Today's front page of the Washington Post (free registration required) notes the increasing popularity of public health courses, all involving science in one way or another, among undergraduates. The story cites a recent survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities that showed that 16 percent of the group's 837 member institutions now offer majors or minors in public health. And among those schools, two-thirds of their programs require fieldwork or research.
For example, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, which has an entire School of Public Health, has 311 undergrad majors compared to 159 studying the field in 1976. The College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, Virginia, offers a freshman seminar in emerging diseases. The instructor says the two sections of the course fill up instantly.
Undergrad programs often include courses in epidemiology, immunology, and statistics. Thomas Coates, head of the global health program at the University of California at Los Angeles, attributes the recent popularity of the courses to the high profile of global diseases like AIDS and SARS. The story cites other unnamed faculty who say that the ability of the Internet to connect American students to people in other cultures, and the desire by many students to work or study abroad have also fueled the trend.