Department of Allied Health Sciences: an overview

A medical laboratory sciences lab.
A medical laboratory sciences lab.

The Department of Allied Health Sciences (AHS) is home to distinguished faculty working in numerous fields of study and providing research opportunities for more than 800 undergraduate and graduate students.

“This is a department with diverse programs and faculty with strengths in advising, teaching and research,” says Justin Nash, professor and department head. Upon joining the department in January 2017, his immediate goal was to capitalize on the success of the established programs while growing the graduate programs.

He says, “We have recently launched a Ph.D. program in Health Promotion Sciences (HPS). The first class is in its second year, and it has attracted students from as far away as Uganda.”

The Master of Science in HPS allows students to develop individualized plans of study toward health-related careers in fields such as community health, while the Ph.D. program prepares students for careers in health-related research. Additionally, many of the MS students are graduates of professional programs seeking advanced credentials in health promotion.

The Occupational Safety and Health Online Post-Baccalaureate Certificate program covers a broad spectrum of health and safety issues in the workplace, with courses designed and taught by occupational safety and health professionals.

The department also offers a Master of Science in Health Care Genetics, appropriate for students with undergraduate degrees in the life or clinical sciences.

Undergraduate programs include several paths:

  • The allied health sciences major prepares students for work in healthcare administration, public health or occupational and environmental health and safety. The major also provides an excellent foundation for application to professional degree programs in medicine, dental medicine, physical therapy or physician assistant education.
  • The Dietetics Coordinated Program offers two options. One combines didactic course work and supervised practice hours for aspiring dietitians; the other is a post-baccalaureate coordinated program for graduates who have the prerequisites and wish to complete didactic coursework as well as an internship.
  • Diagnostic Genetic Sciences (DGS) prepares students to become highly qualified laboratory professions for the field of genetic testing, including cytogenetics and molecular diagnostics.
  • Medical Laboratory Sciences (MLS) graduates are clinical laboratory professionals in fields such as hematology, immunology, microbiology, chemistry, transfusion services, urinalysis and molecular diagnostics. An advanced MLS Certificate program is available for individuals with a bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry or molecular and cell biology who wish to sit for the certification exam in the MLS field.

abo2“The demand for these healthcare professionals is strong, particularly in clinical settings,” says Nash.

As with the teaching programs, the department’s research programs cover a wide variety of health-related topics from genetics to behavioral sciences and public policy. “We have excellent research faculty who are very successful in being independently funded investigators,” Nash points out.

A few of the current research programs highlight the diversity of the department:

Recent newcomer to the department Sherry Pagoto, professor and director of the UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media, based in UConn InCHIP (Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention and Policy), is also a licensed clinical psychologist. Her research focuses on leveraging technology in the development and delivery of behavioral interventions targeting diet, physical activity and cancer prevention behaviors. Pagoto is president of the Society of Behavioral Medicine and co-chair of the Indoor Tan-Free Skin Smart Campus Initiative.

“Sherry is a very successful researcher and brings a team with her,” says Nash. “Recruiting her to UConn was an example of collaborative effort between the College, department, InCHIP and University offices, to attract a national leader conducting innovative research.”

Associate Professor Jennifer Harris studies the amount, content and impact of food industry marketing to children and their families. Based in UConn’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Harris is garnering national attention for work related to policies to reduce unhealthy food marketing to children, including marketing aimed at communities of color. Her recent research has been used to support implementation of soda taxes and healthier fast food kids’ meals in the United States and national policies to restrict marketing of unhealthy food to children in Canada, Chile, Mexico and the United Kingdom.

Associate Research Professor Laijun Lai is conducting cutting edge research, using gene engineering approaches to treat cancer and stem cell technology to model and treat autoimmune and genetic diseases.

Associate Professor Tania Huedo-Medina works with a student.
Associate Professor Tania Huedo-Medina works with a student.

Professor Valerie Duffy and her team have two complementary research interests. The first is understanding how chemosensory variation influences our ability to follow a healthy diet for the prevention of chronic disease and obesity. The second is collaborating with community agencies across the state to promote healthy diets and healthy weights of children and their families, particularly those at economic disadvantage.

Research and public outreach are intertwined in the programs of AHS. A service provided by the department is Hawley Armory Fitness and Wellness, which offers cardio, strength, spin, yoga and other classes along with the use of a fitness center to the UConn and larger Storrs communities.

An area that Nash is committed to is building communities for students within the department. Examples of these communities include honors students and those from diverse and underrepresented experiences. His goal is to bring students together for peer support, faculty advising and career development opportunities.

The department includes an in-house academic advising center, under the direction of Susan Gregoire, that works closely with the College’s advising center.

“Our faculty and department continually strive to stay current in educating and training our students so that they will be able to make important contributions in improving health and healthcare,” Nash says.

By Kim Colavito Markesich