Momentous changes are taking place at the Thompson School of Social Work & Public Health at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa this fall. A tremendously generous donation from the family in honor of former public health professor and Department Chair Chin Sik Chung will fund the school’s first endowed faculty position in public health. The Chin Sik & Hyun Sook Chung Endowed Chair in Public Health Studies, established by Joyce Chung and Rene Lacerte, will continue Chung’s remarkable legacy in excellence in public health teaching, mentorship and research.
Chung received undergraduate degrees from Seoul National University and Oregon State University, and his MS and PhD from the University of Wisconsin (Madison). Following a position at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, he joined the faculty at UH in 1965 as professor of public health and genetics in the School of Public Health and Cancer Research Center. Chung served as chairman of the Biostatistics Unit, chairman of the Public Health Sciences Department, and associate dean for academic affairs in the School of Public Health. He also served as chairman of the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program and was a fellow at the East-West Center Population Institute. Chung was recognized locally, nationally and internationally for his contributions in genetic epidemiology.
Dr. Chin Sik Chung faculty photo (1985-86)
An endowed chair is one of the highest academic recognitions that can be bestowed on a faculty member and offers extra prestige for the chairholder and the university. The greater funding also allows more resources, such as student assistants, research materials and participation in conferences.
New interim dean
In addition, the Thompson School welcomes Tetine Sentell as its new interim dean. Sentell is a prolific researcher in health literacy, health services research and public health promotion from a strengths-based perspective. She has been a faculty member at UH Mānoa since 2009 and most recently served as director of the Office of Public Health Studies within the Thompson School of Social Work & Public Health.
“It is a great honor to serve as interim dean at this very exciting time for the school when the need for solutions to address social wellbeing and public health are so clear and interest in our program is so high,” Sentell said. “The new endowed chair position will bolster public health’s vital work in understanding the deep linkages between the environment and human health and well-being.”
Growing interest in public health
These developments for the school come at a time of urgently growing interest in public health. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for public health efforts in multilingual health communication, culturally relevant chronic disease prevention and community-based responses to emerging infectious diseases.
“The Office of Public Health Studies has been on the frontlines of Hawaiʻi‘s COVID-19 pandemic response,” Sentell said. Members have supported community-led resilience, developed tools to forecast COVID-19 cases in Hawaiʻi, advised leaders including former Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and UH President David Lassner on policy issues, provided mental health resources to the UH campus community and other communities across Hawaiʻi, developed social media public health campaigns, and volunteered with the Hawaiʻi State Department of Health Medical Research Corps.
The new endowed chair position will add to the school’s focus on environmental health research. This area of research is particularly important to Hawaiʻi, where responsibility and connection to the land, ocean and sky are core cultural and community values.
Sentell said that over the coming year, the school will create impactful public health initiatives around environmental health and other topics of high relevance to Hawaiʻi, the U.S., and other global communities.
“We are fortunate to be part of Thompson School. Our vision is to achieve social justice and health equity for the people of Hawaiʻi and citizens in a changing world,” she said. “While COVID-19 has upended life in Hawaiʻi, the Thompson School faculty and students are performing vital research, service and training the future workforce of experts and practitioners to keep Hawaiʻi healthy as individuals and communities.”