Adventures in Global Health

When it comes to study abroad experiences, an elephant ride in Thailand is pretty hard to beat.

“The entire time we were around the elephants, I was smiling uncontrollably,” says Gilad Segal, a microbiology major. “It was amazing to interact with them and get a sense of their personalities. Riding on the back of an elephant through the jungle and into a watering hole is something I never imagined I would do.”

And it was a great way to learn about the animals and efforts to protect them. Located in the “Golden Triangle”—the fabled convergence of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos—the Anatara Elephant Sanctuary improves the health and well-being of elephants by renting them from their owners and then caring for the elephant, the owner and his family as they continue to work humanely with tourists. In that part of the world, elephants frequently are victims of exploitation in the tourist industry, where their owners, called “mahouts,” earn a living by offering rides and having elephants perform tricks, often while not receiving adequate care.

“This solution allows the mahout to still live comfortably in that the camp provides them with a place to live and a monthly stipend for their elephant,” explains fellow microbiology major Lauren Raasch. “The elephants are cared for and are not overworked for tourist purposes.”

The students also examined the elephants’ microbiota by swabbing various parts of the animals and isolating and identifying microorganisms back in the lab at Mae Fah Luang University in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

The elephant camp was only one of several excursions during the seven-week, five-credit study abroad experience. The combined Microbiology 304/ Languages and Culture of Asia 300 program was the brainchild of bacteriology instructor Jon Roll BS’88 PhD’96, who developed the idea with biology advisor Todd Courtenay and teamed with Anthony Irwin, a doctoral student in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, to lead the course’s cultural components.

The program debuted last summer with 14 students and is poised to reach its cap of 20 students in summer 2017. It satisfies a required field study component for the popular Undergraduate Certificate in Global Health, a CALS-administered program in UW–Madison’s Global Health Institute.

Roll got the idea when visiting Mae Fah Luang University to explore research collaborations. “I saw their instructional lab facilities and was very impressed,” he says.

The course kicks off with a week of cultural orientation at another institution, the International Sustainable Development Studies Institute in Chiang Mai. There students learn some basic Thai and become acquainted with various aspects of Thai culture, which include wearing uniforms to class (a white top and dark pants or skirts); not pointing at things (which is considered rude); taking shoes off when entering a home; eating dinner food for breakfast (the Western idea of breakfast food doesn’t exist); and, above all, keeping voices down. “Tone it down like 10 notches,” advises Raasch in a blog she kept on the trip, noting that the Thai communication style tends to be quieter and less confrontational.

In addition to the elephant camp, field trips included meeting with SOLD, a nonprofit that offers job training to young people at risk for sex trafficking, and learning about nutrition and food safety from a monk who is well known for his scholarship in those areas.

As for the basic science component, although Microbiology 304 is a demanding course, students appreciated the program’s hands-on, in-the-field approach to learning.

“The microbiology lab helped me learn a lot not only about microbiology, but also how science applies to everyday life,” says biology major Therese Renaud.

Students came home with a much bigger picture of the world.

“I just want to talk forever about everything I had the opportunity to experience,” says Raasch. “The cumulative experience of adapting to and gaining an appreciation of a new culture was by far the most memorable part.”

A Home for Signature Student Experiences

VandenBosch-E-12-129-300A dean’s loss is our students’ gain—and I couldn’t be more pleased about it. I’m referring to the beautiful Queen Anne home—in the middle of what

is now Allen Centennial Gardens—that was built in 1896 to serve as the residence of the dean of CALS. Apparently it was part of an incentive package to keep our first dean, William Henry, from being lured away to Stanford or Cornell.

Deans Harry Russell and Chris Christensen lived there during their tenures, followed by Dean E.B. Fred, who stayed on in “Lake Dormer,” as it was called, even after he had become UW president (and in fact, even after he retired). Fred was the last dean to reside there. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 and over the years has housed various administrative offices, none of them involving direct use by and for our students.

Until now. As you may know, CALS is home to nearly 40 student organi- zations representing the many interests, passions and professional aspirations one might expect from a college spanning 24 majors. Clubs are extraordinarily important in many students’ lives. They not only serve as the hub of social activities but also allow students to do the kind of hands-on work that syn- thesizes what they’ve learned from many different fields of knowledge in the classroom.

“It’s an amazing gift to our students, and one that will certainly help CALS grow the future.”

But up to now, the space students have had for their clubs—for meetings, for storage, for office equipment—has been very much catch-as-catch-can.

Students are squeezed for space for other enriching, future-directed activi- ties as well. For example, CALS Career Services—the folks who offer students assistance in finding internships and jobs, including holding mock interviews and “etiquette” dinners—do not have dedicated space for those activities, nor are there adequate, modern facilities allowing corporate recruiters to conduct interviews with CALS students on campus.

Our popular Study Abroad programs, offering students unparalleled opportunities to participate in learning, research and community service all around the world, are run in spaces that are inadequate for their high demand. And alumni groups wishing to interact with students—to offer presentations, help with projects or simply get to know them better—have no space in which to center their activities.

Now we can only say: Thank you, Dean Henry! And thanks to the thoughtful leaders in CALS and the greater campus community who recog- nize how important all of these “beyond classroom” experiences are to the quality of education we offer our students. Renovations have begun, and in 2016 we plan to open the former CALS Dean’s Residence as a home to a rich array of student experiences—including clubs, Career Services and Study Abroad—that help make CALS CALS. It’s an amazing gift to our students, and one that will certainly help CALS grow the future.

For more on the building’s history, see “Agricultural Dean’s House”.

To contribute to the building renovation fund, please click here.