Lee Daniel knew he wanted to pursue a degree in the biological and life sciences when he started at NC State University, but he wasn’t as clear about what he wanted to do as a career. The path became much clearer when he took his first infectious disease and public health class, which ultimately led him to choose global health as a minor.
“Our world is increasingly interconnected, both physically in terms of how we travel, and socially with how we interact and exchange ideas and practices,” he said. “This means that when we engage with and solve problems, our scope can’t be limited to a single country.”
Global health officially became a designated minor in biological sciences in 2019 and has since had four graduates. There were two students who completed the minor and graduated in the fall semester and two this past spring, including Daniel who graduated with a B.A. in Biological Sciences.
“NC State is particularly positioned for global health precisely because we don’t have a medical campus and we look beyond the medical model in impacting health,” said Dr. Julie Casani, the director and medical director of Student Health Services, who also serves as the coordinator for this minor.
“As the recent pandemic has demonstrated there are so many levels to pursue and the pandemic has had such a major influence not only on health but social structures and the intersection of the two,” she added.
That intersection was of particular interest to Michaella Wu, who graduated with a B.A. in Biology and a healthcare and policy concentration in addition to the global health minor this spring.
“I love learning about different cultures and was interested in seeing how different cultural beliefs affect how we implement public health guidelines,” she said. “As a Spanish minor, I can definitely see myself working with mostly Spanish-speaking communities and working toward their health needs as it relates to immigration and social inequities.”
The minor was developed in recognition of the importance of global health as a course of study and career for NC State students to merge their scientific and social science skills and apply it to their sense of service, according to Casani. There are currently 20 students from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College Of Sciences, the College of Engineering, and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences who have declared global health as a minor.
“Whether or not you are in a STEM major, this program is a great opportunity, both professionally and academically,” Wu added. “I think everyone can benefit from integrating a social discipline into their studies.”
The global health minor consists of a minimum of 18 credit hours, most of which are elective courses that address the interdisciplinary approach of the program. The minor is open to all undergraduate students and is especially appropriate for those majoring in the life sciences, social sciences, engineering and international studies.
“Any NC State student who has a desire to impact a community’s life at its very core, has a desire to apply science at the bench, in the field, or in the halls of government has a place in global health,” Casani added. “The discipline is so broad that almost any skill set I can think of that is taught or studied at NC State can apply. And, the world needs our brand of innovative thinking.”
Both Daniel and Wu said they also benefitted from the professional networking and experiential learning opportunities that the program presented. For Wu, it was attending the 2019 Triangle Global Health Consortium’s annual conference in Durham where she learned about potential career opportunities related to global health from some of the nation’s top public health professionals, many of whom work here in the Research Triangle Park.
Daniel participated in an Alternative Service Break (ASB) Experience to Ecuador where the group worked with Timmy Global Health, a non-governmental organization (NGO), as well as Ecuadorian medical doctors to run a medical primary care clinic for underserved indigenous communities in the Amazon basin. He also researched the evolution of Botswana’s HIV/AIDS national policies from 1985 to the present during a summer study abroad program to the country.
“Each of these experiences enhanced what I was learning about global health, and allowed me to explore my interests and how diseases can impact people’s lives and well-being,” he said.
As for their future plans, Wu is enrolling in UNC-Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health for a Master’s in Public Health with a Global Health concentration this fall. She enjoyed working in the Women’s and Children’s Health branch during her internship at the NC Department of Health and Human Services and plans to explore career options in that field.
Meanwhile, Daniel will start the Master’s of Public Health with a concentration in Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University in New York City in the fall. His program will focus on how people’s behaviors and their perception of diseases shape their response and how to design communication strategies to support those populations by acknowledging their specific cultural and social contexts. Both of them see the most recent global pandemic as an affirmation of the importance of their field and their decisions to pursue global health.
“It’s often said that a natural disaster or a disease don’t show regard for national borders, so global health has to be global,” Daniel added. “You have to consider the problem and any solutions from the perspective of all countries and communities involved.”