While the global pandemic has made the fall of 2020 seem ridden with uncertainty, it has also offered glimmers of hope and purpose. Such is the case for the incoming students starting at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health this fall, seeking to join the ranks of epidemiologists, policy professionals, and public health experts graduating from the school. Ready to embark on their professional journeys, the students kicked off their education with Foundations for Public Health, an online course taught by GHELI Faculty Director Sue J. Goldie.
The genesis for an orientation course prior to the start of formal classes dates back to 2015, when Dean Julio Frenk identified the need for a common public health foundation for all incoming graduate-level students. Dean Frenk partnered with Dr. Goldie, and they worked closely for several months to conceptualize the core curriculum and develop the instructional materials—teaching it together in 2015. Goldie, together with support from GHELI, further enhanced the course in following years.
Foundations for Public Health leveraged GHELI’s expertise in inclusive, online learning, integrating four modules in the instructional model: fundamental principles of population health, health conditions and epidemiological trends, equity and social determinants of health, and responses from the health and non-health sector. In “plain English,” the course unpacked the “must-knows” for public health professionals—such as the burden of disease and global governance—and explored how students could apply these core concepts to better understand the rapid changes in public health in the present moment. Characteristic of Dr. Goldie’s dynamic and multimodal teaching style, the course’s inclusive virtual environment was supported with interactive “knowledge checks,” sketch-notes, conceptual diagrams, and curated resources from GHELI’s digital repository.
As a bookend to the course, Professor Goldie also welcomed students during Orientation Week. Here, students voiced an interest in connecting more deeply with their peers and faculty around a series of focused topics in public health. Motivated by this, and in line with the school’s efforts to create new, innovative ways to engage students during this off-campus semester, Professor Goldie guided the creation of “Neighborhoods and Learning Communities.” These five novel topic-centric portals provided students with curated resources, faculty and expert-led events, and discussion boards designed to expand knowledge and foster community engagement.
While much feels uncertain within higher education and public health, the collaboration between the Harvard Chan School and GHELI is a testament to the types of novel strategies that can be deployed to support robust and rigorous virtual learning. To this year’s incoming class, welcome—we are so excited to see what you will do!