The first significant chunk of my research has been primarily focused on structured, academic programs in global health. While that work is ongoing, I have also begun to explore how student-led global health organizations on college campuses have grown and effected the growing field of global health education.
As a starting point, I opted to look at involvement with nationally affiliated global health organizations including: GlobeMed, Global Brigades, FACE AIDS, Student Global AIDS Campaign, The Foundation for International Medical Relief for Children, Manna Project International, Timmy Global Health, and Universities Allied for Essential Medicines. Based on these organizations’ websites, they have organized more than 300 chapters at colleges and universities in the US.
One of the first things that struck me was a high concentration of chapters within a few institutions. Duke and UNC Chapel hill between them boast 13 chapters, and the 8 schools with the most groups (about a third of a percent of all four year institutions) house 44 chapters or nearly 15% of all included nationally affiliated global health student organization chapters. In terms of the reach of these organizations, at least one of these national orgs is present at 178 colleges and universities. As a first step in visualizing this data, I graphed the geographic distribution of these chapters by state (Figure 1). Previously, I had posted a similar distribution for academic global health programs (Figure 2), and these two figures largely parallel one another in terms of the loci of global health engagement in universities.
However, while these graphs may provide some initial insights and demonstrate the strong presence of global health programs on the East Coast and in California/Washington, these areas also have many more academic institutions in general. In order to achieve a more proportionate perspective, I normalized the state distributions by comparing the number of global health academic programs or student groups to the total number of four year colleges and universities in each state (Figure 3). This visualization provides an interesting counterbalance to Figures 1 and 2. Here, states such as California, New York, and Illinois, all among the top 10 in number of global health programs, fall to near the bottom of the pack. Although the dramatic rise of outlier Rhode Island may reflect the state’s relatively few academic institutions, proportionally around a third of institutions in states like Colorado, Washington, and Arizona boast academic global health programs. The normalized data provides an interesting contrast, as some of these states may not come to mind as nexuses of global health education. Both methods certainly have limitations, but when viewed in concert, perhaps a snapshot of global health education may begin to emerge.
That’s not to say that the sheer number of programs, or their location, is the optimal or most important indicator of global health education. Instead, they are two of the easiest ways to quantify and begin to understand this complex and emerging field. To build off of this understanding, I am working to catalogue the establishment of each academic global health program and the total number of participants since its inception, constructing a timeline for the rise in university global health participation since the 1990s. Although I currently have this data for about half of the existing programs (Figures 4 and 5), the current data suggests a steady increase in the number of programs established. When complete, I hope this timeline will prove another foundational pillar for understanding the short legacy of global health education.
By Tyler Boyd
Tyler is a biochemistry and American studies double major at Middlebury College in Vermont. Hailing from outside Chicago, he enjoys graphic design and is interested in travel and global health. He is excited to be working on this project this month and into the future.