a future career path in the health science informatics arena. Yes, we are truly delighted to be a part of it. And I think this is a win-win for all involved.”

Wilbur L. Walters, Ph.D., dean of JSU’s College of Science, Engineering and Technology, noted “This grant is a once in a life-time multidiscipline transformative opportunity that will have a significant impact on all facets of the JSU community. In particular, STEM students will have opportunities to prepare for high-powered careers in data-related fields. This will expand the pool of highly experienced scientists and engineers in central Mississippi and, ultimately, have a significant impact on the economic future of our state.”