May 23, 2023—Following two years of online learning, nearly the entire class of students in the Master of Public Health Generalist (MPH-GEN) program arrived on campus for the first time to meet each other in-person and receive their degrees at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Convocation ceremony on May 24. The program, launched in 2021, is the School’s first fully online degree program.
The program’s graduates were based around the U.S. and in five other countries, including the Netherlands, China, Canada, Australia, and England.
One of the draws of the MPH-GEN program is students’ ability to remain in their current roles while pursuing a degree.
Students can take the learnings from the virtual classroom and try them out in their workplaces in real time,” said Anne Occhipinti, assistant dean for professional education. “They have an instant place to apply their education and can bring real challenges to the classroom for discussion. The ability to grow as public health professionals while staying where they are and continuing in their careers is really appealing to many students.”
Even though students were divided by oceans and continents, Evan Siau, MPH ’23, said they were able to build strong ties with one another through their coursework, group meetings, and team projects. Siau considers these relationships an important part of his experience with the program.
“I loved hearing the stories from my fellow peers about the public health challenges they are passionate about and how they connected those challenges to their personal experiences,” he said, describing one of his favorite courses, Narrative Leadership. “These [interactions] allowed us to bond as a group and learn from one another.”
School leaders gleaned parts of the hybrid MPH degree in Epidemiology to build the MPH-GEN program. It was created to be an online version of the School’s existing 45-credit MPH degree program, which enrolls students with advanced degrees or significant experience in the public health or health care field. The MPH-GEN program is delivered part-time, too—a boon to students who have already established careers.
Student Zara Michael, MPH ’23, was surprised at the program’s level of connectivity, citing the synchronous opportunities, like group collaboration exercises and live office hours, that are built in to complement the program’s asynchronous lectures.
“The MPH-GEN program surprised me because it was interactive despite being online,” she said. “I could still form meaningful connections with peers in the program and professors, which I did not expect so much going into the [program].”
Michael found the flexibility particularly helpful. She was based in the U.S. while doing the program, but often took trips to her hometown, Melbourne, Australia. Even during extended times of travel, she could listen to and reflect upon the course content as much as she wanted. She even continued her coursework after giving birth to her first daughter, Arielle, who will be there to see her mom graduate.
Working and studying while pregnant and having a baby was challenging, she said. But having supportive faculty, staff, and classmates made a big difference.
Photo: Catherine Seraphin