Aug 15, 2020  
2013-2014 CU Denver Catalog 
2013-2014 CU Denver Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Health and Behavioral Sciences

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Director: Debbi Main
Program Assistant: Abby Fitch
Mailing Address: Program in Health and Behavioral Sciences, Campus Box 188, P.O. Box 173364, Denver, CO 80217-3364
Office Location: Administrative Building, 280
Telephone: 303-556-4300
Fax: 303-556-8501


Sheana Bull, PhD, Georgia State University
Stephen Koester, PhD, University of Colorado
Debbi Main, PhD, University of Colorado
Richard Miech, PhD, University of North Carolina
David Tracer, PhD, University of Michigan
Associate Professors:
Karen Lutfey, PhD, Indiana University
Assistant Professors:
Patrick Krueger, PhD, University of Colorado
Ronica Rooks, PhD, University of Maryland College Park
Sara Yeatman, PhD, University of Texas Austin
 Meng Li, PhD, Rutgers University
Research Faculty:
Sharon Devine, PhD, University of Colorado
Jean Scandlyn, PhD, Columbia University
Adjunct Faculty:
John Brett, PhD, Anthropology
Mary Coussons-Read, PhD, Psychology
Deborah S. K. Thomas, PhD, Geography and Environmental Sciences


The mission of the health and behavioral sciences (HBSC) program is to apply social science theory and innovative research methods to critically address emerging issues in health. The program trains students to confront issues affecting the health of communities and populations by focusing on social determinants of health and diseases. These determinants can be more influential on population health than the health care system.

The program’s overarching framework integrates social, cultural and biomedical perspectives to understand the underpinnings of health and the conditions essential for its creation and maintenance. Students and faculty conduct interdisciplinary research on topics including emerging diseases, maternal/child health, substance abuse, health disparities and global health. Graduates are innovative researchers, effective educators and leaders directly engaged in the practice of public health.


Undergraduate Programs

Public health is working to protect the environment, identifying sources of illness in population groups, controlling disease outbreaks, evaluating the economic impacts of changing demographics, developing interventions to promote healthy behavior, and producing health policy legislation. Public health draws from a broad array of disciplines, such as the social and behavioral sciences, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, physical therapy, business, economics, statistics, epidemiology, law and biology, and each provides unique insights for the diverse set of activities involved in public health practice.

In response to the tremendous career and research opportunities in public health, the Department of Health and Behavioral Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), in collaboration with the Colorado School of Public Health (CSPH), created an undergraduate major in public health. Most core classes for the public health major are team taught with one faculty member from the downtown campus (CLAS) and the other from the Anschutz campus (CSPH).

The new degree is designed to accommodate as many student interests as possible. At CU Denver, we are committed to helping students develop their own individualized educational path; we strive to serve the needs of both the student who wishes to specialize in communication strategies for effective public health education campaigns, as well as the student who wants to hasten the translation of the latest bench science technologies into public health practice. To this end, the major consists of both BA and BS tracks.

Two options are available for the undergraduate major in public health: Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS). After completion of the program, students will have a broad background to serve as the foundation for a variety of career paths, such as immediate entry into public health positions, background training for a professional school (including but not limited to medical, dental, nursing, pharmacy or law school), or the pursuit of an advanced degree such as a master’s or Ph.D. in a range of social, behavioral or natural sciences.


Students in the BA program develop a specialty in the social sciences and public health.




The Bachelor of Science in Public Health is designed to fulfill all medical school prerequisites in a four-year course of study.

Students in the BS program develop a specialty in the natural sciences and public health.




The minor in demography gives students focused training in theories and methods of demography. It will help students develop important skills in critical thinking and quantitative reasoning, and will prepare them for graduate level training in demography or related fields and for jobs requiring an understanding of population dynamics. Demographers are frequently employed in occupations including academia, risk assessment, marketing, consulting, non-profits, and various local, state, and federal government agencies.




The undergraduate minor in public health is designed to provide students with a basic understanding of the social, cultural and biological dimensions of health. The minor curriculum provides students with the intellectual and methodological tools needed to understand the joint bio-cultural determinants and contexts of health, health care and public health.

Graduates with a minor in public health will be prepared for pursuit of graduate degrees in a broad range of fields, including the natural, social and behavioral sciences; public health; law; medicine; dentistry; pharmacy; nursing; business administration; and health services research. The program is especially appropriate for students intending to pursue careers in public health, as well as primary care specialties in medicine, nursing or health policy and administration.



PhD Program in Health and Behavioral Sciences

The doctor of philosophy degree in health and behavioral sciences is rooted in the realization that our ability as a global society to overcome some of the most significant and intractable public health problems today rests on the willingness of biomedical and social science researchers to innovate across traditional disciplinary boundaries. Students are trained in theory from multiple disciplines and in both quantitative and qualitative research methods.

Although a master’s degree is not provided by the health and behavioral sciences department, two relevant master’s programs currently exist at CU Denver, as described in the PhD program requirements for admission.

A student’s particular research focus constitutes a key part of his or her doctoral program. A range of possible foci exists, given the particular student’s interest and faculty expertise. Examples of HBSC research foci include:

  • Social determinants of health. Such research interests include studies on the health-related influences of socioeconomic position, social and economic inequality, discrimination, social networks and support, social capital, work conditions and psychological states including stress.
  • Community health. This area of research involves community health assessment; program design and evaluation; translation of evidence-based interventions to diverse populations and communities; participatory research and community mobilization; policy analysis and advocacy for health-related problems.
  • Biosocial ecology. Within this area are studies of the interplay of biological (including physiological, genetic or others of the biomedical health sciences), social, cultural and environmental characteristics influencing maternal/infant health, exercise performance or susceptibility to disease.
  • Global health topics include social, cultural and biomedical factors influencing transmission of disease and health disparities on an international (as well as national) scale.

Recent student research exemplifying such foci includes:

  • social factors affecting newly emerging diseases in the American Southwest
  • factors that contribute to positive perceived health in the older-aged population
  • ethnic group differences in weight gain and cardiovascular disease
  • the impact of natural hazards and risk management strategies on health among pastoral herders in Mongolia
  • adolescent sexual risk behaviors in the context of social networks and cultural norms
  • disease incidence patterns and environmental contamination in north Casper, Wyoming

Graduates of the HBSC program acquire skills that situate them for academic careers and leadership roles in public health. Depending upon a student’s concentration, the successful graduate will gain expertise in research design and methods; social, cultural and biobehavioral determinants of health and disease; the structure and organization of health care systems; the contribution of individual, social and cultural factors for deciding health behaviors; and how guided change in health care systems may enhance quality, efficacy and access. The significance of these skills in addressing current complex health issues ensures that graduates will be in demand in a number of employment sectors ranging from community and public health organizations, to academic institutions, to nonprofit research organizations and to private health care settings.





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