February 22, 2007

Cornell Units Collaborate on Global Health

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Professors from Weill Medical College in New York City and the department of nutritional sciences in Ithaca are working in collaboration to create a new undergraduate course of study in global health. Profs. Warren Johnson and Daniel Fitzgerald, medicine, WMC and Profs. Kathleen Rasmussen and Rebecca Stoltzfus, nutritional sciences, are pioneering the new program at Cornell, which will be a multidisciplinary effort among undergraduate, graduate, and medical students to address health problems in developing nations through research, service and training.

With a background in nutrition and public health, Stoltzfus joined the faculty in 2002, and took over teaching NS 306: Nutritional Problems of Developing Nations.

“I realized that there was a great deal of interest in Cornell undergraduates in global health issues, but the health aspects were not brought together in any coherent program,” Stoltzfus said.

It was at this time that the National Institutes of Health wanted to fund curriculums in global health and Stoltzfus saw this as an opportunity to apply for funds for the new program.

“We discovered people who were like-minded in the medical school about global health, but we didn’t know about each other,” Stoltzfus said.
Rasmussen said that, working as program director of Training in International Maternal and Child Nutrition, which is funded by the NIH, she found out about the opportunity to apply for a framework grant in global health at Cornell. Stoltzfus was the “logical principle investigator,” according to Rasmussen.

After discovering broad faculty interest in doing work in global health, professors and students from Cornell’s six colleges created a proposal for the new program. The planning grant from Einaudi Center for International Studies was used to develop the application, Rasmussen said, but other funds were needed for the program.

Prof. Patrick Stover, division director, Lisa Staiano-Coico dean of College of Human Ecology, Provost Biddy Martin and Antonio Gotto, dean of WMC worked their “constituencies,” to get more financial support for the program, Rasmussen said.

This “indicates the level of institutional interest that we have here in creating this program and making it work,” she added.

The various objectives of the program include: an expansion of current efforts that exist in global health at Cornell through outreach, teaching, and research, a multidisciplinary global health training of undergraduate, medical, graduate, and post-doctoral fellows, and the development of a university-wide lecture series in global health and collaboration among Cornell researchers to solve global health problems.

Although the Division of Nutritional Sciences already has a program in international nutrition, this has “really served only graduate students,” according to Stoltzfus.

“It’s also important to develop American global health interests and one way to do this is to challenge and inspire Cornell students to tackle problems of global health in their professional careers,” Rasmussen said.

The new program admits students interested in developing career paths in international nutrition, but other than NS 306, there have been no programs accessible to undergraduates until this year.

“I’m really interested in international health and there aren’t really many classes offered at Cornell,” said Ginger Golub ’09.

“We wanted to create a curriculum and activities that could serve undergraduates,” Stoltzfus said. As a result, the new program is focusing on the development of an undergraduate minor in global health.

“At the moment, our thought is that a minor is just what is needed because we wanted students to be grounded in a department. We are trying to create interdisciplinary course work and curriculum that brings in faculty from different colleges,” Stoltzfus said.

Program coordinators feel that it is best to stay with a minor, rather than a major to “see how different disciplines can contribute to solve the problems of global health.”

The development of a minor in this field will include three new pieces. The first is a gateway course, NS 206: Introduction to Global Health, which began this semester and is oriented toward freshman and sophomores.

“NS 206 just really makes all my other classes seem so insignificant and everything that we learn just seems so real and so applicable and it’s something I can really take away from it and I can go out in the world and try to do something,” Golub said.

“We wanted a way to reach students early because what I heard from my students was that they wished they had gotten to take global health classes earlier to find out what was available in that field,” Stoltzfus said.

Within the next two years, the program’s advisory board, comprised of faculty, graduate students and undergraduates, hopes to develop a 400-level class and a required internship program, which will give students experience in global health abroad.

Rasmussen said that there was a need to provide some structure to the curriculum, so there is currently an introductory course, which will be followed by a capstone course later. Rasmussen also said that the program coordinators want to be able to offer students a “hands-on” activity, whether it be an internship in a lab or clinical setting here or in New York City.

The Global Health Program’s advisory board worked very closely with WMC to write the program. They are hoping to develop an internship in collaboration with the medical school as well. Students from Cornell in Ithaca will be able to work on lab-based global health research in laboratories at Weill, focusing on such problems as tuberculosis or malaria. There is also the possibility of students from the medical school coming to Ithaca for internships with faculty doing research on global health issues.

Program directors are anticipating increasing support for the program following the global health lecture series that began Tuesday. The lectures will focus on current topics in global health, Stoltzfus said.