The University of New England (UNE) has launched a Center for Excellence in Public Health (CEPH) dedicated to improving the health of local, regional and global populations. Michele Polacsek, Ph.D., a longtime public health educator and researcher, has been chosen to lead the center.
The Center for Excellence in Public Health, an expansion of its precursor, the Center for Excellence in Health Innovation, strengthens UNE’s relationships with external clinical partners, building a health workforce pipeline to underserved areas in Northern New England and helping transform the way health care is practiced. The center holds several major federal and state grants that support public health initiatives.
Under its new name and with a clarified mission, CEPH will expand its research efforts, providing interprofessional, or team-based, learning opportunities for students from across UNE’s health professions programs and colleges to work with UNE faculty and professional staff on improving the health of local and global populations.
“UNE has been committed to public health education, advocacy and programming for many years, and I am excited to continue that work and build upon it,” said UNE President James Herbert. “Like many other fields, public health is a discipline which UNE, as a university in a largely rural state, can make important contributions on a regional level, which can then be scaled globally. The Center for Excellence in Public Health bolsters our status as leaders in public health in the state of Maine and provides opportunities for our work to have far-reaching, positive effects.”
Michele Polacsek joined the University of New England faculty in 2009 after more than a decade working for the Maine Center for Public Health in Augusta. Her research focuses on behavioral economics at the supermarket as well as and food and beverage marketing in the school setting as it relates to childhood nutrition and obesity. As principal investigator, she has received grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She is currently the Principal Investigator for UNE’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed Program).
“This Center for Excellence has been instrumental in addressing real public health issues facing people in Maine, from access to health care, to nutrition, to substance use,” said Polascek. “There is tremendous untapped opportunity for the center to further support the educational mission of the university through meaningful research.”
Some of the major programs currently administered through CEPH are:
- The Maine Substance Use Prevention Services program, a partnership with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and 20 local agencies to reduce substance use and misuse in young people.
- Maine Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (SNAP-Ed), a federal nutrition education and obesity prevention program that offers education, social marketing campaigns and environmental support in all 50 states.
- The Maine Area Health Education Center (AHEC) Network, which alleviates health workforce shortages in rural and underserved areas of the state through clinical training experiences in Eastern, Northern and Western Maine.
- The Primary Care Training and Enhancement grant, a program funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to strengthen the primary care workforce through enhanced training for future clinicians and teachers.