MPH Applied Learning Experience

What is an Applied Learning Experience (ALE) for the MPH?

The ALE is a practice experience, undertaken in the final two semesters of the program which offers students an opportunity to integrate and apply public health knowledge and skills gained in the classroom to a real world public health problem. This experience gives students a body of work that can be used in seeking employment upon graduation and serves as a way for faculty to evaluate students’ readiness for public health practice. Finally, it is an opportunity for students to provide service to the community.

What are the criteria for placement?

To qualify as an ALE placement site, an agency or organization must be willing to designate a preceptor who will provide guidance to the student, be available to meet with the student on a regular basis, hopefully weekly, and provide feedback on student performance to the ALE course director.

What are the criteria for an ALE project?

The best ALEs involve a well-defined project that is needed by the host agency and can realistically be completed within one semester. Students spend a minimum of 160 hours over the course of a semester performing their work on behalf of their field agency. ALE projects must be:

  • population based;
  • related to the student's public health concentration (epidemiology and biostatistics, health services management and policy, nutrition, health communication, or global health);
  • conceptualized such that the student can demonstrate knowledge and skills in public health practice;
  • blend theory and practice;
  • organized into “phases” so that the student can identify and move through the project with concrete accomplishments; and 
  • of significance to the agency or organization in which it is based.

What are the steps in putting together an ALE project?

Students identify their ALE field sites in the second-to-last semester of study and use most of that semester to develop work plans to guide implementation of their projects; they spend their final – semester implementing their projects. At the end of the planning course, the student must submit a Draft Work Plan outlining what she or he intends to do in the field during the ALE implementation phase. ALE Course Directors, concentration leaders and Career Services staff all assist in helping the student identify a topic, find a site, identify and propose a project to a preceptor and get all approvals necessary for implementation.

Students are encouraged to develop a project that reflects their career interests. The definition of what constitutes a public health agency is kept broad so long as the project is a public health project as defined above, and so long as the preceptor is considered to be a public health practitioner.

Examples of MPH ALEs »