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October 2, 2018

The GHI Brown Bag Series Launches with a Discussion on the Role of Science in Global Health

Heidi Elmendorf, associate professor in the Department of Biology and co-founder of the biology of global health major, kicked off the new discussion series with a conversation about the role of natural sciences in global health.

The GHI Brown Bag Series Launches with a Discussion on the Role of Science in Global Health

Students, faculty, and staff gathered on September 21 to participate in the discussion. The Global Health Initiative (GHI) Brown Bag series, a new monthly occurrence, will focus on various global health topics and feature faculty from across schools and disciplines.

“The Brown Bag series is an effort to have more informal conversations,” said Thomas Banchoff, Vice President for Global Engagement, at the start of the event. “The lunches will allow faculty to share with other faculty, students, and interested staff insights into their work and to build intellectual communities and communities of practice.”

Biology of Global Health

Elmendorf spent much of her talk discussing the origins and goals of the Department of Biology’s biology of global health undergraduate major. True to Georgetown’s core curriculum, Elmendorf focused on how a natural science-based education in global health should be informed by the perspectives of other disciplines and complemented by an understanding of how it functions in the real world.

“We thought [the biology of global health major] was incredibly important at Georgetown because of our 500-year-old roots in the Jesuit tradition, but also our deep commitment to ethics and policy and our place in the nation’s home and where the vast majority of our international health organizations have their home base,” she said.

Elmendorf also discussed how she and her colleague Anne Rosenwald, professor in the Department of Biology and co-founder of the biology of global health major, wanted to offer students a course of study that was distinct from other Georgetown global health programs.

“We wanted to make sure that we were complementing but not duplicating the efforts in STIA [science, technology, and international affairs] and the School of Nursing and Health Studies in what is now the Global Health Program,” said Elmendorf. “There’s lots of cross-fertilization, but we wanted to make it unique.”

The biology of global health major is centered around the natural sciences, and students are required to take courses in biology, chemistry, math, and statistics as well as “science-adjacent” disciplines such as anthropology or economics.

Building Community

The lunchtime discussion also explored how to build community within the sciences and global health. Elmendorf described how the biology of global health major is intended to appeal to a wider range of students than other traditional natural science programs.

“We wanted to figure out…how it is that we create curriculum that feels welcoming to a much broader diversity of people,” she said. “When you limit who does something to a really narrow group of people, you get a really narrow product out the far side.”

Responding to interest expressed at the last Global Health Initiative Faculty Forum, the GHI Brown Bag series seeks to build Georgetown’s global health community. Future lunches will feature lessons from the university’s extensive academic offerings in global health, as well as provide a platform for faculty to learn about each other's research and identify potential areas for collaboration. Students are encouraged to join the conversation and learn more about cutting edge research and careers in global health.

“We want to give faculty a chance to learn about what their colleagues are working on,” said John Monahan, senior advisor to the president for global health. “We hope that students can benefit from these faculty exchanges and participate in discussions of global health issues alongside our interdisciplinary campus experts.”

“It was wonderful to have students there to contribute and ask questions,” added Elmendorf.