In the past when she taught Introduction to Statistics, Alison Marr says the subject of health rarely came up in the class.
This fall, however, Marr will be asking the students in her class to do a project in which they have to find real data sets related to health, formulate research questions related to that data, and then perform some basic statistical analysis to try to answer the questions. In addition, many of the day-to-day classroom examples will now be related to health.
Marr, who is an associate professor of mathematics, made the change because she is one of the faculty members who are helping roll out the new version of Southwestern’s Paideia program this fall.
While Southwestern’s Paideia program initially focused mainly on activities outside the classroom, it is now central to the academic curriculum. Faculty from departments throughout the university are looking at themes that some of their courses have in common and are developing “clusters” that students will be required to select courses from as part of their core curriculum.
This fall, Southwestern rolled out its first three Paideia clusters – “Mediterranean Mingling,” “Representing Gender” and “Taking the Pulse of Global Health.” About fifteen students are currently participating in each cluster and more are expected to join this fall.
Marr’s statistics class is one of 17 that are available in the cluster on global health. Others are taught by faculty members in Biology, Business and Economics, Education, Kinesiology, Modern Languages and Literatures, Psychology and Sociology.
Fay Guarraci, professor of psychology, teaches the Principles of Psychology class that is part of the cluster. She said she ties the global health theme into her class by asking students to consider how global issues might contribute to health and behavior depending on where people live.
“I want students to think about health from multiple perspectives and critically analyze what is known and hopefully draw conclusions about what should be done in the future,” she said.
Guarraci, whose research focuses on behavioral neuroscience, said she decided to participate in the new cluster because she knew several of the other faculty members who are involved with it and saw it as an opportunity to work with them and share ideas. She said it has already made her think differently about her research and teaching.
“My research in animals often made me think any links from the lab to people would generalize to all people without considering culture and now I’m making an effort to consider the global context in which research occurs as well as the implications of research,” she said.
Over the summer, all the faculty members who are teaching courses that fall under the global health cluster met regularly to share course syllabi and assignments. This fall, they are planning ways their students can get involved with Southwestern’s 2014 Brown Symposium, which will focus on the art and science of medicine.
Maria Cuevas and Maria Todd, biology professors and coordinators of the global health cluster, said possible activities include a panel discussion featuring local healthcare professionals and a panel discussion featuring alumni who have pursued careers in the field.
Maxime Boneza, a sophomore biochemistry major, is among the students who are participating in the new Paideia cluster on global health.
“The decision to join this cluster was not about the connection between the cluster and my major; it was about me wanting to be a part of the solution,” Boneza said. “Of the problems the world faces, sickness is number one.”
Boneza is currently taking Guarraci’s Principles of Psychology class. “The moment you read the syllabus, you understand that the global theme is embedded in the course,” he said. “For example, we have to write a reflection on every chapter that we read. This reflection is usually about a disease or a sickness that we found in the chapter. In the reflection, we state the reason we chose that disease and write about how we would want to cure it. To me this is very helpful. I find it easy to think about the world and the problems we face if I can write about them.”
Six more “clusters” will be developed for the 2014-2015 academic year, when all new students are required to select three courses from a cluster to help meet their core requirements. New students will be introduced to the various clusters after they have completed their First-Year Seminars.
Alison Kafer, a feminist studies professor who co-chairs the new Paideia program along with Marr, said asking students to select core courses that relate to a common theme will make the selection of core courses more intentional.
“Right now many students don’t choose (core) classes for a reason,” Kafer said. “They take what is convenient or easy.”
Kafer said the courses students select to meet their Paideia requirement may or may not be related to their intended major. Even if the courses are not related to their major, Kafer said students will benefit from what they learn in them.
“This gives students a different way to think about what their education is,” she said.
In addition to taking three courses from a cluster, students will be required to take a seminar their junior or senior year that is related to their chosen theme. These seminars will be team-taught by two faculty members, who will help students place what they have learned in their cluster courses into the context of real-world issues. The first Paideia seminars will be offered in the spring of 2015.
Todd said students in the global health Paideia seminar will organize a global health summit that will be open to the public. She also plans to have her students do a civic engagement project to benefit an organization in India called Sanjeevani – Life Beyond Cancer that helps women deal with life following a diagnosis of breast cancer. Southwestern students will collaborate with students in the youth wing of Sanjeevani to raise money that can be used both to help offset the cost of treatment and purchase high-quality wigs for women who lose their hair as a result of chemotherapy.
Students also will have the opportunity to incorporate study abroad experiences into what they are learning in their Paideia clusters. Tisha Temple, director of intercultural learning, is developing a list of study-abroad programs that are related to the Paideia clusters. Students who are interested in participating in one of these programs may apply for grants of up to $2,500.