UW Today

February 3, 2011

Global health minor launched in response to student interest

UW Health Sciences/UW Medicine

“Global health is an area for study, research, and practice that places a priority on improving health and achieving equity in health for all people worldwide.” – Editorial in The Lancet, June 2009

More than 200 students from disciplines across campus have enrolled in an intro course in global health offered for the first time winter quarter, showing the huge level of interest of young people in creating a more equitable world.

The UW approved a global health minor in January enabling undergraduates to be part of a new field of study igniting their imagination.

“Now there is a clear pathway for students to learn some fundamental concepts of global health, including why in 2011 more than 1 billion people live in poverty and disease and what kind of actions we can take to improve their lives,” said Stephen Gloyd, associate chair for education and curriculum in the Department of Global Health.

UW undergraduates show their enthusiasm for the new minor in global health.

UW undergraduates show their enthusiasm for the new minor in global health.

“This minor is designed so students can understand global health from many angles,” said Todd Faubion, the administrator for the minor.” This truly is a transdisciplinary minor. Students will have to take classes from natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities.” Matt Sparke, the director of the global health minor, said that undergraduates from all majors are welcome to apply.

In the spirit of interdisciplinary partnerships, Sparke, a professor of geography and international studies, co-teaches the course GH 101 that has attracted so many students. In the first few weeks of the required course, undergraduates have been exposed to some of the pressing issues in global health — the rise of vertical programs such as the Global Fund, the role of debt crises undermining primary health care, and how, most fundamentally, to start defining global health.

Matt Sparke, director of the global health minor, talks to undergraduates after class in the introductory course on global health. Sparke is a professor of geography and international studies.

Matt Sparke, director of the global health minor, talks to undergraduates after class in the introductory course on global health. Sparke is a professor of geography and international studies.

Sparke said undergraduates will now have the vocabulary and expertise to join advanced conversations with many of the global health heavyweights in Seattle,  one of the major global health hubs in the world.

For undergraduates Alice Seo, a junior majoring in biology, and Jaime Bortel, a senior majoring in public health, the path to global health started from a course in global population health taught by Stephen Bezruchka in the Department of Health Services, and the realization of how much they didnt know.

“That course showed how ignorant we are,” said Seo, who now volunteers showing the film “Unnatural Causes” in high schools.

Junior Mohamed Galgalo said he wants to know how international health works in other countries. His parents are from Ethiopia and he has lived in Kenya.

Julie Beschta, a program development coordinator in the Department of Global Health, said the huge effort for getting approval for this minor has a big payoff.

“Undergraduates will bring a richness of backgrounds and perspectives to the discussion,” she said.

The Making of a Minor

Gloyd said the Department of Global Health pursued the minor based on its commitment to broadening the global health audience campus-wide and to responding to the enormous perceived need of undergraduates. Gloyd said when the University chose Mountains Beyond Mountains as its Common Book for all incoming freshmen in 2006, interest in global health soared among students. The book is a biography of physician Paul Farmer who works in destitute areas of the world and believes health care is a human right.

Three years ago, undergraduates taking the G H 403 Multidisciplinary Perspectives in Global Health course filed a petition to University leadership to offer a Global Health major and minor.

Undergraduates from all majors are welcome to apply for the minor in global health.

Undergraduates from all majors are welcome to apply for the minor in global health.

“Although students come from a variety of disciplines to the field, we find that what they have in common is a quest for social justice, health equity and a desire to be part of creating solutions to health problems worldwide,” he said.

Gloyd said the pressure from students launched a discussion among programs all over campus.  A diverse group of faculty met on frequently to talk about how to move forward and what kind of courses should be developed. Working with Gloyd, early contributors in this program development effort included: Jonathan Mayer in geography, Randall Kyes in psychology, Bettina Shell-Duncan in anthropology, Daren Wade in global health, Tekie Mehary in bioengineering, Ted White in pathobiology, and Linda Iltis in international studies.

After a year, Gloyd said the group decided a minor was the most appropriate direction to move in.

“We decided global health was not a discipline as such but remarkably complementary to the degree undergraduates were obtaining, said Gloyd. He said the UW campus already has a large number of faculty teaching global health from an interdisciplinary perspective — anthropology, international studies, geography, psychology — and a minor would allow the Department of Global Health to work in partnership with these programs and provide the contextual framework to understand their skills in a globalized context.

Added Sparke: “If we do our job right, we can enable a whole generation of UW students to be much more active global participants.”

Photos for this article were taken by Philip Lam.

Students interested in the minor, should contact ghminor@uw.edu. The minor is being administered through the Global Health Resource Center at the Department of Global Health, located in Mary Gates Hall, Suite 274. The Global Health Resource Center will be hosting monthly brown bag mixers for undergraduates as well as connecting them and their advisers to a wide variety of resources including their web site, listserv, and Facebook.