Clark and IDCE Launch Master of Health Science Program for Fall 2017, Scholarship Deadline May 5th

As announced in last week’s press release, Clark University and the IDCE Department are launching a major new degree program, the Master of Health Sciences (MHS), in the fall of 2017. The new program, begun with the aid of a generous grant from the Leir  Charitable Foundations, is designed to challenge stuKenya 2011 BWdents to think in new and innovative ways about health science, policy and practice, and to seek solutions that elude more traditional ways of thinking about health.

Students in the new MHS will choose a concentration in Community Health or Global Health, but the curricula of the two concentrations will overlap by design, so that all students have some exposure to both. Interested students have an incentive to apply soon: consideration for Clark’s merit-based fellowships will begin on May 5th.

The new MHS program will be coordinated by Dr. Marianne Sarkis, a medical anthropologist and professor in IDCE. Sarkis notes that the department “has always been involved with health, whether it was related to HIV/AIDS, transactional sex in Senegal, access to clean water in Mexico, children’s health, community violence prevention or reproductive health of refugees and immigrants.” But interest in health studies has been steadily growing for some years, at both the graduate and undergraduate level. Two years ago, in response, Associate Provost Bill Fisher (a former director of IDCE) and Jim Gomes of Clark’s Mosakowski Institute sought the assistance of the Leir Foundations. Their efforts paid off: in late 2016, Leir awarded a $500,000 grant for the creation of the MHS program. Now it’s all systems go for the program’s first cohort this fall.

A baseline ethical perspective—health care as a right, not a privilege—forms part of the program’s guiding philosophy. And like all aspects of learning at IDCE, the MHS program will transcend disciplinary boundaries. Such an approach, Sarkis emphasizes, is crucial. “The complexity of today’s health problems requires solutions that are multi-disciplinary, multi-level, creative and participatory—both bottom-up and top-down.” Another key element of the program will be its hands-on approach. “With guidance from faculty, students will learn how to apply the knowledge they learn from books and classes to solving real life problems. They’ll be encouraged to engage communities in identifying their needs, priorities, and solutions, working with them to figure out the best responses to issues affecting their health.”

Another key aspect of the MHS—in keeping, again, with the IDCE vision—will be the emphasis on combining scholarship with practice. Students will pursue rigorous classroom studies in subjects from epidemiology to biostatistics to health equity and access. But they will also gain hands-on experience through a field project or practicum, and learn the essential skill of engaging with health care stakeholders—patients, providers, policy makers and the wider community to which they belong.

IDCE Professor Ellen Foley will also be teaching in the MHS program. Dr. Foley, whose research interests include reproductive health and HIV/AIDS in West Africa, says that the new program “offers students the chance to connect the dots between global economics and policy priorities, the organization and delivery of health care, and the challenges that people face getting and staying healthy.” She draws attention to the program’s commitment to health equity and ending health disparities. “The program will better prepare students to decide how they want to engage in community and global health issues as catalysts for positive change,” she adds.

One field that doesn’t instantly come to mind when discussing health education is Geographic Information Science (GIS), but IDCE Professor Yelena Ogneva-Himmelberger points out its relevancy. “GIS and remote sensing allow visualizing and analyzing spatial patterns of disease distribution, and investigating how health outcomes and processes differ from place to place. GIS maps may indicate connections and trends that would not otherwise be apparent.” For this reason, the new MHS features a required GIS skills course, which Dr. Ogneva-Himmelberger will be offering in the coming academic year.

What does all this mean in practice, however? In 2013, the magazine of Columbia University argued that “the basic model of public health education hasn’t changed substantially in a century.” Will IDCE’s new program really challenge business as usual?

Sarkis’ answer is an emphatic yes. “I’m not interested in having students generate knowledge for the sake of knowledge. There’s been so much harm done by ‘helicopter research,’ and we can certainly do better by the students and the communities with whom we work.”

As an illustration, she points to issues surrounding immigrant and refugee communities. Faced with so many changes and challenges at once—food, language, customs, climate, employment, transport—newly-arrived persons often develop a variety of health problems. High blood pressure, diabetes and other chronic illnesses are common. Traditional responses would focus on the triad of prevention, intervention and health promotion: important to be sure, but less than adequate to the intricate challenges facing health practitioners today.

“Prevention campaigns tell people to eat better, exercise, and get regular checkups,” says Sarkis. “But many immigrants live in neighborhoods that are not safe or that don’t have sidewalks. Many work two to three jobs. Exercising can be very difficult. And telling people to have cereal for breakfast does not work for populations that are lactose intolerant or not used to cereal. A more thoughtful approach would work with the community to identify barriers, challenges, and needs, and build on their strengths and existing practices to make the modifications to their diets that make sense to them.”

This thoughtful approach–and an intellectually robust, socially committed, cross-disciplinary forum for its expression–are what the new MHS promises its students this coming fall.

For more information, please visit the MHS home page.

IDCE and Human Geography to Host Workshop on “Decolonizing Academic Communicative Praxis”

On April 9 and 10, Clark University’s IDCE Department and Human Geography—a New Radical Journal will present “Words That Remake Life,” an interdisciplinary workspace on “decolonizing academic communicative praxis.”

Quick: what exactly does that mean? Just kidding: the event sounds too creative, ambitious and inclusive to be captured in a dozen words. But the organizers point to a need to work towards “the direct decolonization of academic conferences and workshops” and to consider other “modes of knowing,” including storytelling, poetry, film, dance, music, and theater.

The event is free and open to the public, and takes place in the Fireside Lounge in Dana Commons on the Clark University campus. For more information, please contact Professor Amber Murrey (amurrey@clarku.edu) or visit the event’s Facebook page.

IDCE Revising its Curriculum to Promote Flexible, Transdisciplinary Training

The IDCE Department at Clark University is launching its most significant curriculum changes in many years—changes that will affect all graduate students and redefine the core of IDCE. As significant as these changes are, they are also, fortunately, quite simple to explain.

IDCE’s areas of focus cut across its graduate degree programs

The essential goal is to leverage IDCE’s unique transdisciplinary strengths to create a learning environment that mirrors the working world IDCE students will enter, and which gives them the skills they need to have an impact on that world. The mechanism is a considered and moderate shift away from an emphasis on degree programs within IDCE toward a problem-centered curriculum that brings students from different degree programs together to attack significant problems.

Interdisciplinary study has always been at the heart of the IDCE experience, but the requirements of its seven Master’s programs have not always made such study easy to pursue. Each of these MA or MS programs offers courses that challenge and excite students throughout the department. But in practical terms, it has often proven difficult (sometimes impossible) for students to take enough courses outside of their home degree program to foster the sort of dynamic, cross-programmatic exchange of ideas and perspectives the department strives to achieve.

As Department Director Edward Carr put it, the current system has too often forced each degree program to function “as a department unto itself.” The revised curriculum, by contrast, will “encourage students in different degree programs to work and learn together.” Carr adds that such cross-programmatic encounters are “and “represent IDCE’s greatest intellectual advantage.”

Under the new guidelines, core classes in each degree program will be reduce to three units. Currently such requirements vary from 3.5 to 4.5 units, with additional requirements for methods and skills coursework in some programs.

Across a student’s graduate experience, the rebalanced curriculum will allow for a full six units of electives to be drawn from within one of IDCE’s areas of focus (or, if a student is so inclined, a self-designed area of transdisciplinary focus). This is very much in keeping with the broader IDCE mission to tackle problems which bridge (and indeed defy) disciplinary boundaries, and will make the most of the intellectual and experiential breadth of the IDCE community.

Speaking of those areas of focus, here they are:

IDCE AREAS OF FOCUS:

(department wide, program independent)

Environment and Development

Education for Social Change

Integrated Assessments

Refugees, Forced Migration and Belonging

Youth Development

Economic Development

Workforce Development

As IDCE adds new faculty, and as the world changes, the department will revise these areas of focus to reflect the intersection of the department’s strengths and the most significant challenges facing the world. Under the new curriculum, students will be more free to explore these areas of focus regardless of their degree program, and will spend more time with students and professors from beyond that single program.

What does all this imply for the overall mission of IDCE? Edward Carr recommends envisioning that mission in terms of problems, questions and solutions. In particular, he draws attention to what he calls “wicked problems”—those that defy simple solutions and require the expertise of multiple disciplines. “A lot of people see wicked problems as sources of frustration or disincentives to act,” he notes. “But in IDCE, we see these as the sites where the most interesting things are happening, and where we can have the greatest impact. Both in our research and our teaching, IDCE is positioned to address these challenges because we think and work across disciplines, bringing together diverse expertise and experiences.” The revisions to IDCE’s curriculum are designed to make these boundary-crossings more feasible and frequent.

The culmination of a long process of discussion and deliberation by the IDCE community, the changes are planned to go into effect in the fall of 2017.

Welcome to Engage, the IDCE News Blog

Greetings! After a hiatus of several years, we’re excited to announce this new forum in service to the IDCE community. Engage will provide a platform for ideas, critical reflection, program updates, faculty research and project information, interviews and other features of interest to students, faculty, alums and any who share our interests and concerns.

IDCE is a place of active scholarship. We’ll strive to make Engage a fitting compliment to that pursuit. Our first post (below) concerns exciting new curriculum revisions coming to IDCE with insights into the process by Department Director Edward Carr (and here’s a compelling podcast Prof. Carr has recently developed for NewSecurityBeat). Many more stories and discussions will be appearing soon.

Please (1) bookmark us now, and (2) follow us on Facebook, where we’ll announce new posts as they’re published.

Finally, and most importantly, please share your ideas! If there’s a subject you’d like to see covered here, leave a comment or write to me directly at robertvsredick@gmail.com.

We want Engage to stimulate conversation and dialog, and the more we hear about what concerns you, the better.

• • •

A word about your humble blog administrator: I’m a freelance editor and international development consultant. I taught the IDCE writing workshop/MA paper class for three years in the mid-2000s. Other past employers include the Center for International Forestry Research in Bogor, Indonesia and Oxfam America. I’m also a working fantasy novelist.

I’m truly delighted to be working with the IDCE community again.

Robert V.S. Redick

2017 Famine Threat in Africa Worst in 60 Years

[March 28 2017] I know this grim news is of concern to the IDCE community, and that many are already aware. Time, however, is of the essence: both the U.N. World Food Programme and UNICEF are warning that the famines, developing (for the first time ever) in four countries at once, are unprecedented in scale, threatening the lives of some 20 million people in South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen. The New York Times article on March 27 lays out a great deal of information on the crisis. All of the links above include discussion of ways to help.