Global Health minor sponsors students for program at College of Medicine

November 04, 2019

As part of the Penn State Global Health minor’s initiative to offer reciprocity in its student exchange program, Victor Chikwala, a nursing student at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences, became one of the first students to travel to the United States this summer to complete the Global Health Exchange Program (GHEP), organized by Penn State College of Medicine’s Department of Public Health Sciences.

Chikwala was one of nearly 20 students, representing four continents and 10 countries, who participated in GHEP, a three-week training program in global and public health that draws students from across the globe to the Penn State College of Medicine campus.

Global Health Exchange Program students at Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
IMAGE: Dana Naughton

He said participating in the program helped him narrow down the scope of his future studies, and he is now considering pursuing a master’s of public health in maternal and child health or epidemiology and biostatics.

“This program is an eye-opener; it opened my eyes to new ideas of how to think about public health,” Chikwala said. “Not only that, it helped me make connections that will be helpful to my future. I think this program should continue, as it will help a lot of people, just like it helped me.”

Chikwala’s participation, as well as four other students hailing from South Africa, Tanzania and Germany, was funded by a grant from the Student Engagement Network, which connects students to curricular and co-curricular opportunities. Their visit was planned as an exchange between Penn State and partnering universities hosting Global Health minor students for fieldwork experiences.

For nearly 10 years, Penn State’s Global Health minor has prepared students to become professionals addressing significant health challenges of populations around the world. Offered by the Department of Biobehavioral Health in the College of Health and Human Development, the minor has attracted students from throughout the University in part because of its unique international global health fieldwork requirement.

International students participating in the Global Health Exchange Program standing outside a house.
IMAGE: Dana Naughton

Each year, 20 to 30 Penn State students in the Global Health minor travel to locations across the globe to observe health care in action and learn to address its inherent inequities. This year, students visited sites in South Africa, Tanzania, and Ecuador to complete their fieldwork requirement, in coordination with partnering universities.

“Prior to this year, the program had been one-directional — Penn State students in the Global Health minor benefiting from an immersive, experiential global health learning opportunity in another country,” said Dana Naughton, director of the minor. “This initiative of collaborating with Penn State College of Medicine’s GHEP meets our intention to work toward equity in our student exchange program.”

Marata Masinga, a student at the University of Limpopo in South Africa studying community nutrition, said that the connections to students at other global universities was an important part of the program.

“The ones who motivated me were the Penn State students, because I wasn’t looking to go into a massive program or any Ph.D. program, I was looking forward to getting my degree and that’s it,” she said. “But I was encouraged to further my studies and try to be part of the field that brings solutions to the world’s health problems.”

International students participating in the Global Health Exchange Program at Hershey Park.
IMAGE: Dana Naughton

While they were in the U.S., their GHEP training included a series of lectures with Penn State faculty and guest speakers on a variety of public health topics, and visits to local and federal legislators and policymakers in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Baltimore, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. to learn about their vision for public health in the United States.

The culmination of this intensive schedule is a project in which participants compare a prevalent health issue faced by the United States and another country, and the different approaches to the issue.

Julie Lentes, a faculty member of the Department of Public Health Sciences in the Penn State College of Medicine, serves as the global health program manager and directed GHEP for its fourth year. She sees first-hand the impact of this opportunity for a diverse group of students to tackle international public health issues.

“A major goal of our program is to promote an intercultural learning experience that prepares learners to enter the public health workforce with a global perspective. We accomplish that through an immersive curriculum, which gives the participants an opportunity to explore public health systems worldwide, analyze cultural similarities and differences within health care, and discuss how cultural norms affect the health of their populations.”

For Johannes Luka, also studying at the University of Limpopo in South Africa, the program helped him discover an interest in research and he wanted to take full advantage of the learning opportunities GHEP offered him.

“This program provides a platform where you can meet people from every region of the world and learn from them. And they can also learn from you,” Luka said. “The time went by very fast, so I wanted to enjoy every moment and learn all of the new information I was being provided.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated November 07, 2019