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Public Health Gets Boost from Mellon Foundation

St. Lawrence University’s public health program will receive financial support aimed at infusing its new minor with more humanities- and arts-related courses while creating partnerships with local colleges and community organizations.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded St. Lawrence $150,000 to be used over the next two years to support its project, titled “Wide-Angle Learning: A Humanistic Lens on Public Health.” The grant will help to develop innovative approaches to a growing academic field by encouraging St. Lawrence faculty and students to explore health and healthcare issues through the arts and humanities.

Starting with the Fall 2017 semester, St. Lawrence students may now choose to minor in public health. The highly anticipated interdisciplinary program consists of more than 50 course options across five different academic areas. The goal of the project will be to create even more humanities- and arts-driven programming.

“We know the demand is high on campus from students thinking about how they could positively influence the world by bringing together different knowledge and methods from many fields into the public health program, from the global to the local,” said Karl Schonberg, dean of Academic Affairs. “We also considered those with an existing interest in health and how we might be able to leverage their interest in other related fields.”

The grant will provide funding for St. Lawrence faculty to develop new courses, course components, guest lectureships, art exhibits, theatrical performances, and related enrichment activities. It will promote projects on the local level, such as collaborating with neighboring colleges and nonprofit organizations, and sponsor international engagement with St. Lawrence’s international programs in Kenya and London, for example, to emphasize global public healthcare delivery.

“I have already seen a great deal of excitement among our faculty at the tremendous potential to design courses and arts programming to explore health issues in fresh new ways,” said President William L. Fox, “from staging health-related theatrical productions with ‘talk-backs’ attended by sociology students to using literary texts to examine the American foodscape along ethnic, racial, and economic lines.”

The grant will also fund a postdoctoral teaching fellow to teach health humanities courses and to help implement various aspects of the program in the 2018-19 academic year.

Madeleine Wong, associate professor and chair of global studies and co-coordinator of the public health program, said that while some students are already seeking public health professions, it’s important for faculty to get these and other students to think about other aspects of health beyond medicine and biology.

“There has been a missing piece to public health and that’s where the critical humanities, communications and the arts will play a role,” Wong said. “We need the government majors to work on policies related to health access and critical resources; we need the environmental studies majors to work on analyzing the connections between environmental factors and public health crises and to inform local governments how to fix them; we need sociology majors to look at public health in prisons or how the drugs are impacting our communities; and, we need the global studies majors to put public health into historical, political and transnational contexts so we can better understand both the interrelated problems and the causes of global public health issues.”

For more information about St. Lawrence University’s public health program, visit www.stlawu.edu/public-health.