UNA enters into agreement with Chinese university

An international agreement signed recently by UNA President Bill Cale to build a partnership with Shenqi Ethnic Medicine College will create a Center for Integrative Health and offer a new master’s degree concentration to students, officials said.

The agreement awaits approval by the UNA board of trustees, SEMC and Alabama Commission on Higher Education, said Cale.

Zhang Zhiting, chairman of SEMC, has worked with Cale and other officials since last summer to bring the partnership to light. He created the school in China to take a holistic approach to health, which is unique to the Shoals area and across the United States., said Cale.

The new center would allow local and international students to obtain a master’s degree in health and human performance with a concentration in integrative health. Officials anticipate the center will be operational and enrolling students by fall 2013.

“A degree in integrative health doesn’t just mean working with medicine,” Cale said. “It means working with individuals on making life choices that lead to good health. Students would have training in nutrition, exercise, child development, gerontology, counseling and all the elements that come together to create good health.”

Dr. Tom Coates, chair of the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, said the new master’s degree will consist of a 30 hour thesis or non thesis option that will operate similarly to other graduate programs in his department.

Although courses have not yet been determined for the new degree, graduate students who enroll in the integrative health program will take 12 hours of required courses conducive to the major, 12 hours of concentration requirements and six electives, said Coates.

“This is a rather unique program and it’s moving quickly, but we want to make sure we get it right the first time,” he said. “There’s been a lot of interest on campus about the program, and I believe it will be a very positive thing for the university.”

Coates said the university will have to hire more faculty, build new offices and implement additional classroom space once the program is under way. He said the money used to have resources for the program, bring in personnel and faculty and purchase equipment will be justified given the anticipated number of students expected to enroll in the program.

He said there may be a misconception about the master’s degree concentration in that it’s only available to international students.

“This program is not just designed for Chinese students,” he said. “Any student who wants to apply and meets the criteria can enroll.”

A location for the Center for Integrative Health has not yet been chosen, but Cale said officials are scouting for potential properties in Florence to build the program.

UNA will be responsible for developing, implementing and operating the new program, while SEMC will purchase the land, construct the facilities and providing seed money to hire faculty and staff, according to Cale.

Once enrollment is full, salaries of employees of the center will be funded through tuition dollars.