In March 2022, Associate Professor Ruby Nguyen became the first tenured faculty member from the School of Public Health (SPH) to earn the Horace T. Morse-University of Minnesota Alumni Association Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education — the University’s highest award for undergraduate educators. The award confers the title of Distinguished University Teaching Professor.
Nguyen has devoted herself to opening undergraduate eyes to the importance of public health and the rewards of a career in the field. As a champion of undergraduate public health education at the University, Nguyen is responsible for instituting an undergraduate minor and developing an undergraduate major in public health, which she is currently leading through the UMN approval process. When it is approved, offering this degree at SPH will be a milestone for the school.
“I am extremely pleased that the University recognized Dr. Nguyen’s dedication to student learning, her genuine interest in student success, and her groundbreaking work for public health undergraduate education,” says SPH Interim Dean Timothy Beebe. “We at SPH know Dr. Nguyen’s exceptional abilities well, and in 2018, honored her with the Leonard M. Schuman Excellence in Teaching Award, the school’s highest teaching recognition. It’s gratifying that the University has now given her its highest undergraduate teaching award.”
When Nguyen came to SPH as a newly hired assistant professor, she created an introduction to epidemiology course, “People, Places & Disease: Introduction to Epidemiology.” In its first year in 2010, the course had 40 undergraduate students; it has grown to educate more than 110 undergraduate students taught face-to-face twice per year. The success of that class was evidence of the need for SPH to co-develop the undergraduate public health minor with the College of Liberal Arts in 2012 — now the second-largest minor on the Twin Cities campus. Nguyen cued in early to the coming need for high-quality bachelor’s level public health education, particularly programs based within schools of public health: In 2020, and for the first time, the nationwide number of baccalaureate public health graduates eclipsed the number of master of public health graduates.
Nguyen is devoted to her students. She connects them to further educational and career opportunities, and is exceptionally responsive to their needs. Many of her undergraduate students go on to further their public health education in graduate school. Nguyen has also taught courses to students in other locations, including Minnesota prisons.
To honor her role as a distinguished teacher, the University will add Nguyen’s name to the Scholars Walk.
“It is a privilege to introduce public health to our University’s wonderful young minds,” says Nguyen. “I’m honored not only to have received the Morse-Alumni Award, but also to be a teacher, one with incredible University of Minnesota resources that facilitate effective learning.”
As well as carrying significant teaching and mentoring duties — she mentors University honors students as well as those in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program — Nguyen has a significant federally funded research portfolio. Her investigation into the harms of chemical exposures to women and children, especially the class of chemicals called phthalates, is cutting- edge and she also challenges once-taboo subjects in her research and engagement, such as domestic violence in the Asian community. For her research and outreach, the University has twice given Nguyen a Community-Engaged Scholar Award.