Susanna Von Essen, MD, MPH

Susanna Von Essen, MD, MPH

Faculty Highlight – Dr. Susanna Von Essen has played a vital role in the growth of the College of Public Health (COPH). She was chair of the Department of Environmental, Agricultural, and Occupational Health committee responsible for establishing the blueprint for the department in 2007. She contributed to the development of courses and curriculum for the Master of Public Health concentration in Environmental and Occupational Health (EOH), serving as the department’s representative on the Graduate Program Committee, the precursor to the current COPH Curriculum Committee. She is currently the chair of the EOH concentration curriculum committee.

Dr. Von Essen considers teaching to be a very important part of her career as a faculty member. She currently teaches two courses, “Public Health, Environment, and Society,” and “Principles of Occupational and Environmental Health.” She also provides guest lectures on environmental, agricultural, and occupational health topics to other COPH courses. Over the years, Dr. Von Essen has served as an academic advisor to many students and been a member of numerous capstone and dissertation committees.

Dr. Susanna Von Essen grew up on a farm in northeast Nebraska, near the town of Pender. She attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as a Regents Scholar. Her interest in public health developed during that time, when she took a human parasitology class. She went on to study parasitology for a year in Germany as a Fulbright scholar. She received her Doctor of Medicine from Washington University Medical School. She completed her Internal Medicine residency and her Pulmonary fellowship at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She received her Master of Public Health in Occupational Medicine from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Dr. Von Essen has helped to recruit a number of faculty who are now doing research in agricultural health. She continues to collaborate with colleagues in developing their research ideas. Dr. Von Essen is an established and respected researcher in her own right, having served as PI or co-investigator for over 20 research grants in her career. Funding agencies include the National Institutes of Health and the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, among others. Her research focuses on agricultural lung disease and other aspects of occupational lung disease, collaborating within the University of Nebraska, with colleagues at other universities in the United States and in Europe, and with state and federal agencies. While she has reported her research findings at national and international meetings, she values the opportunity to share information gained from her research and that of others with the agricultural community and rural primary care providers for the prevention of lung disease. She has published nearly 100 articles in peer-reviewed journals, close to 20 chapters in scientific textbooks, and was associate editor for both a book and a journal.

Dr. Von Essen was the winner of the 2009 Robert D. Sparks, MD, Award in Public Health and Preventive Medicine. The COPH gives this award on behalf of Dr. Sparks to recognize outstanding innovation and impact on preventing disease and promoting health through public health education, research, and practice, with particular attention to the needs of Nebraska and its citizens.

Susanna Von Essen, MD, MPH, is a professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Environmental, Agricultural, and Occupational Health, and a professor of Internal Medicine in the UNMC College of Medicine Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, Sleep, and Allergy.

Sarbinaz Bekmuratova

Sarbinaz Bekmuratova

Student Highlight – Sarbinaz Bekmuratova is a doctoral student in the Department of Health Services Research and Administration in the College of Public Health (COPH). Sarbinaz is from Nukus, Uzbekistan, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in philology at Karakalpak State University in 2005. She received an Edmund Muskie Fellowship funded by the US State Department to pursue her master’s degree in community health at Minnesota State University, where she graduated in the summer of 2012. She started her COPH PhD program in the fall of 2012.

The northwest region of Uzbekistan where Sarbinaz was born and raised is the area that witnessed the largest man-made ecological disaster of the 20th century: the evaporation of the Aral Sea. The sea has been the main water source in the region and dramatically affected the livelihood of residents around it. Seeing the adverse health effects of this disaster in her country and in her own community, she became increasingly concerned about the health of individuals. Her concern and her curiosity led her involvement in local and international organizations integrating public health activities in Nukus. During her participation in projects for organizations such as Counterpart International, the Uzbekistan Association of Reproductive Health, the United Nations Development Program, and Doctors without Borders, she developed a passion for the field of public health. Public health gives Sarbinaz an opportunity to make positive differences in people’s lives, to work with communities, to initiate new ideas, to learn about diverse cultures, and most importantly, to feel that she is a global citizen. As a public health professional, Sarbinaz aims to establish public health systems in developing countries.

Jungyoon Kim, PhD

Jungyoon Kim, PhD

Faculty Highlight – Dr. Kim teaches Health Care Organization Theory and Behavior. This course is about learning, understanding, and applying macro and micro theories that are relevant to explain and solve various problems in health care. Macro theory focuses on understanding how health care organizations behave and change their forms to adapt to the environment. Micro theory deals with human behavioral problems in health care, such as motivation, leadership, communication, and/or conflict.

Dr. Kim’s research focuses on organizational and behavioral problems in health care. She is especially interested in the turnover intent of direct care workers in long-term care settings, such as nursing homes, home health agencies, and adult day care. At an organizational level, Dr. Kim studies what structural forms in health care organizations look like and how these structures are associated with organizational/individual outcomes, such as change outcomes or worker satisfaction. Recently, Dr. Kim has broadened her interest in the public health sector. She is currently working on a community need assessment for mental health and long-term care in Douglas County.

Dr. Kim has been a participant in the Community Engagement Coordinating Council at the UNMC College of Public Health. In November 2012, she became a COPH representative on the UNMC Faculty Senate.

Jungyoon Kim, PhD, is an assistant professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Health Services Research and Administration.

Veenu Minhas, PhD

Veenu Minhas, PhD

Student Highlight – Dr. Veenu Minhas is an UNMC College of Public Health (COPH) MPH student in the epidemiology concentration.  She entered the program in spring 2001 and plans to complete her coursework at the end of the current semester and begin her service-learning project in spring 2013.

Dr. Minhas became interested in public health during her experience overseas. While pursuing her PhD and later on as a postdoctoral fellow in virology, she worked as a project director for a large epidemiological study in Zambia, Africa, to study the transmission of Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV). This virus is associated with Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS), a skin cancer commonly found in HIV-infected patients. KSHV infection is endemic in sub-Saharan Africa. Along with the emergence of the HIV epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s, the incidence of KS has also increased manyfold. Dr. Minhas has travelled to Zambia twice, which helped her to see and appreciate different perspectives on the problem. She was happy doing research work on collected samples in Nebraska, but in Zambia she came face to face with the study participants and came to appreciate the reality and severity of the problem firsthand. This project deeply connected Dr. Minhas to epidemiology and its importance. She decided to pursue formal training in this area, which ultimately brought her to the MPH epidemiology program at the UNMC COPH.

Dr. Minhas’s interests are in infectious disease/cancer research programs. She is a nontraditional student; she attended her classes via distance education—attending in real time the on-campus class from an off-campus site. She regrets that she did not get the opportunity to take full advantage of all campus activities and to personally connect with her peers. Nevertheless, Dr. Minhas appreciates the opportunity that the COPH has given her to expand her knowledge about public health and epidemiology, especially via distance education. The COPH is placing many of its courses online, affording students the opportunity to take courses from anywhere in the world with Internet access. Dr. Minhas states that “accessing classes via distance and now online opens opportunities for students like me who would otherwise have not been able to further their education and training.”

The Role of Public Health Training Centers in Public Health

Public Health in the National News – In October 2011, the College of Public Health (COPH) was awarded funding to launch the Great Plains Public Health Training Center (Great Plains PHTC). The purpose of the PHTC program nationally is to improve the nation’s public health system by strengthening the technical, scientific, managerial, and leadership competence of the current and future public health workforce. The program is funded through the Affordable Care Act Prevention and Public Health Fund, and is administered through the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Bureau of Health Professions via a cooperative agreement. Currently, there are 37 PHTCs across the country (

The Great Plains PHTC at the COPH is unique in its efforts to address the needs of not only the governmental public health workforce, but also tribal entities and public health care providers (such as Federally Qualified Health Centers) in the state.

Opportunities through the Great Plains PHTC include the following:

  • Field Placements for undergraduate and graduate level students in local and tribal health departments across the state of Nebraska
  • Collaborative Project Stipends for trio teams of faculty, students, and local health departments to address an unmet need of the community
  • Leadership Speaker Series to showcase leaders in the field for practice-centered grand rounds
  • Support and subsidy to the Great Plains Public Health Leadership Institute, providing a year-long leadership development experience to public health leaders in Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota
  • Online Learning Modules and additional Education and Training Events tailored to the workforce needs in Nebraska

After just one year, the Great Plains PHTC has collected stories of how these programs benefit public health in Nebraska. For example, field placements have had great impact on the students and the local health agencies. The competitive paid fellowship program places students in health departments for the summer (11 students were placed in rural and tribal health departments in summer 2012). One student placed in a rural health department was the first ever bilingual Spanish-English speaking staff member. As part of her activities, she planned a Hispanic Family Health Night. The purpose of the event was to uncover health concerns of the Latino community. Through the event, the health department learned that economic help, tornado preparedness, and basic prevention knowledge were unmet needs. After the field placement experience the student said, “My feelings about forwarding my education in public health are stronger than ever now. The time that I spent at the health department opened my eyes about how important it is to promote health, teach individuals how to prevent sickness, and how to protect themselves from possible hazards.” The student’s commitment to this work has led her to volunteer for the health department as a translator . . . even though it is a four-hour drive round trip.

For more information on the Great Plains PHTC, contact Brandon Grimm:, 402-559-5645.

This article was written by Brandon Grimm, PhD, director of the UNMC COPH Office of Public Health Practice, and Katie Brandert, MPH, CHES, workforce and leadership development manager in the COPH Office of Public Health Practice.

Kendra Schmid, PhD

Kendra Schmid, PhD

Faculty Highlight – Dr. Kendra Schmid teaches BIOS 823/CPH 653, Categorical Data Analysis. While this course is an MPH biostatistics concentration course, students in other programs also enroll. Dr. Schmid is developing an online section of the MPH biostatistics core course, BIOS 806/CPH 506, to be offered in spring 2013.

Dr. Schmid’s methodological research focuses on statistical shape analysis, and more specifically, on methods of describing, mapping, and matching shapes using landmark coordinates. As a biostatistician, she serves as a statistician for research projects across the UNMC campus. Additionally, she is a statistician for the Core Center for Communication Disorders at Boys Town National Research Hospital, where she provides statistical support for several research project grants funded by the National Institutes of Health and assists with the submission of new proposals.

Dr. Schmid was appointed the director of master’s programs in the College of Public Health (COPH) in June 2012, and she very much enjoys this role. She also serves as chair of the COPH Curriculum Committee and is an active member of several other COPH committees. External to campus, she is a member of the editorial board for the Journal of Biocomputing and is the chapter representative to the American Statistical Association for the state of Nebraska.

Kendra Schmid, PhD, is an assistant professor in the UNMC COPH Department of Biostatistics.

Maha Farid

Maha Farid

Student Highlight – Maha Farid is a PhD candidate in the College of Public Health (COPH) Department of Environmental, Agricultural, and Occupational Health, in the toxicology track. Maha graduated from medical school in Egypt in 2001 and earned a master’s degree in in forensic medicine and toxicology in 2006. In 2008, Maha received a scholarship from the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research in Egypt to pursue a PhD in toxicology. She began her PhD program in the COPH in August of 2008.

Maha has worked in the pulmonary research lab in Durham Research Center 2 under the supervision of Dr. Stephen Rennard since January 2009. Her PhD project focuses on the effect of cigarette smoking on lung fibroblasts and how that effect contributes to smoke-induced lung diseases, specifically chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Maha received the Robert E. Kuhl Respiratory Disease Research Award at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in March 2011. She has had several publications and presented several posters at international conferences. Maha received a student travel grant to attend the annual meeting of the American College of Toxicology in November 2011 and November 2012. In addition, she received the Carruth J. Wagner Scholarship in Public Health in April 2012. Maha was the president of the COPH Student Association for the 2011-2012 academic year. After graduation, Maha will continue her academic training through postdoctoral research.