Integrative Health program gets slow but sure start

Campus officials anticipated a large number of Chinese students enrolling in the new Integrative Health graduate program this fall, but reality fell short of expectations.

Last year, a partnership between the university and Chinese businessman Zhang Zhiting was finalized, a new faculty member was hired, and Zhang expressed intent to recruit as many as a few hundred students to study integrative health at UNA.

“We were depending on him,” said Interim University President John Thornell. “The problem is communication is lacking. We’ve had no further discussion since February.”

When Zhang visited the Shoals in February, he purchased the 155-acre former Florence Golf and Country Club, located west of Alabama 20.

Zhang Zhiting also shared intentions to build an educational facility for the program and to build residence halls for the students, said Chunsheng Zhang, Senior Vice Provost for International Affairs.

Thornell said if Zhang Zhiting “really wants to see program get off the ground, he’s going to have to be here on a more regular basis or he’s going to have to appoint somebody here to take the lead.”

The program got its start in August with four graduate students, two courses and a new faculty member.

“The idea of the integrative health program is we introduce students to non-traditional approaches to health,” said Thomas Coates, chair of the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, which houses the program.

Thornell said the program is primarily targeted at international students, particularly the Chinese, because the topics of study include approaches to medicine that have not yet gained much popularity in the U.S.

“There is currently not a structure within the medical community for domestic students,” he said.  “It has not made its way into the mainstream of American medicine.”

Coates said the non-traditional approaches to health and fitness, including herbal treatment, yoga and acupuncture are gaining popularity in the U.S. slowly but surely.

“The program is not limited to Chinese or foreign students. U.S. students can enroll as well,” he said.

He said the program is ideal for students who obtain an undergraduate degree in some type of health-related major.

“The curriculum has been ready for three years—we’ve just been waiting on the students to arrive,” he said. “Now the problem is getting the word out.”

Thornell and Coates said they are hopeful about the program’s future.

Thornell said a meeting between Zhang Zhiting and university officials is set for later this month.

“This meeting is going to be very important to be clear on where he is heading and how we can help him,” he said. “We should have a better picture of how we can help him as we’re going forward.”

Coates said the interest in the program he has seen is a good sign.

“I’ve had quite a few inquiries about the program from people in the area that are interested, but that has to translate into people enrolled in the university and enrolled in those courses.”

Senior Shelby Keeton said she thinks the new program will benefit the university by bringing more students to campus.

“It will definitely bring more money to the university,” Keeton said.