Long before healthy living became a priority on college campuses, Dr. Michelle Burcin manned the battle’s front lines. A member of the American College Health Association (ACHA) since 2000 and a fellow since 2013, she has steered ACHA’s Healthy Campus 2020 initiative, which provides research, training, and resources for colleges and universities across the U.S. and Canada on topics including nutrition, mental health, and sexual-assault prevention.
Burcin applies that knowledge and experience today as the undergraduate programs director in the College of Health Sciences. Recently, her efforts earned both the college’s Faculty Excellence Award and Walden’s Presidential Award for Faculty Excellence. She also received grant funding that has supported her current research assessing the unique health needs of online higher education students so future iterations of Healthy Campus can take them into account. Here, she sheds light on how she hopes her new research will improve experiences for online students—including Walden students.
Why did you choose a career in public health? I remember writing an essay for graduate school admission that asked that question: Why do I want to go into this field, this program? I remember thinking about HIV and AIDS—both were still fairly new at the time; people were dying from AIDS, and education and prevention in the area was really lacking among young adults. I wrote something like, “No one dies because they don’t know how to add or complete a calculus problem, but they can die because they lack information about how to take care of themselves.” And that’s really why I’m in this field.
How does Healthy Campus work? Every 10 years, new objectives come out of Healthy People, a federal health-promotion and prevention initiative that we consider to be our sister document. Healthy Campus looks at that as well as data about impediments to academic success. Tools like the ACHA National College Health Assessment, administered on many campuses, help us do that by asking: What’s affecting students inside and outside of the classroom? Stress? Sleep? Drug and alcohol use? We collect this data and use health behavior models and theories to build evidence-based programs and initiatives to address the identified health needs. The Healthy Campus Coalition then provides webinars and trainings that can help our partner coalitions—comprising faculty, staff, students, administrators, and community partners—apply Healthy Campus in ways that work for their communities.
How are your awards from Walden helping you bring the spirit of Healthy Campus to online students? People have assumptions that a full-time online student sits too much, has too much anxiety and stress from working while they go to school. But we don’t know for sure what affects their academic success—because no one really has asked them. The 2016 Research Fellowship in Distance Education grant funded our data collection this spring and analysis this summer. My research partner, Dr. Shelley Armstrong, and I hope our information will guide some thought processes and initiatives at the Walden institutional level.
Illustration credit: Stephanie Dalton Cowan