Invaluable Investment

by Russell Boone

Posted on May 11, 2020

Chris Calhoun

Meet Chris Calhoun, environmental health director, District 8-1 Valdosta, for the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) in Tifton. In 2015, he graduated with a Master of Public Health (MPH) degree from Fort Valley State University’s College of Agriculture, Family Sciences and Technology.

The 38-year-old FVSU alumnus answered some questions about his experience in the public health program. He also explains why he enrolled and how the program helped him to advance professionally.


1) What are your main duties at your job and how long have you worked there? ​​​​​​  As the district environmental health director, I manage the environmental health programs and staff for our 10 county district (Ben Hill, Berrien, Brooks, Cook, Echols, Irwin, Lanier, Lowndes, Tift, and Turner.) I ensure that staff are doing what is mandated by state law. We permit and inspect all food service establishments, tourist accommodations, public swimming pools, and body art establishments in an effort to minimize the spread of diseases in our communities. Additionally, I handle the budgeting for our programs, any personnel issues and make policy decisions on how we achieve our organizational goals. I’ve worked 12 years for DPH.

2) Where did you work prior to enrolling in the MPH program at FVSU and how did you find out about the program?  I worked as the environmental health specialist for Ben Hill and Irwin Counties with DPH. I went online and researched potential MPH programs. After reaching out to Dr. Oreta Samples, program coordinator, she came to one of our staff meetings to pitch the program to DPH personnel.

3) Why did you decide to enroll in the program? Dr. Samples agreed to create a cohort for us. She and our other instructors would meet us in Tifton a few times a semester while other portions of the program were online. We ultimately decided to join this program because of the flexibility and because it was one of the lowest costing MPH programs that we found.

4) How helpful were your instructors and how convenient were the online classes?  They were a tremendous help. They were always willing to speak with us or even schedule additional meetings if we needed them. Since we (DPH staff) were all working full time, having a good portion of the classwork online enabled us to keep our lives somewhat normal. I would come home and take care of my normal family duties. Finally, when the kids were in bed, I’d work on my MPH assignments. Many nights, I wouldn’t go to bed until 1or 2 a.m., then get back up at 5:30 a.m. to start all over again. It was rough, but would have been much worse if we were required to attend every class in person.

5) When you successfully completed the program, how did you feel and what were your thoughts?  I was excited, but relieved when I completed the program. My classmates and I completed the program in 15 months, which was pretty difficult considering we both had full time jobs and families. I didn't sleep much in that year or so, but it was well worth it.

6) How has your degree from FVSU helped you in your professional development?  First and foremost, I was able to get a 10 percent increase in pay, so that's a huge plus for me and my family. Other than that, the program helped bridge some gaps I had in my prior understanding and awareness of public health.

7) If someone asked you about the MPH program, what would be your sales pitch?  This program will give you a well-rounded perspective on a number of public health areas. It will help you decide your direction if you're currently unsure. If you're already employed in public health, it will most likely increase your paycheck! It’s the most bang for your buck as well. A win-win.

8) You stated earlier that you have some co-workers enrolled in the program. How many of them enrolled and what do they have to say about the program?  So far, I think our district had six people complete the program, including myself. We all feel the same way. It helped us have a better perspective of several different areas of public health. We'd recommend the program to anyone considering a career in public health.

For more information about the Master of Public Health degree at FVSU, contact Dr. Oreta Samples, program coordinator and assistant professor, at (478) 825-6904 or

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