Oberlin to Launch Integrative Concentration in Global Health

December 1, 2020

Communications Staff

Professor and small group of students in a science lab.
Students engage in neurotoxicology research with Associate Professor of Neuroscience Gunnar Kwakye.
Photo credit: Matthew Lester

Oberlin College will prepare the next generation of global health professionals for influential careers and leadership.

Oberlin College will launch an integrative concentration in Global Health in fall 2021, recognizing that worldwide threats to mental and physical wellness are most successfully addressed with the holistic, interdisciplinary approach that is the core of liberal arts education.

The integrative concentration will cultivate globally minded graduates who can apply critical thinking and creative problem solving to a wide range of public health challenges. Students will explore a spectrum of topics from the mechanisms of disease, to the social, political, legal, and economic structures that determine health, to ethical tenets of equitable health culture, utilizing coursework, mentors, and intensive work-related and project-based experiential learning.

‘‘The world needs professionals who understand the multifaceted reality of human well-being,’’ says Professor of Biology Mary Garvin, a lead architect of the new integrative concentration. ‘‘We need passionate, ethical, problem-solving minds, broadly trained students of the liberal arts who understand that solutions require collaboration, a sense of humility, empathy, and open-mindedness.

’’Part of what I love about this concentration is that it gives students a strong sense of how we must break down the silos of the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences and see knowledge as a continuum—a flow among these somewhat artificial divisions of knowledge,’’ says Garvin.

The integrative concentration is part of the college’s One Oberlin strategy , an ambitious plan to build on Oberlin’s legacy and ensure the institution’s reach and relevancy for its third century and beyond. The new concentration joins recently launched integrative programs in journalism, business, and arts administration.

’’The pandemic has taught us the importance of international collaboration to face the world’s most challenging public health issues,’’ says President Carmen Twillie Ambar. ‘‘Oberlin believes our students can help change the world. This integrative concentration is another example of Oberlin’s commitment to applying academic rigor to address the vulnerabilities in our society.’’

Forty-two percent of current students expressed high interest in the idea of a Global Health program at Oberlin when surveyed last year.

‘‘Growing up in Madagascar and Kenya has made me acutely aware of the impacts of inadequate health care worldwide and I have become very passionate about finding ways to get involved in the Global Health field,’’ says Caitlyn Bull ’23. ’’Oberlin‘s slogan, ‘Think one person can change the world? So do we,’ perfectly sums up why this concentration is so well suited for Oberlin. Global health is an incredibly important and necessary field of study; this concentration seems designed to address, think critically about, and recognize flaws within the field in order to teach future global health professionals how and where to implement change.’’

Oberlin has a long history of producing graduates who go on to become leaders in the global and public health fields, including Tom Frieden ’82, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Elisa Wells ’84, cofounder and codirector of Plan C; and Chloe Bird ’86, senior sociologist at the RAND Corporation and former senior advisor in the National Institute of Health’s Office for Research on Women’s Health.
‘‘I am excited that Oberlin will be offering a new integrative concentration in global health, and hope that this will stimulate students’ interests in pursuing public health careers,’’ says Dr. Tim Uyeki ’81, a physician, epidemiologist, internationally recognized influenza expert, and public health official.

’’In this competitive world, students need to be able to express themselves clearly and acquire fluency in data analysis to be able to understand, assess and formulate evidence-based policies. Oberlin is the perfect place to launch this program,’’ he says

The Global Health Integrative Concentration will provide students with foundational knowledge for understanding and engaging in health as a field of study, research, and practice, with particular attention to issues and challenges that transcend national boundaries. 

‘‘This integrative concentration will educate students on the ethics of global health and teach them to conceptualize the process of applying moral value to health issues,’’ says Associate Professor of Neuroscience Gunnar Kwakye. ‘‘They will address issues of colonialism and neocolonialism in order to promote the decolonization of global health. By highlighting the relevance of statistical reasoning and methods to address, analyze and solve problems in global health through biostatistics, students will develop effective ways to address and overcome the inequities and racial barriers to global health parity. They also will learn the importance of developing cultural sensitivity as global health practitioners and volunteers.’’

Required courses will focus on the broad scope of global health, ethics, and quantitative skills. Through elective courses, students will have significant freedom to focus on the areas that most interest them, including the mechanisms of disease and perspectives and reflections on the condition of disease, all while developing critical thinking and writing skills.

Finally, through a required practical experience and engagement with the college’s Career Communities, students will immerse themselves in exciting and challenging experiences with like-minded peers, alumni, and other global health professionals.

‘‘This exciting new program in global health embodies what is special about Oberlin,’’ says David Kamitsuka, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. ‘‘A rigorous, multidisciplinary curriculum; deeply meaningful experiential learning through high-quality internships; and education for purpose-filled lives in the service of others.’’

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