University of Montana professor Tony Ward is the chair of UM's school of Public and Community Health Sciences. He helped create a new undergraduate degree: Bachelor of science in Public health.

Last semester UM unveiled the new Bachelor of Science in Public Health program as students were returning to school amid a pandemic. 

Tony Ward, professor and chair of UM’s School of Public and Community Health Sciences, said the relevance of this program has expanded significantly.

“With COVID-19, whether we are talking about wearing a mask or social distancing, or now with the vaccinations, all of these things are tied back to public health in some capacity,” Ward said. “I think people now are more familiar with what public health does.”

The program was approved by the Montana Board of Regents in the summer of 2020 but has been in the making for several years. Ward said people across the state and health departments were pushing for an undergraduate degree of its kind.

Through this program, Ward said, students are trained in the science and art of health promotion while preparing for a field that involves protecting the health of their communities.

The program came just in time as the world attempts to move forward in the middle of a pandemic and mass vaccine distribution. Ward said staff is hearing from a lot of students now, that they want to be able to do their own part in addressing this pandemic.

“We’ve heard from students that they want to get into public health because they want to do something to help us get through [COVID-19],” Ward said. “It’s a very inspiring message that we’re hearing.”

Brooklynn Bohannon, a sophomore in the UM public health program, says she loves the community and has gotten to know many amazing people in the program. She said she wants to become a health educator or teacher overseas.

“I hope to gain more knowledge and understanding about this field and how to use it in such a way that helps others,” Bohannon said. “I want to reach people who lack governmental support, medical needs, and basic necessities and information.”

Bohannon said she has learned not only how to take care of herself but how to provide others with the health resources they need in order to be their best selves. She has also been taught how to create programs that target different areas of health while learning more about COVID-19, mental health and physical health.

Ward says the undergraduate program has not been up and running long enough to see where students will go after they graduate, but so far Bohannon has enjoyed the major and the people she has made connections with.