New program approved, on track officials say

The Alabama Commission on Higher Education (ACHE) approved a new concentration in integrative health within the Master of Science in health and human performance degree Sept. 14 at its regular meeting in Montgomery, officials said.

The new concentration is slated to begin fall 2013, said John Thornell, UNA vice president of academic affairs and provost.

Thornell said university officials would now be taking different steps to fully incorporate the integrative health concentration.

“The next step will be for us to communicate that we have official approval to Chairman Zhang and begin seeking funding for land and a faculty search,” Thornell said.

Thornell said the university is not currently showing particular interest in any one specific property, but Chinese businessman and partner Zhiting Zhang will be here in November and will hopefully finalize plans at that time.

“We presume that at that time, Chairman Zhang will either buy land or make an offer of some sort,” Thornell said.

While the program will begin during fall 2013, any physical structures associated with the program will not be in place until fall 2014, Thornell said.

“After the land is purchased, we will secure an architect for the 2013 and 2014 school year,” Thornell said. “We’ll then try to have buildings, such as the residence halls and instructional facility, constructed by fall 2014.”

The university will now proceed with a faculty search for someone qualified to teach graduate level courses within the concentration, said Tom Coates, chair of the health, physical education and recreation (HPER) department.

“The next step is going to be hiring a faculty member, hopefully by the end of the academic year,” Coates said. “If not, we’ll continue our search during the 2013 to 2014 academic year, with someone on board for fall 2014.”

The HPER department will also begin scheduling courses, as well as advertising the program and recruiting students, Coates said.

Integrative health, versus other health programs, seeks to explore the overall health of a person, including mental, physical and spiritual health, officials said.

“Integrative health seeks to find the best strategies to help someone be as completely healthy as possible,” Coates said.

The new concentration is special because it’s not offered in a traditional manner, officials said.

“The uniqueness of our program is that we’re not a medical school,” said Chunsheng Zhang, UNA vice provost for international affairs. “We’re not practicing medicine. It is a high quality, applied interactive program. The goal is to bring a global perspective to integrative health.”

The proposal for the concentration has been in the works for just over three years, Zhang said.

“It began in late fall 2009,” Zhang said. “The entire concentration presents a very unique opportunity to create a program based on existing programs.”

University officials have been working alongside Zhang and the Guizhou Shenqi Group, which researches and produces herbal medicines, to establish the integrative health concentration for international students, Zhang said.

“In China, there is a need for integrative health,” Zhang said. “Better health begins with preventative choices.”

The majority of enrollment in the program will come from Chinese students, Thornell said.

“China is drastically underserved in the healthcare field,” Thornell said. “The rural communities have nothing, and the model we hope to develop includes educating students that can go back to China and serve those people.”

The program can also serve many domestic students, too, officials said.

“We’ve received a lot of questions and interest from the community about the program,” Coates said. “It’s going to be a good mix of international and domestic students.”