Role of Data in Promoting Diversity & Inclusion in Public Health Institutions of Higher Education

by Gulzar H. Shah, PhD, MStat, MS; and Kristie C. Waterfield, DrPH, MBA


Health Informatics Innovations and Applications highlights ways that health informatics innovations and applications are supporting stakeholders in public health practice and policy to advance their mission of improved population health. The series will also highlight innovations in health care informatics.  data diversity higher education

data diversity higher education

In this podcast, we discuss with Dr. Noble Maseru the role of data in promoting diversity and inclusion in public health institutions of higher education. Dr. Maseru is currently serving as Director of the Center for Health Equity, and Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion at University of Pittsburgh, Graduate School of Public Health. Dr. Maseru is a nationally recognized leader in the field of health equity, as well as academic diversity and inclusion within schools and colleges of public health. Dr. Maseru has a distinguished record of highlighting health inequity and positively influencing health equity through his work in public health practice. I first met Dr. Maseru roughly a decade ago when I was serving as the lead research scientist at NACCHO, and Dr. Maseru served as the Health Commissioner of Cincinnati Health Department.

Listen to our conversation here:

Role of Data as a Key Part of Fostering Diversity and Inclusion Among the Student Population

Information systems can play an instrumental role in assessing hidden biases in admissions and enrollment for any university, but it is especially important for public health programs that seek to ensure that their graduates, future public health practitioners, are as diverse as the communities they will be serving. Dr. Maseru shared insights from his and his colleagues’ work at his institution in assessing any systematic biases concerning diversity and inclusion from data about those admitted into the program, as well as those who were accepted but declined, and those who were not accepted by the program (rejected). When systematically generated, data from these processes also allow the programs to see if those who either declined the admission offer or were rejected by the admissions committees were accepted by another public health program. Additionally, the programs can look at peer programs geographically, to see how their admissions, enrollment, and overall student populations compare. Program administration can then take the baseline information and make recommendations moving forward regarding recruitment and application evaluation. data diversity higher education

The Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt Public Health) recently conducted an analysis of both admissions and enrollment data for the past 4 years. They used data from the Association of Schools & Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) to establish baseline information regarding their target populations, historically underrepresented groups (African Americans and Hispanic/Latinx). After their analysis, they were able to report the results by various categories, including race, ethnicity, gender, and department.

Role of Data as a Key Part of Fostering Diversity and Inclusion Among the Faculty

Information systems and the wealth of data generated can also play a significant role in determining any inequity issues by examining both faculty recruitment and funding for research. While public health programs focus on a diverse student population, they must also ensure that their faculty reflects the same level of diversity and inclusion. Data regarding the demographic information of a program’s faculty helps with both recruitment efforts for new faculty, as well as certifying that faculty members in historically underrepresented groups are applying for all available funding opportunities. Understanding faculty recruitment needs can lead to the creation of opportunities, such as post-doc scholarships, that can turn into a pipeline for a diverse and talented pool of future faculty members. Funding application data can also be very useful in spotting any diversity and inclusion issues as these data help analyze trends and patterns of number, amounts, and type of grants pursued, considered for funding (scored), funded or remained unsuccessful. The data can also help determine whether applicants that are members of the historically underrepresented groups are also applying for diversity supplements (when applicable). When a public health funding program involves increased funding opportunities for faculty members of the underrepresented groups, it assists with the recruitment of more diverse faculty and students.

Dr. Maseru and his colleagues at Pitt Public Health conducted a 4-year study regarding the diversity of their faculty members and the application history for NIH grants. Their study results have allowed them to make recommendations regarding an increase in recruitment for both African American and Hispanic/Latinx faculty members. Their study also gave insight into the number of NIH grant applications, the number of grants received, and whether African American and Hispanic/Latinx faculty members were taking advantage of applying for the NIH Diversity Supplements. data diversity higher education

Lessons Learned from Pitt Public Health’s Experience

  • Public health schools and colleges need to access/maintain and examine historical admission and enrollment data to better understand whether diversity and inclusion are maintained by analyzing trends by race, ethnicity, gender, etc., in student-applicants being accepted, rejected by the school, and declined by the students. Additionally, policies should take advantage of comparative diversity and inclusion statistics to assess how they fair in comparison to peer programs, and if not, why?
  • Public health programs should examine their communities and ensure that both student and faculty recruitments match that of the community, especially in terms of historically underrepresented groups.
  • Public health student recruitment efforts of historically underrepresented groups ought to focus on creating pipelines via post-baccalaureate public health opportunities, community colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and local high schools.

data diversity higher education

Dr. Gulzar Shah

Gulzar H. Shah, PhD, MStat, MS, currently serves as a Professor of Health Policy and Management and the Department Chair, Health Policy and Community Health, at the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health (JPHCOPH), Georgia Southern University. He served the JPHCOPH as an Associate Dean for Research before accepting the Department Chair position in 2017. Prior to moving into academia, Dr. Shah spent over 17 years serving in public health practice, first at the Utah State Department of Health, and subsequently at the National Association of Health Data Organizations (NAHDO) and National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO). [Full bio.]

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data diversity higher education

Dr. Kristie Waterfield

Kristie Waterfield, DrPH, MBA, currently serves as a Visiting Instructor for the Department of Health Policy and Community Health, at the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health (JPHCOPH), Georgia Southern University.  She is a recently received her DrPH in Public Health Leadership from JPHCOPH. She also received a bachelor’s degree in Community Health Education and a MBA, Health Services Administration from Georgia Southern University. Kristie has over 15 years of experience in health administration, health care marketing, and management. Currently, her research focuses on public health leadership, health inequities, and public health workforce.

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