Spring 2021


(Left to right) Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash; courtesy of student researchers; by Michael P. King; courtesy of the LAND project


The past year has shone an intense spotlight on public health efforts all over the world. Their complexity, their interconnectedness, and their importance have never been more apparent as they have been during a global pandemic.

It’s timely, then, that UW–Madison is launching a new global health major. It’s an expansion of the existing global health certificate for students who want more depth and background to help them make a greater impact in the field.

“The value of any global health training lies in the way it forces us to think about the day-to-day experiences of other people and to face the extreme inequities that still exist in dis- ease incidence and other threats to good health, regardless of whether it’s looking at communities across the ocean or in our own backyard,” says entomology professor Susan Paskewitz, who helped create the new major. “There’s an emphasis on empathy, on cultural awareness and humility, and on collaborative efforts to improve health at the population level.”

The new global health major is both a bioscience and public health major. Students study human health and well-being through population-level and world health perspectives. They explore how human health intersects with climate change, food systems, disease ecology, environmental health, economic development, health care access, and other interconnected systems.

“It’s a really broad field, so the major is designed to help students find their passion area and go deeper into what they care about most,” says Todd Courtenay, lead advisor for the major.

Housed in CALS, the major will help prepare students for a wide variety of careers. Students can go on to become health care professionals with a deep appreciation for the large, complex systems that impact the health of their patients. They can become epidemiologists or research scientists in academia or with government agencies, such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Graduates with the major can also take on roles as community health professionals who work on policy, education, or communication with a wide variety of organizations locally, nationally, or internationally.

“Science is something I’ve always known my career would center around, but I didn’t quite know how to combine it with my love for travel and languages,” says Zari Dehdashti, a junior global health major. “Global health opens so many doors in realms that include these interests.”

UW–Madison students have already shown a strong interest in global health. The 15-credit global health certificate, which has been available to all UW–Madison majors for more than a decade, is among the most popular on campus. Around 300 students earn one each year.

The major builds on this success and on student demand for deeper engagement. It requires 62 credits worth of fundamental courses, core courses, depth courses, foundational science courses, and a capstone. A new advising hub has been established to support students pursuing the new major and the certificate. And the curriculum has been designed to make it easy for students to switch from the certificate to the major, and vice versa.

After graduating, Dehdashti plans to spend a few years working in global health, return to school for a Ph.D. in epidemiology, and then seek an epidemiology position with a multinational organization.

“Something central to being a ‘global citizen’ is being willing to go out there and roll up your sleeves,” says Dehdashti, “and that’s exactly what I intend to do!”

This article was posted in Give, Health and Wellness, Spring 2021 and tagged , , , .