Public and Environmental Wellness

Pursuing Society's Big Health Challenges

New chair brings public health practice and youth development experience to the role

Photo of Rebbecca Cheezum

icon of a calendarOctober 5, 2020

icon of a pencilBy Nina Googasian

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Associate Professor of Public Health Rebecca Cheezum, Ph.D., started her professional career at OU in the Fall of 2012. From 2013-2017, she served as associate director of the public health program, and as its director from 2017-2019. In the Fall of 2020, she took on a new role – chair of the Department of Public and Environmental Wellness (PEW).

Cheezum thought she would return to community work after having earned her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, but at OU she found that she really loves teaching. She teaches courses on community-engaged research, the planning, implementation, and evaluation of public health programs, and on how social, economic and political disparities lead to health inequities. 

Through a community-based participatory research approach, Cheezum’s research explores social and structural factors that impact health among vulnerable communities. Groups include individuals in Detroit who were chronically homeless but now reside in permanent housing, and people with dementia and their caregivers.  

Cheezum seeks to enhance cross-program collaboration. “I am really excited to work with the truly impressive faculty within our department and to bring my passion for community engagement to this new role.” Creating opportunities for students in different majors within the school to interact with each other and with community partners is her goal.

The PEW department offers programs at the bachelor’s (Environmental Health and Safety and Wellness and Health Promotion) and master's levels (Safety Management and Public Health). “Through engagement and service, all of our graduates are prepared to lead change in community health and safety, and to create initiatives for positive impact,” she describes.

According to Cheezum, the career outlook for individuals with a PEW degree is very positive and is expected to grow in the coming years.

“Before COVID-19, some of the fields in PEW, like public health or environmental health and safety, were operating very effectively in the background and were not very well known to the general public,” Cheezum explains. “Now, even ‘epidemiology’ has become a household term and, while, it is an unfortunate circumstance, this public health crisis affords the opportunity to bring people into these very rewarding fields, and to make a difference in our communities and workplaces.”

Explore the program offerings within the Department of Public and Environmental Wellness.


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