Winona State first in Minnesota State system to offer new public health major

Kristin Kovalsky, Copy Editor

Winona State University has added a new public health nutrition major to its undergraduate program, making the university the first in the Minnesota State system to do so.

Janet Macon, faculty advisor for the public health nutrition major, said the program was added because of student requests.

“This was actually spurred out of student request for a nutrition-related major on campus,” Macon said. “We have a lot of students here at Winona State in healthcare majors already. We have a lot of nursing students, HERS majors and other students across campus who have either a direct or tangential interest in nutrition related to their current major.”

The new undergraduate major will be added to the current Public Health program which previously only had three emphases.

The emphases included community health, epidemiology and health administration, according to Macon.

Macon said all students in the Public Health program take core public health courses together but branch out and begin to specialize in one of the emphases once they begin upper level classes.

Nutrition is now the fourth emphasis available in the program.

“What we’ve just done is added a nutrition emphasis, a fourth emphasis, that includes more nutrition-focused classes as well as classes that will help to set students up for additional education at the graduate level in nutrition or dietetics,” Macon said.

The program was in development for about two years.

“The process to bring any major to life here at Winona State, or any MinnState school, is pretty extensive,” Macon said. “There are a lot of steps you have to go through and a lot of approvals.”

Macon said COVID-19 has further shown the need for the addition of this major.

“The pandemic has shined a spotlight on the role public health professionals play in keeping our population healthy,” Macon said. “Food insecurity rates have surged. New channels for funding and distributing food have been developed with unprecedented speed.”

Macon also said the need for trained professionals to support our food system and those using it will only continue to grow.

“This need will not go away as the pandemic ebbs,” Macon said.

Peter Sternberg, a Public Health faculty advisor, said the new major will provide students with the necessary materials to succeed in their careers.

“The new public health-nutrition major will prepare them [students] to join a team of professionals committed to ensuring that the country is better prepared to protect people from disease and better able to promote the health of all its citizens,” Sternberg said.

Sternberg also said public health professionals are needed due to COVID.

“COVID has exposed great gaps in our social and public health systems,” Sternberg said. “Filling those gaps is going to be the main focus of public health professionals into the future.”

Public health nutrition courses are now available for Winona State students.