The impetus for Opportunity Manager arose out of a need to increase collaboration between ASPH and DHEC. It was original proposed as a fairly simple database that would capture the research interests and expertise of ASPH faculty and staff and DHEC employees as a way to more easily link people interested in the same research or forming collaborations for the purpose of obtaining grants. This became important as individuals within ASPH and DHEC attempted to form tighter collaborative bonds between the two institutions, through the work and leadership of the South Carolina Public Health Consortium, a partnership between ASPH and DHEC created to improve public health practice statewide (Feasibility study). The first mention of a need for such a database was by Lillian Smith in Consortium Advisory Committee Meeting minutes dated 10/21/2004.
In early 2006, the OPHP, guided by the South Carolina Public Health Consortium, conducted focus groups to determine what students, DHEC employees and faculty/staff would want out of a web system designed to facilitate collaboration, and what the requirements would be. One of the main themes that emerged was that the web system should serve as a “one-stop-shop” of information on research interests, opportunities, process guides, scholarship resulting from collaborations, and student placement.
The need for a One Stop Shop also reflected organizational issues between DHEC and ASPH with respect to student placement, The placement of students in practicum and GA opportunities was (and still is) one of the central ways that ASPH and DHEC interacted with one another. The focus groups conducted by the consortium identified several barriers to effective student placement: namely that the manner in which Arnold School of Public Health Students were selected to work with DHEC was idiosyncratic, had no set standards between the agencies with respect to record keeping, had unclear expectations for students, faculty and practitioner advisors, and a lack of centralization with regard to paperwork. Since these issues were seen as a barrier, there was an interest on both sides to create a centralized process to handle placement (Feasibility Study). The hope was that a centralized process would be more efficient, and lessen administrative burden on both sides.
Thus, the Dome was also intended to be the central source for guidelines on how placement programs were to be conducted, and contain the documents that set the standard for placement programs. The Public Health Consortium was to have a strong role in helping to determine criteria and standards. Some of the materials have since been created and are housed in the MySPH portal.
A key feature of what was at first the dome, but evolved into MySPH with respect to solving this issue of effective placement, was the Opportunity Manager. This application simplifies the networking process by linking users to ‘opportunities.’ Integrated within the MySPH portal, including internships, graduate assistantships, academic practica fellowships, jobs, and USC talented experts. The Opportunity Manager was developed to be functionally similar to popular job boards. Early on there were some concerns, namely that there were insufficient resources, that adoption might be slow, or that the system would be too complicated (see Appendix E). These are issues that the system still faces currently.
The creation of a system to centralize placement opportunities, and to provide program clarity is also central to CEPH Accreditation. CEPH is the only independent agency recognized to accredit graduate school of public health and education to practice is central to their mission. The CEPH Accreditation guidelines go on to explain that CEPH adopts an ecological perspective, and that accredited schools of public health should “provide a special learning environment that supports interdisciplinary communication, promotes a broad intellectual framework for problem solving, and fosters the development of professional public health values” all elements that are incorporated into the concept for OM and MySPH.
Furthermore CEPH, which makes a distinction between academic public health degrees (for those who are planning to go on to research in university setting) and professional degrees (for those who are going on to practice public health), requires that all students working toward a professional degree “Develop skills in basic public health concepts and demonstrate the application of these concepts through a practice experience.” They require documentation from accredited schools including:
- Criteria for selection of sites
- Methods for approving preceptors
- Opportunities for orientation and preceptor support
- Approaches for faculty supervision of students
- Means of evaluation of student performance
- Means of evaluating practice placement
- Site and preceptor qualifications
- Criteria for waiving the experience for certain students
- There are also reporting requirements for several elements of the program
Conceptually, the Dome was intended to address these accreditation issues surrounding student placement, and research collaborations between ASPH and DHEC. Thus, the Public Health Dome was planned to be a website integrating multiple data sources to serve as the clearinghouse of academic/practice collaborations and public health knowledge base. By providing a one-stop source of resources, interests, expertise, and opportunities, the Dome would facilitate collaboration between academic and practice partners. The Public Health Dome would cover the activities and results of academic/practice collaborations in research, teaching, and service. In addition, the Public Health Dome would serve as assessment tool for the Arnold School and DHEC. DHEC professionals and bureaus and Arnold School faculty, staff, and students will be listed in the Dome with corresponding interests, expertise, and contact information. Through the Dome, we would be able to match research, technical assistance, student placements, and teaching opportunities with listed interests and expertise. In addition, the Dome would serve as an information depot for academic/practice news and all forms of academic and continuing education certificate programs.
Primary funding for the Dome, which was renamed MySPH, came from a Public Health Training Center Grant from the Human Resources and Services Administration. The primary goal of this grant was to increase the skills and competence of the Public Health Workforce in South Carolina by providing access to educational materials for public health practitioners, especially those with limited access to materials (such as rural areas), provide competency based training, expand practice based opportunities for students, and provide an infrastructure for workforce assessment in the state. Thus, the dome concept, as it evolved into MySPH also took on a greater emphasis on an online learning and training.
At its core, the Opportunity Manager section of MySPH is a job board, and its core functionality is to manage the placement of a student from initial posting of an opportunity to the completion of the hiring process. In order to accomplish this effectively, special attention must be paid to the administrative needs of the system and the flow of information. In order for the system to be an acceptable alternative to a paper based system, it must have the same or better level of ease and efficiency as the paper based systems that the departments currently use.