Global Health Initiative Promotes Global Health Dialogue, Undergrad Certificate Program

September 27, 2016

This fall, Illinois is beginning a new undergraduate Global Health Certificate program, that not only spans several disciplines/units across campus, including Bioengineering; the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences (ACES); the College of Veterinary Medicine; and the College of Education; it spans an ocean. Key to the program is a partnership with the University of Njala in Sierra Leone, Africa, whose community health faculty and students will be collaborating with Illinois faculty and students to provide students in both institutions a richer understanding of and experience in global health.

The program was created by members of the Global Health Initiative (GHI), which is comprised of faculty and graduate students from multiple fields who seek to stimulate new interdisciplinary collaboration and education in the area of global health and to address global health issues through interdisciplinary problem-solving.

Bioengineering Associate Professor Jenny Amos describes GHI's goal of expanding beyond just faculty and grad student interests to integrate global health into the undergrad experience: "So we came up with this idea of a certificate, where the student would get a broad exposure to a number of topics using global health, and would also do a project in global health specific to West Africa."

The Global Health Certificate program is comprised of a sequence of courses: an introductory course, which students would complete first, then two of three upper-level courses, then students would engage in an interdisciplinary capstone project for the final course. In addtion, the program involves two major competencies and asynchronous student collaboration via a next-generation learning platform.

The program’s core courses begin with an introductory-level course that introduces students to the idea of interdisciplinary global health. The introductory-level course, currently in development, would allow students to become familiar with the transition from face-to-face learning to the online environment, plus provide a broad introduction to global health as well as focus specifically on West Africa. This would hopefully “facilitate the international exchange between students,” says MD PhD student Kenny Long, who has helped to spearhead the program. For Njala students, these would be health issues with which they are familiar; for the Illinois students, it would be health issues they’re learning about and hoping to help the Njala students address.

The introductory course will be followed by three upper-level, subject-specific courses that comprise the program’s core components. These courses are from different disciplinary perspectives: one in tropical epidemiology is based on College of Veterinary Medicine Pathobiology Professor Gay Miller’s course; Professor Alex Winter-Nelson in ACES is developing one in food security, and Bioengineering Associate Professor Jenny Amos developed one called the Global Health Technologies course, which is about appropriate technology solutions, such as sustainable engineering practices. “The goal would be using these three to pilot this idea of what it looks like to have this interaction take place,” says Long.

According to Amos, her course is based on a specific framework she uses called the Human Center Design Framework: "What we do is learn how to identify clinical needs with sensitivity to cultural, economic, and societal factors. So really understanding the context, identifying clinical need, and then identifying technology appropriate solutions for that context," she says.

Amos indicates that one of the really unique things about the course is that its not just what students think their clients need, then they design something for them. "It's really taking the time to understand and immerse yourself in the cultures, so that you can design appropriate solutions that are more sustainable."

As part of the pilot course in spring 2016, Amos exposed students to a number of clinics. For instance, she took students on a virtual tour of Sierra Leone. She played video footage of her touring several different clinics in Sierra Leone, so students could see patient interactions at clinics. Students also toured two local clinics: a low-resource, US-based clinic, Francis Nelson Center, which is a free community clinic. They also toured a high-end clinic, Carle Hospital, where students got to see the kinds of high-end technologies that most of them probably know about.

"So it’s a good opportunity for them to see disparity, even in the US situation," Amos says. "The students all really appreciated getting to focus on the viewpoint and the perspective, rather it being just a technical class."

"So I think that’s really different for a lot of students, especially in engineering," Amos adds, "is to really focus on understanding who is your client, who are you actually designing for—how important that is."

In addition, students would learn two major competencies. One would be interdisciplinary competency: students would need to translate between two different disciplines and their different vocabularies—say engineering and epidemiology. The other would be an intercultural competency, which Long describes as “being able to deal with people from a different culture, having that international understanding.”

Also key to the program will be asynchronous online activities in which the community health students in Sierra Leone will say, ‘This is our problem, and these are our resources,’ and then the U of I Bioengineering students will try to help them come up with solutions that fit the context.

To facilitate this collaboration, there’s another component: a new and improved online environment. Bill Cope from the College of Education has developed what Long calls, “a second generation learning management system for online education,” which focuses on the idea of students creating knowledge systems in addition to participating.  Long claims it’s more like Facebook than the more traditional asynchronous instructional websites like Moodle or Compass. Students can post on each other’s walls, have discussions, work on collaborative documents, review documents between peers. Long says it’s “a much more collaborative situation, and this environment really facilitates that.”

GHI is also partnering with Scientific Animations Without Borders (SAWBO), a group whom Long says has “helped a lot with the development of the upper level courses so far, just to get the content online.”

Also key to the program is the partnership between Illinois and Njala faculty. Because the Njala students will be receiving Njala credit, not Illinois credit for these courses, the Illinois faculty members have Njala counterparts who are also involved in the program.

According to Long one of the key goals he and his colleagues have for the program, in addition to fostering global health dialogue, is to foster interdisciplinary collaboration—and not just in global health.

“We have a lot of siloing that happens on campus, where people do their own things, and I think that’s really a shame. But I’m really excited that the team of faculty members and myself have  been able to try to combat some of that, and put together somewhat of a unique program, which can maybe serve as a model for other such situations where interdisciplinary collaborations can happen on this campus.”

Story by Elizabeth Innes, Communications Specialist, I-STEM Education Initiative.

For additional I-STEM articles about global health on campus, see:

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