With health care as the region’s largest employer, Penn State Lehigh Valley is looking to meet the growing demand for health science professionals with a new degree it launched this fall.
Penn State is offering a bachelor of science in biobehavioral health at its campus in Upper Saucon Township, with the goal of connecting students to potential health care employers in the region upon graduation from the four-year program.
“It’s the first degree program of this type in the region,” said Tina Richardson, chancellor of Penn State Lehigh Valley. “This creates opportunities for people to understand policy issues. Penn State is looking at opportunities to expand its academic degree programs. The biobehavioral health degree rose to the top.”
The degree could be ideal for those students with an interest in the health care field who may not necessarily want to be a doctor, she added.
“They may have some other aspect of the health care enterprise that they are interested in,” Richardson said. “It really provides a broad foundation in health-related occupations and fields.”
Health care employers often seek people who understand the business side of health care, she said.
Richardson also sees the benefit of having students complete the degree in one place at its Lehigh Valley campus and potentially be employed locally upon graduation.
“There is a research component to this degree so they can apply for internships and research opportunities,” she said.
These include local employers such as St. Luke’s University Health Network and Lehigh Valley Health Network.
“All of the hospital networks are looking for an educated workforce,” Richardson said.
The degree offers a large umbrella of directions where students can go, said Samantha Beebe, biobehavioral health degree coordinator at Penn State Lehigh Valley.
The degree could open doors for students looking to explore the many facets of biobehavorial health, including research and public and environmental health.
It’s designed to integrate biological, behavioral, psychological, socio-cultural and environmental approaches to the study of the science behind health, Beebe said.
The campus also offers a biobehavioral global health minor, an interdisciplinary approach to the theoretical, scientific and practical issues affecting the health of people around the world.
In a wide variety of different majors at Penn State Lehigh Valley, a student could also minor in biobehavioral global health, she said.
“It makes them more marketable,” Beebe said. “Having that global perspective makes people more aware.”
Next spring, Beebe will take a group of students in a biobehavioral health course to Denmark to study a health care system in that nation.