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Multidisciplinary minor aims to help students become better global citizens

University of Washington students who have an interest in global health now have a minor designed for them. The minor was designed to complement students’ majors with a deeper foundation in global health study. UW administrators approved the creation of the minor last month due to increasing student interest in the subject.

Stephen Gloyd, associate chair of the department of global health, said student interest in global health was sparked primarily by the 2006 UW common book “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” a biography of global health advocate Paul Farmer.

“It was clear that [after the book was assigned], the undergraduate student body was extremely interested and excited about developing some kind of undergrad program in global health,” Gloyd said.

Starting in 2007, Gloyd and a committee of professors regularly convened to find a way to meet the new demand. The group designed a 30-credit minor program that incorporates introductory global health coursework with five elective topics: comparative health systems, the environment and global health, regional area studies, sociological ecology of health, and understanding human health and disease.

Courses within the minor span across multiple and diverse departments.

“The kinds of things that make a difference in peoples’ health around the globe are well beyond medicine and public health,” Gloyd said. “If we’re serious about having people understand what makes people healthy, we have to have it in an interdisciplinary framework. We pushed very strongly to include departments from across campus to be real players in the global health minor.”

Neil Varada, a sophomore majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology, appreciates the variety in the minor.

“The interdisciplinary approach, which is what I like the most [about the minor], incorporates medicine, science and history, and a wide variety of other subjects,” he said.

UW faculty involved with the project had also noticed a trend of global awareness among undergraduate students, and used this as a motivating force for the creation of the minor.

“There is the very notable desire on the part of this present generation of undergrads to make a practical contribution to improving other less-privileged peoples’ lives,” Matt Sparke, the director of the global health minor said.

As an example of the growing trend, Sparke, a professor of geology and international studies, said that UW students are more inclined to help others with their academic training than his peers at Oxford during his undergraduate education were.

Varada is one of these students and believes the minor offers opportunities to inspire global change.

“I’ve always thought that global health was a way that we could make a difference in the world,” Varada said.

While it is impossible to predict how many students will graduate with this minor in the future, Gloyd said that the introductory global health classes have been popular so far.

“We believe we need to prepare for the involvement of between 200 to 300 students over the next two years,” Sparke said.

Daren Wade, the program manager of the global health resource center, said a global health major is in the works for the future.

For now, Gloyd also has high hopes for the new minor’s impact on UW undergraduates.

“[The program] is a series of courses designed to make students global citizens and spur both their interest in global health and their careers,” he said.

Reach contributing writer Andy Fulton at news@dailyuw.com.

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