Jennifer Ibrahim, interim dean of the College of Public Health, has made her mark as an instructor, mentor and administrator at the college since arriving in 2005. She has won national teaching awards as well as Temple University’s Great Teacher Award, its highest teaching honor, and from 2013 to 2022 served as associate dean for academic affairs. In addition to teaching and mentoring graduate and undergraduate students, she has maintained a funded research agenda in health policy, including work on legal infrastructure, the relationship between public health lawyers and practitioners, and tobacco control policy. Her appointment as interim dean has kept her busier than ever, but we took a moment to speak with Dean Ibrahim about the college’s future and opportunities within the community and the university.
The last couple of years have made people more aware of public health as a field to study and work in. How has the college expanded to meet the rising interest?
As a college we were moving in this direction of viewing public health as a lens, and not just a discipline, even before COVID hit. COVID amplified the fact that public health is everywhere and we all have a role to play in advancing the health of the population.
Public health, as a lens, means when we look at something like violence, there's a public health component. We know when there's violence in a neighborhood, while there might be a police response, there's trauma in that neighborhood. Our clinical disciplines have a role to treat and to help with rehabilitation of the individual who may have been injured, but it is also a public health and social justice issue and something that we can be addressing. We've got a collaboration with Temple’s Tyler School of Art and Architecture and the Klein School of Media and Communications looking at the campus from a trauma-informed perspective. What is the role for architects to be thinking about public health, even our thinking about our new building? The new Paley building will be WELL certified. It will be LEED certified. Can we make it a trauma-informed space, too? Who would have thought years ago about a building promoting health? The idea that we're collaborating with others, and valuing how other disciplines can help us in the way we think about public health, I think that's really the way that we’ve addressed the challenges we've seen in the last several years. We know that we can be better when we work together.
How important are these collaborations across the university?
We are incredibly fortunate to be in close collaboration with Temple University Health System, Fox Chase Cancer Center, and all of our health sciences sister schools here at Temple. We have research projects with medicine, dentistry, and pharmacy, as well as existing and emerging accelerated programs from undergraduate to professional studies. We have dual degree graduate programs with medicine, dentistry, law, public policy, health informatics, and social work. We're thinking about ways we can be delivering interventions and support services within the community with cultural humility. There are just so many opportunities for us to bounce ideas around and learn from each other. It could be research, or community-based programming, or classes across our disciplines. There are more and more opportunities for us to learn together.
Are there also opportunities for collaborations within the college, which has brought many disciplines together under its umbrella?
I think that's the richness of our college that many other institutions don't have. Communication sciences and disorders is a good example. When we talk about accessibility, often we think about access to care: we think about cost or about physical location. But language is a huge component. So it’s not just a health literacy lens—what about looking at it from the issue of bilingualism? What about looking at members of our Deaf community being able to access healthcare? That's a place where our different programs challenge one another to think more broadly about these things. Being able to bring an area like recreational therapy, thinking about disability, accessibility, and inclusion, into our different activities—that sets us apart from most public health schools. In fact, I believe we are the only school of public health to have the full collection of disciplines that we enjoy in this college. We're learning from one another. And we’re able to break down the lines between clinical care and population health and think about a continuum of care. Just look at our nursing program, where students are both in the hospital and out in the community. And our School of Social Work that is helping all of us in the college think more deeply about issues of social justice, equity, and access to social services and supports. As a college, we are better together.
We know the college will be consolidating into its own building on campus. What can students, faculty, and the Temple community look forward to when renovations at the Paley Building are ready?
One of the most exciting things in the new building is the simulation center. There are simulation centers nationwide that really focus on the clinical side of things, like a simulated hospital. But our disciplines don't just work bedside. Almost half of our simulation center will be community-based. You’ll walk in and you'll see an ambulance bay. Then you see a large community park that any of our disciplines can use. It’s a great opportunity to simulate any sort of injury with our athletic training students, or with our new EMS program to be training EMTs. Next is a restaurant and a grocery store. What does it look like if we're thinking about inclusion and how individuals might be moving through community spaces? What if you're someone who was injured, and going through a period of rehabilitation, what does that look like when you're trying to move through these spaces?
We are doing more than just educating our students in the classroom, we are preparing our students to make an impact and be future leaders. They need to be prepared to work in our communities to address the health complexities that they will face every day.
Beyond the new and exciting spaces, there is also a more basic need that is being addressed. We will have a home where our students, staff, and faculty can come together on a regular basis. It will be a space where we can educate in state-of-the-art classroom spaces, as well as in collaborative spaces throughout the building. It will be designed to be the healthiest building on campus, filled with services to support our students. The mezzanine level will have social spaces for students, quiet study spaces, a new advising center, and an expanded Social Services Annex. The new building will give us much needed space to be together and will facilitate a stronger sense of community.
How important is the college's connection with the local community in our Philadelphia neighborhoods, and how do you make sure it stays strong and useful?
It’s really a core piece of our mission. That includes student fieldwork opportunities. It includes research collaborations with community organizations and the clinics we operate for the community in our local neighborhoods. We have the physical therapy pro bono clinic. We have the speech-language clinic. We have the Vaux Community Health Center. And we're already moving in the direction of being able to be more interdisciplinary. For example, at Vaux, we have physical therapists there, we've got social workers, we've got public health folks. We’re doing more to think about a continuum of care and being able to offer access to a range of services in one space. To ensure that we can continue this work and expand even further, we have faculty and staff working to explore funding opportunities to make these efforts sustainable. Our commitment to the community is a core part of our identity.
In the past fiscal year, the college set records for new grants and the amount of research funding it received. How important is that?
Not only do we have more research dollars coming in, but we also have more faculty involved in research—and in different types of research. So it’s not just NIH funding. It’s foundation funding and a lot more community-based research that's going to make an impact in our communities.
Everybody has an opportunity to be engaged in research. Individuals who were predominantly focused on teaching are now getting involved in research and the scholarship of teaching and learning. It’s a good model for our students to see that there is not one type of person who gets involved in research. When they see a range of our faculty who are publishing on teaching, on learning, on social justice, on community-based participatory research, that helps them to aspire to what they want to be doing. And we are seeing more students getting involved in research. I also hope that our student-faculty run journal (CommonHealth) is helping to encourage students to get involved in publication and dissemination of the work they are doing.
Maybe it’s not a big deal, but it has been great to see the College of Public Health getting its own line of Temple apparel that students, alumni, and fans can put on to show school pride. What's your favorite thing to wear?
It is a big deal. I think it's so important for us to be able to show our pride in what we're doing. I felt that was something that was missing, so we did the first pop-up shop in the spring. And the design that we have now with the city skyline listing all of our disciplines showcases the notion of being better together. That's our identity. We should be proud of it! My favorite is my hoodie. I love my hoodie, but I can’t wait to get my new CPH blanket.