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Northwestern University

College Introduces Major in Global Health Studies

The new major is a response to students' increasing interest in international health issues

By Daniel P. Smith

One of the most popular minors at Northwestern University is taking it up a notch.

This coming fall, students can begin declaring adjunct majors in global health studies, the natural evolution of an innovative interdisciplinary program that has captured national acclaim and widespread student interest.

 “Today’s students are so much more attuned to international issues. This interest has led to global health becoming an important area of study for so many of this generation who are committed to confronting long-standing disparities in health outcomes,” says William Leonard, director of the global health studies program and the Abraham Harris Professor of Anthropology.

A long time coming

The establishment of the adjunct major is some 15 years in the making.

In 2001, Leonard and vice president for international relations Dévora Grynspan received funding from the National Security Education Program to establish a campus-wide interdisciplinary curriculum in global health. The grant provided funds for teaching and spurred the creation of several courses that now form the core of the global health studies program.

“The first time we offered the Introduction to International Public Health course in the fall of 2001, it was over-enrolled after 30 minutes of pre-registration,” Leonard recalls.

As momentum for the program’s courses swelled, Leonard and Grynspan spearheaded the creation of the global health studies minor in 2004, one of the nation’s first such academic offerings.

With nearly 300 students enrolled in the minor each year from the social sciences and humanities to engineering, journalism and beyond, Leonard says it was just a matter of teaching capacity catching up with demand. That now being the case, the adjunct major has become a reality and one that advances Northwestern’s position as one of the leading global health programs in the country.

“This new major is about continuing to innovate, grow and show our leadership in this field,” Leonard says.

Preparing students

The global health studies adjunct major will require students to complete four core courses covering critical topics such as bioethics and research methods, three additional global health classes, and four-related courses in other disciplines.  As an adjunct major, students must also have a declared primary major.

“Global health is a field that’s far-ranging, diverse and inherently interdisciplinary,” Leonard says. “Setting this up as an adjunct major ensures that students are getting a strong grounding in a core discipline in conjunction with an in-depth immersion into the world of global health that addresses the clinical part as well as the cultural, political and economic issues that impact variation in health outcomes and care.”

Students will also be required to participate in a substantial public health experience abroad, a hallmark of the groundbreaking minor that both distinguishes the Northwestern program from its peers and drives students’ post-graduate lives.

“We hear time and again from students in our program that these international experiences are transformative,” Leonard says.

"A calling card for our majors"

In addition, the new major will offer students the opportunity to complete a senior honors thesis, allowing them to work alongside faculty to tackle a global health issue of specific interest.

“This isn’t present in the minor, but will be a calling card for our majors as they move forward in their careers and professional lives,” says Leonard, who foresees students entering a diverse array of professional fields, from healthcare consulting, research and education, to public policy, community practice and startups.

Kathleen Clark ’18, a current minor in the global health studies program, is excited about the adjunct major’s debut next fall. A biological sciences major, Clark plans to pursue an advanced degree in epidemiology and sees the new major as an opportunity to gain a richer, more substantial grounding in global health.

“Being able to go further in-depth on the non-biological determinants and contexts of health, including the anthropological, qualitative, ethical, political and sociological aspects covered in the global health program, is key to understanding health,” she says.

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