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Partnership with the Libraries Expands Public Health Professionals’ Toolkit: Q/A with Nancy Epstein, MPH, MAHL


February 1, 2018

Drexel’s team of liaison librarians works hard to develop strong support partnerships with faculty, staff and students to ensure they’re successful in teaching, learning and research. This year, we’re exploring some of those partnerships. To start, I sat down with Rabbi Nancy E. Epstein, MPH, MAHL, Associate Professor in the Department of Community Health and Prevention (CHP), Dornsife School of Public Health, to talk about her work with the Libraries.

Q: When did you start partnering with the Drexel University Libraries to support your research or coursework?

A: I first started working closely with Kathleen Turner [Drexel’s liaison librarian for Public Health] about six years ago when I was the Principal Investigator for Philadelphia’s evaluation of the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Initiative. The MHFA program is a mental health literacy approach that trains people to recognize and respond compassionately to persons with behavioral health challenges. The program originated in Australia and is now offered around the world. The City of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services adopted the program in 2012, and Drexel was asked to evaluate its impact on people’s behaviors and attitudes.

Two women examine a map of Philadelphia that is mounted to the wall in an office.
Kathleen Turner (L) and Rabbi Nancy Epstein (R) examine a map of Philadelphia.
At the time, MHFA was only in about 12 US states, and there wasn’t a lot in the evidence-based literature that I could find to build the foundation for our evaluation of Philadelphia’s program. We wanted to do the most thorough search possible and leave no stone unturned. That’s why we turned to the Drexel Libraries – to Kathleen – to make sure we gathered information from every possible angle and didn’t miss even the smallest study. She worked closely with us to scour databases beyond the “customary” ones. We looked at everything, from the peer-reviewed research literature to programmatic information, and compiled as much information as we could about the program and its impact around the world.  After we gathered all the findings, we conducted a meta-analysis and used that information to inform our research methodology and the questions we asked in our surveys.

Q: And t
hat wasn’t the only time you partnered with Kathleen, correct? Can you tell me about some of the projects you’ve worked on with her, specifically your partnership to include a workshop in your Theory and Practice of Community Health and Prevention course?

A: I continued to collaborate with Kathleen after we finished our work together on the MHFA project. Over the course of our ongoing conversations, we got to know each other better. She shared her passion for learning about census data and her excitement about the tremendous potential for analyzing that data. Last Fall when my teaching assistant, CHP doctoral student Suzanne Grossman, and I were discussing this community health promotion course, particularly the best ways to train our students in the techniques of using and analyzing secondary data for community assessment, we decided to ask Kathleen if she would do a workshop for our students on neighborhood-focused census data. We were thrilled when she said yes!

During the workshop, Kathleen showed students how to effectively use the website, which is voluminous in its scope of available information, and how to find targeted neighborhood census tract data. We’ll be running a variation of the workshop in March for our Executive MPH students who are currently taking myCommunity-Based Interventions” course. We also decided in this course, to add a neighborhood-focused data analysis that builds on what the students will learn in the workshop with Kathleen.

Q: How has partnering with the Libraries helped you as an educator?

A: This collaboration with the Libraries enriches me as a professor. I’ve been at Drexel for 18 years and have always found that building collaborations and partnerships with other colleagues on campus strengthens our curriculum. I believe it’s important for our students hear multiple points-of-view from a variety of experts when they learn theories, concepts, models and skills. When I update and re-design my courses each year, I invite an array of community-based and academic professionals to share their expertise. Kathleen and the Drexel Libraries do just that and are a valuable asset to us faculty. I expect that the workshop also increases our students’ interest in coming to the Libraries for more resources and assistance.  

Q: How has it helped your students?

A: Kathleen shares a valuable skill with our students: how to find, access and successfully use U.S. Census data. This is an important community assessment skill for our students to incorporate into their community health toolkit. At a national level, schools of public health have specified competencies that we must make sure our students master as part of their graduate education. Doing a workshop like this helps us train our students in an applied way. Many of our Executive MPH students are already working in the public health field, so they will also be able to use what they learn in the March workshop right away in their jobs. Plus, it allows students to hear from another colleague who provides valuable resources at Drexel.

It’s important pedagogically to use mixed methods in teaching, just as it is in research. Our partnership and workshop with Kathleen and the Libraries is an excellent example of how we do that at the Dornsife School of Public Health.


Nancy Epstein, MPH, MAHL is an Associate Professor for the Dornsife School of Public Health. She has worked in the field of public health for 40 years. Originally trained as a community health educator, she has held leadership positions in health policy and legislation, advocacy, community organizing, and non-profit management. Her work has spanned a diverse range of topics, including health care for underserved communities, health insurance disparities and patients’ rights, long term and community-based care, hunger, nutrition, physical and intellectual disabilities, oral health, health promotion and sustainable agriculture.

Kathleen Turner is the Liaison Librarian for the School of Public Health and the Department of Psychology. She evaluates and selects resources in these disciplines and provides research support to faculty and students. She also collaborates with faculty to integrate information literacy instruction into the curriculum of these programs.  In her more than 25 years with the Libraries, Kathleen has had several roles, including web editor, education librarian for health sciences and manager of the Florence A. Moore Library of Medicine. She is interested in health literacy and equity of information access (and knitting). Kathleen is a long-time resident of University City and works with children's activities in Clark Park.