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  • OPHS/Social Work/Center on Aging Reorganization
  • Commencement
  • Delta Omega Distinguished Lecture
  • Undergraduate Summit
  • Faculty Trivia
  • Student Spotlights
  • Alumni Updates
  • Faculty Spotlight
  • Faculty and Staff Highlights
  • Research Highlights
  • Program at a Glance
  • Give
“Achieving social justice and health equity for the people of Hawai‘i and citizens in a changing world.”  This is the VISION of the new school that will be formed July 1, 2016, which brings together the Office of Public Health Studies (OPHS), the Center on Aging (COA), and the Department of Social Work under the umbrella of the Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work (MBTSSW).
“This reorganization will enhance the work of the three programs. We look forward expanding classroom and practicum opportunities for our students, conducting more joint research, and working together to provide continuing education for professionals in the community,” comments Dr. Kathryn Braun, director of OPHS.
Dr. Noreen Mokuau, Dean of the MBTSSW, views the reorganization as a way to strengthen educational excellence while enhancing organizational efficiencies.   “We share a vision for a just and equitable world.  Our foundation in university-community partnerships will support the use of evidence-based practices  in our community.”
“UH Mānoa has a long history of interdisciplinary research in gerontology,” says Dr. Christy Nishita, interim director of the COA. “This merger will help us grow interdisciplinary educational programs in gerontology as well.”
Congratulations to all three units for this bold move forward! 
This fall, we were proud to award our first Bachelor of Arts degree in Public Health. The BA Program began accepting public health majors in spring 2014. Our inaugural undergraduate cohort are featured in the first two photos below.

In total, there were thirteen graduates (nine bachelor's, three master's and one PhD) in fall 2015 and fifty-six graduates (twenty-three bachelor's, thirty-one master's, and two DrPH) in spring 2016.

The 2016 Delta Omega Induction Ceremony and Distinguished Lecture was held on Wednesday, May 11, 2016. Eight students were inducted into the Delta Omega Honor Society, including four graduate students and four undergraduate students. These four undergraduate students represented our first associate inductees, as national-level Delta Omega recently welcomed bachelor's degree candidates into their organization.

Following the ceremony, distinguished lecturer, Dr. Karina L. Walters, from the University of Washington presented a talk on "Isht Ahalaya-Loving Responsibility: Transcending Historical Trauma in Indigenous Communities" .

The Spring OPHS Undergraduate Summit was held in the BioMedical Sciences Building D-Courtyard on Thursday, April 28th 2016. This semester, fifty-seven students presented posters of their Applied Learning Experience (APLE) (thirty-nine project proposals and eighteen final projects) as part of their undergraduate capstone experience.

We were also fortunate that our Community Advisory Panel members were able to attend the summit and connect with our students.

To request an undergraduate student, please see the APLE Student Request Form.

Guess which faculty...
Has a bachelor's degree in geology?

Scroll down to the end of the newsletter for the answer.


Tonya Lowery St. John, PhD
Tonya Lowery St. John joined the UH Epidemiology Ph.D. program in fall 2011. "I was thrilled to learn that the program was accredited since I had long desired to continue and expand my education," said Tonya who had previously earned an undergraduate degree from Rice University and an MPH from the University of Connecticut (1995).  "My oldest son was starting high school so we decided to race and see who would finish first." Tonya earned her Ph.D. while working full-time at the Hawai‘i Department of Health and was able to use Hawai‘i School Health Survey data in her dissertation to examine pressing health issues among gay, lesbian, and bisexual high school students in Hawaii.  Since completing her degree, she has moved to Guam and is enjoying some time at home with her husband and three children.  She was recently elected to the Guam District School Board of the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) Pacific and plans to use her education and experience to develop policies for the district.  While she did not beat her high school student to the graduation line (he finished in May and she finished in December of 2015), she is grateful for her time at UH and the help and support of the faculty.  Tonya states, "I was apprehensive about returning to school after being out of the classroom for so long, but the faculty, staff and other students were very supportive."

Tonya is pictured in the photo below (middle) after successful completion of her dissertation defense.

Thomas Lee, PhD Candidate
Thomas Lee is a current doctoral candidate in Epidemiology, with an MPH in Epidemiology from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and a B.A. in Chinese from the University of Notre Dame.  His current research focuses on insulin resistance and inflammation’s role in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and his past research involved perceptions of air quality in Nanchang, China.  Although he enjoys research, his true passions involve teaching Epidemiology.  Thomas looks forward to every opportunity to mentor and work with Public Health students in Epidemiology and biostatistics as a T.A. for 310 and tutor.  Aside from his academic life, his other passion is coaching Crossfit, learning different sports and hobbies, and spending time with family.  

Blane Garcia, MPH
Blane K. Garcia was born and raised on the westside of ʻOahu in Waiʻanae. Growing up, he always knew healthcare and education were not priorities within his community, and this motivated him to seek higher education to better understand how to discontinue the trend of high health disparities within his community. Blane earned his BA in microbiology and graduated this May with his Master of Public Health specializing in Native Hawaiian & Indigenous Health. Following graduation, he was offered an employment opportunity through his practicum site, Waiʻanae Coast Comprehensive Health Center (WCCHC), as a Research Assistant. Blane is currently working on a few community health research projects: building a cultural humility training program for new healthcare providers and staff coming into WCCHC and addressing the high asthmatic rates among the youth on the Waiʻanae Coast. Through his vigorous public health training, he has come to understand how to better address these situations upstream. This led him to develop and implement a training program for healthcare providers and staff within the community health center to better understand the patient demographics and how to maintain a positive relationship with patients to deliver effective culturally appropriate healthcare. "Our kupuna, our ancestors have left us with a valuable Hawaiian proverb, Aohe pau ka ike i ka halau hookahi,(All knowledge is not taught in one school).” This beloved proverb is heard often in Hawaiʻi and offers guidance to many. "I have learned not to limit myself to a single discipline or train of thought. Thankfully, this has brought me to my decision to pursue Medicine next, which then will guide me to a career of service as a primary healthcare provider, giving back to the community of Waiʻanae."

Justin Tabbay, BA
"Find something you love to do and you'll never have to work a day in your life”: A quote that has been ingrained in me throughout my career and academic journey. This has allowed me to express my abilities, skills, and knowledge, giving 100% in what I do, while loving every opportunity, task and request. I was born in the Philippines and moved to Hawai‘i when I was six years old with my mom and two older sisters to join our dad.
Growing up, I was heavily influenced by my mother and eldest sister, who are employed in the health field, and by personal clinical experience as a CNA, which led me to the acceptance and completion of the emergency medical technician program at Kapi‘olani Community College. Following completion of the program, I became a licensed EMT. I am currently employed at two major hospitals as an emergency room technician. With the knowledge and experience I have gained, I realized that patient care is what I truly wanted to pursue. 

Upon transitioning to the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, I became a pre-nursing major, continuing on the academic journey of becoming a nurse, where I was exposed to the public health pathway. I ultimately declared a public health major to continue my knowledge in the health field. Being a public health student allowed me to expand my knowledge and skills to include different perspectives of the health field. As a public health student I was given the opportunity to learn about the breadth of public health, and also to conduct an original research project. My Applied Learning Experience involved a service learning project working to support our local houseless communities, and a qualitative study investigating barriers among houseless populations to accessing medical care. I knew that being a public health student would allow me to become a better healthcare provider and to better provide aid and support to our communities. With the interest of both nursing and public health I applied for, and was accepted to, the master's program in nursing as a public health nurse practitioner, beginning this fall 2016.

Reflecting on what I have done throughout my academic journey, I am beyond blessed and excited for what is in store for me in the coming years. I am also  grateful that I enrolled in that first public health course with Dr. Nelson-Hurwitz. If it wasn’t for her great enthusiasm and drive to help her students, I honestly wouldn’t be where I am today. Currently my career goal is to graduate with my masters in nursing, to become a licensed and board certified registered public health nurse practitioner and to be able to work in my community and other countries to provide care and aid to vulnerable populations. I plan continue my education pursuing a terminal doctorate level nurse practitioner to further my abilities to serve the people of my community and the world.
Mohammad Alam (MPH '12) is enrolled in a PhD program at the University of Memphis. Trisha Kajimura (MPH '11) is the new executive director for Mental Health America of Hawai‘i. Vance Kawakami (MPH '13) started the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) in July 2015 and is working in Seattle, WA. He has worked on the outbreak of multi-drug resistant salmonella infections linked to pork and creating and implementing a survey of King County outpatient facilities to assess their capacity to screen for travel-related communicable diseases. Michelle Tagorda (MPH '15) is a Summer Bridge Coordinator for the Health Careers Opportunity Program at UH Mānoa.

Cheryl Fajardo (MPH '98) is a Health Service Officer with the US Public Health Service and worked to support the Ebola response. Wesley Lum (MPH '96) is president and CEO of the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging.

You can read additional profiles on our Alumni page.

We love hearing from our alumni! Please keep us up-to-date on new addresses, emails, employment, etc. Update your information at
Dr. Eric Hurwitz is a professor of epidemiology and graduate chair of the PhD Epidemiology degree program in the Office of Public Health Studies (OPHS) at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Holding doctoral degrees in both chiropractic care (DC) and epidemiology (PhD), he joined the faculty of the Office of Public Health Studies in 2006 after relocating from the University of California at Los Angeles. His research interests primarily include musculoskeletal epidemiology, pain management, and epidemiological methodology. Dr. Hurwitz has served as deputy editor for evidence and method at The Spine Journal for over five years, and as co-chair of the World Spine Research Committee for World Spine Care, (an international non-profit with outreach clinics in Botswana, Ghana, and the Dominican Republic). He additionally works on collaborative research projects with RAND, the University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center, Global Spine Initiative, Southern California University of Health Sciences, and Western University of Health Sciences. Throughout his career he has published over 100 articles and authored six book chapters.
Earlier this year Dr. Hurwitz and his colleagues were awarded a clinical research paper award at the Association of Chiropractic Colleges Education Conference and Research Agenda Conference for their work on “Integrative acupuncture and chiropractic care versus either alone for low back pain: a randomized controlled trial.” Prior to this recognition, he was involved in highlighting development of sustainable model of spine care in underserved communities in ‘Creating a sustainable model of spine care in underserved communities’ discussing global health work being conducted through World Spine Care.
At OPHS, Dr. Hurwitz teaches courses for our undergraduates, masters, and doctoral students. He enjoys hiking with his wife and is happiest exploring the natural environment.

Dr. Maile Taualii, NHIH faculty, was recognized as one of six University of Hawai‘i faculty members awarded the Board of Regents Medal for Excellence in teaching this May.

SBHS Specialization Head, Dr. Claudio Nigg, was honored with the Research to Practice Award (recognizing exemplary work in translating behavioral medicine research into practical application, dissemination, or implementation), at the Society of Behavioral Medicine meeting held this past March in Washington, DC.

Welcome to our newest additions to our ‘ohana:
Lehua Choy, DrPH, Assistant Specialist
Dr. Choy works with the Healthy Hawai‘i Initiative Evaluation Team.

May Rose Dela Cruz, DrPH, Assistant Researcher
Dr. Dela Cruz will be focusing her efforts on youth alcohol prevention and alcohol policy enforcement.

Denise Nelson-Hurwitz, PhD, Assistant Professor
Dr. Nelson-Hurwitz accepted the position of tenure-track assistant professor and undergraduate chair effective August 1.

Rebecca (Williams) Schweitzer, DrPH, Assistant Researcher
Dr. Schweitzer transitioned into a research role and will continue her projects related to tobacco prevention, control, and policy enforcement.

Lornal Ramiscal, Administrative Officer

Adriano "Puna" Sabagala, Undergraduate Academic Advisor

We bid a fond Aloha to faculty member, Deon Canyon, and staff, Craig Goodell and Michelle Tagorda. We wish them well in their future endeavors.
Power to the States: Making Fiscal Transfers Work for Better Health

Menopausal status and physical performance in middle-aged women from the Northeast region of Brazil

Mixed models provide a wide range of applications including hierarchical modeling and longitudinal studies

A genome-wide association study of body mass index across early life and childhood

Director of OPHS: Kathryn L. Braun, DrPH
Associate Director of OPHS: Al Katz, MD, MPH

Undergraduate Chair: Denise Nelson-Hurwitz, PhD
Master's Degree Graduate Chair: Al Katz, MD, MPH
DrPH Graduate Chair: Kathryn L. Braun, DrPH
PhD Graduate Chair: Eric Hurwitz, DC, PhD

Bachelor of Arts (BA)
Master of Public Health (MPH)
Master of Science (MS)
Doctor of Public Health (DrPH)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Epidemiology (MPH, MS, PhD)
Health Policy and Management (MPH)
Native Hawaiian and Indigenous Health (MPH)
Social and Behavioral Health Sciences (MPH)
Community-Based and Translational Research (DrPH)
With your support, we can continue to move forward toward our goal of becoming a top-ranked public health program. Your gift will:
  • Help students attend and present at conferences
  • Go abroad for practicum or applied learning experiences
  • Provide tuition assistance
  • Promote a sense of community among our students and faculty

Dr. Braun loved camping and the west so geology gave her the opportunity to do field work in Wyoming, California, and British Colombia.
Copyright © 2016 Office of Public Health Studies, All rights reserved.

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