In second year, UniverCity has students, faculty seeking solutions to Dane County problems

In its second year, UW–Madison’s UniverCity Year program directed 305 students and 16 faculty members across 11 departments to come up with ways to address Dane County’s housing gap, improve economic development, and protect its water quality.

On May 4, students, faculty members and the Dane County Board of Supervisors celebrated the year-long UniverCity collaboration. The program works to extend the Wisconsin Idea to the level of the classroom by pairing UW–Madison’s latest research, technology, and brainpower with local government.

“Getting two departments to do the same thing … is a miracle,” said Paul Robbins, director of the UW–Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies “Eleven is because this is a good idea.”

Students and faculty from disparate schools and departments – from Engineering and Environmental Studies to Journalism and Real Estate – filled the Lake Mendota Room of Dejope Residence Hall with poster boards detailing how best to improve their community. In all, 26 projects were completed and presented.

Students from a residential real estate development class tackled affordable housing for the Village of DeForest. Senior Austin Jansen, a real estate and finance major, presented the class’ proposal for a Section 42 tax incentive program which would encourage developers to put private investment into the development of 51 units of affordable housing.

The class did a detailed survey of the land and its resources, made a trip to the village to select an ideal spot for development, and met with city officials to determine feasibility.

“This is the one opportunity where you really get to work out into the community and look at a real site and a real development,” Jansen said. “Being able to work with city officials is really valuable too – being able to get feedback on the projects that you’re doing and see the feedback you would get if you were out in the private market doing it yourself.”

Jim LaGro, a professor of Urban and Regional Planning, said the program employs a favorite teaching style of his called “experiential learning.”

He said he’s been using experiential learning to get students working on real world problems for more than two decades. The aspect of UniverCity Year that makes it stand out, though, is that it pulls departments and schools out of their “silos” and lets them collaborate.

Last semester he taught a class on urban design that looked at the populations that need affordable housing in Dane County. Each student was asked to create a profile of a typical household in the county.

“It was very perceptive. It was very emotional in terms of the stories that students told about households that might need this kind of housing, including some personal experiences of relatives who were in those situations,” LaGro said. “It was a very moving experience for me and I think for many of the students.”

This semester he taught undergraduate classes inlandscape architecture and housing and urban design.

“In both cases I think we’re really blessed here at the University of Wisconsin in terms of having very smart students, caring students, and students who have great work ethics,” LaGro said. “That’s a real luxury when you’re a professor.”

The Dane County Board of Supervisors, with its 37 elected supervisors who create policy for the county, offered real-life situations for classes to work on. Sharon Corrigan, Chair of the Dane County Board, said the projects have created buzz among supervisors who are excited by the students’ and faculty members’ plans and geared up to implement them.

“We knew we were going to get a good product, but the process has been especially exciting too,” Corrigan said. “To have this center of thinking and learning and exploration working on our problems has been really gratifying.”

The issue underpinning all projects was equity, Corrigan said. Even projects that worked to improve the water quality of lakes, for instance, were chosen because the local government wants to ensure everyone can share in the lake equally.

“Every bit of this has been about having our community be equally successful in Dane County,” Corrigan said. “And it’s not just equity but inclusion in this process from all walks of life.”

UniverCity Year is a program within UniverCity Alliance, a broader effort bridging local government, the people of Wisconsin, and UW together in order to work on public issues.

Gavin Luter, UniverCity Alliance’s new director as of April, said UniverCity Year is a realization of the Wisconsin Idea.

“This really is the heart of the Wisconsin Idea, to make sure that local government, state government can learn from the expertise on campus,” Luter said.

Last year, students, faculty, and officials worked on problems facing the city of Monona. This upcoming year, it’s Green County’s turn.

“I’m looking forward to doing some more work next year … that might bring our different skill sets and worldviews and areas of expertise together to really do some powerful stuff,” LaGro said.

Green County, located in south central Wisconsin and known for its pastoral scenery, is politically and socially different from Dane County and offers its own unique set of pressing problems, Robbins said. But the UniverCity Year model is flexible, he added, and can move anywhere in the state.

UniverCity Alliance is currently recruiting faculty for the coming semester to work on projects like reviving the county’s downtown centers, designing safe transportation routes to school, and launching cooperatives to support farmers.

May 4 did not mark the end of the relationship between UniverCity Alliance and Dane County but was merely the beginning of a conversation, Robbins said. In the future, faculty, students, and alumni will still be able to come to the table and hash out solutions to Dane County’s most urgent concerns.

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By Parker Schorr / May 15, 2018

GHI Director Jonathan Patz explains why climate change is the most important public health challenge

Climate change isn’t just an environmental concern — it’s the most important public health challenge of our time, Global Health Institute Director Jonathan Patz says in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio.

There are many health issues sensitive to climate, anything from heat waves to ground level ozone to mosquito-borne diseases to air pollution, Patz says. Climate change can affect health both directly and indirectly, he adds.

In the U.S. the main threat from climate change depends on the region individuals live in, Patz says. For the Midwest, heat waves are a huge issue, and for coastal areas the concern shifts to the sea level rising and stronger storms.

The southern part of the U.S. is vulnerable to mosquito-borne diseases, which are climate sensitive, Patz says. Diseases from mosquito, tick and flea bites have tripled in the United States between 2004 and 2016, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“[It’s important to] be aware that climate change truly is a public health issue and something that affects our own health,” Patz says. “It’s not simply something that affects the polar bears and biodiversity. Too often people overlook the fact that indeed there are so many pathways in which climate can affect our health.”

Listen to the full interview here.

Neurosurgery in the Amazon Rainforest

A man from the Amazon rainforest holds a stethoscope to Dr. Eric Jennings Simoes chest.

Providing Voice and Care for Newly-Contacted Communities

Dr. Erik L. Jennings Simões is a neurosurgeon who works deep in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. He founded the first public service neurosurgery unit in the interior of the Brailizian Amazon and became a private pilot to reach it.

He will share both his personal experiences in the rainforest as well as the ethical, cultural, logistical and other aspects of providing health care to recently-contacted populations.

For more than 18 years, Jennings Simões has operated on patients with specific neurological diseases contracted in the forest, such as intracranial hematoma caused by snake bites, head trauma from falling hedgehog nuts and accidents involving encounters with trees and wildlife. Along with frequent visits to the interior, he was appointed health coordinator of the Zoé people, an indigenous recently-contacted tribe.

Jennings Simões divides his time between the neurological service of the municipal hospital of the city of Santarém and a small hospital in the middle of the forest, under his direction, where he cares for the indigenous Zoé people. He often uses his own single-engine airplane to reach the site.

Some of Jennings Simões activities have been presented in public television documentaries. Others include investigations into the forensic use of necrophagous fish from the Amazon.

Jennings Simões is also an environmental activist and defender of the rights and culture of indigenous peoples. He is currently a consultant to the Ministry of Health for health matters involving isolated indigenous peoples of recent contact. This governmental ministry advocates for cultural, environmental and social preservation as the major provider of health care for these peoples. In addition, he coordinates the medical residency program in neurosurgery at the State University of Pará.

Erik Jennings Simoes Seminar Flier

May 24, 2018

Young African Leaders Speak Out:

Promoting Well-being, Improving Care, Forging New Solutions for Health

Three 2017 YALI fellows stand together with arms around each other's backs.

Nine of the 25 Mandela Washington Fellows at the UW-Madison this summer are deeply involved in ensuring health for their countries and communities. Physicians, nurses, community outreach workers and an occupational therapist, they will share their passion to provide health for all, and the innovative ways they are reaching their goals, in a series of three YALI Global Health Seminars: July 10, 17 and 24 from 5 to 6 p.m. in Room 1309 at the Health Sciences Learning Center, 750 Highland Ave. (The HSLC is easily accessible via the #80 bus.)

Three scholars will speak during each seminar, giving 15 minute presentations about their work, with time for questions following. The evenings will explore a series of topics:

July 10Forging new solutions for health

  • “Paving the Road to Health Equity” with Rose Mary Nakame, and NGO-fonder from Uganda. Nakame will discuss successful bottom-up approaches utilized by her organization in addressing  the challenges to achieving health equity among the impoverished settings in Uganda. Nakame battled a benign brain tumor at an early age, yet her parents were from a low socio-economic background, which meant poor access to better diagnostic health care. In addition, she felt less important to her community, which tends to value boys more than girls. Her story is like many females who make up half of Uganda’s population and 67 percent of Ugandans living in poverty. Her experience inspired her to work towards increasing access to quality health care, undertaking health related courses and later on, founding REMI East Africa in November 2015. As an executive director of REMI East Africa, she has influenced public health policy and financing through strategic memberships. For example, she lobbied with the Maternal-Child Health Coalition for increment in 2017/2018 National health financing from 1.5 to 1.8 billion Ugandan shillings through the Parliamentary Health Subcommittee.
  •  “The Journey to Universal Health Coverage in Nigeria” with Francis Ayomoh. M.S., Nigeria. Ayomoh has worked for more than five years in clinical practice, as a resident doctor in Internal Medicine with an interest in infectious diseases. He has worked closely with patients with diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Lassa fever, cholera and meningitis. However, his experiences in curative medicine motivated him to switch to preventive medicine, as he realized that it was cheaper and better to prevent diseases than to cure them. Having worked as a clinician for a few years, he now understands the inadequacies within the Nigerian hospital environment and resolves to make things better. He currently works in the Federal Ministry of Health where he formulates and implements policies to improve primary healthcare in Nigeria, making hospitals more efficient and reducing the prevalence of diseases by creating nationwide awareness about hygiene and healthy lifestyle choices.
  • “Surgery and security in Africa” with Odry Fifonsi Agbessi, M.D., Benin. Agbessi is the first plastic surgeon in her country, where she is in charge of burned patients, patients with physical disabilities, and others with deformities or injuries at a national teaching hospital. She chose this specialty after seeing a media report of a young girl with burns on both her face and neck who needed to go to Europe for care because there were no specialists in Benin. Since that moment, Odry has vowed to work hard in order to offer such specialization in her country, as she is convinced that it is critical to Benin’s development.

 July 17: Promoting well-being

  • “Malaria”with Iliassa Ayouba, a nurse in Comoros. Ayouba has worked as a nurse in the Comorian government health system, specifically in rural areas, for five years. He is the National Malaria Control Program supervisor in his community and is the president and founder of the first health care association in Comoros. He is the national vice president of the Insular Peace Network office. He has created an association to build confidence in the Comorian healthcare system and encourage those who need medical assistance to go to the hospital. As a nurse, he is able to connect well with the sick and help them access medical care.
  • “The Community-based Health Planning and Services (CHPS) Concept for Attaining Health for All in Ghana” with Maxwell Tii Kumbeni, a nurse in Ghana. Kumbeni has worked as a trained and licensed registered general nurse and been employed by the Ghana Health Service since 2009.  He started his career in Navrongo Hospital where he was responsible for patient care. After one year, he was reposted to Sakote Health Center in Nabdam District where he was responsible for diagnosing and treating minor ailments, propagating health promotion activities and assisting in running administrative activities. Three years later, he was appointed the sub-district leader, responsible for monitoring and supervision, health promotion and disease prevention, liaison between the sub-district and the district health management team, and implementation of health policies. To reduce health disparities in developing countries, effective policy implementation is key in leadership and management which is why he chose to provide good health to rural communities.
  • “Reproductive Health in Ethiopia” with Kalkidan Lakew Belayneh, M.D., Ethiopia. Belayneh is a medical doctor and an advocator with more than 6 years of experience in advocacy of public health issues, specifically focusing on reproductive health. Currently, she is working as a Medical Director of a government hospital located in a rural setup where she overseas all the clinical activities and she also has helped establish various departments within the hospital. She has an active volunteering experience in different organizations, including her service as the Director of Public Health in Ethiopian Medical Students’ Association. Belayneh earned her medical degree from Addis Ababa University School of Medicine. She is a leader with a commitment to empower women across her country by addressing issues regarding their sexual and reproductive health and rights. She hopes to see all women exercise their rights to the fullest. She chose this work because of her all-time dream of helping the less fortunate and finding solutions for their problems. Being a physician with leadership positions gives her the opportunity to live that dream and also to motivate and manage others to do the same

July 24: Improving access to care

  •  “Perspectives of Social Work in Integrated Health Care” with Patrick Male Kabwe, a community outreach coordinator in Zambia. Kabwe holds a Bachelor’s degree in Adult Education. He has two years’ experience in community outreach, which included coordinating activities for the early infant male circumcision program. In a second position as the community outreach coordinator for the Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia, he was also involved in the creating awareness about the need to have early-infant males circumcised, reducing their risk of contracting HIV. In his current position, as a medical social worker at Kasama General Hospital, his role involves coordinating social welfare services in order to facilitate recovery and rehabilitation.
  • “The health of vulnerable marginalized and oppressed  individuals and collectives within Tanzanian context” with Bertha Kanuth Mbuya, an occupational therapist in Tanzania. Mbuya is an occupational therapist who works in various settings, including schools, refugee camps, and special needs schools to empower and advocate for human rights for the vulnerable and most marginalized individuals to engage fully in society for their health and well-being. She chose this profession because it inspired her to help individuals live meaningful lives. Her own experience with family members with disabilities drove her to study a profession that challenges power relationships, structure inequalities and entrenched mindsets that facilitate occupational injustices for the most marginalized individuals in her society and Africa in general. Her goal is to enhance equality, promote human rights, and facilitate equal participation.
  • “Strategies and challenges to reduce maternal and perinatal mortality in Ethiopia” with Bemnet Zegeve Ashenafi, M.D., Ethiopia. Eleven years ago, Bemnet’s grandmother died, although she could have been saved if she had reached a hospital sooner. Since then, Bemnet has had a burning desire to save lives. After six years of hard work, she was qualified to be a doctor. She has worked in different hospitals in Addis Ababa as well as in rural areas as an intern. It was during her internship in Nedjo Hospital that she started to realize her potential and how she was needed in the rural community. Currently, she works as a head of in-patient department and actively participates in raising awareness about maternal and child health.

This is the third year row, UW-Madison has hosted 25 Mandela Washington Fellows who are part of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. The initiative was launched in 2010 to support young Africans as they spur growth and prosperity, strengthen democratic governance, and enhance peace and security across Africa.

The fellows visiting Madison aspire to work in all levels of government, regional or international organizations, or other publicly minded groups and think tanks. During their month-long stay, they will learn from Wisconsin’s scholars and professionals and visit government entities, non-profit organizations and businesses across the state.

The fellows, who are 25- to 35-years-old, have established records of accomplishment in promoting innovation and positive change in their organizations, institutions, community and countries.

The Global Health Institute works with the African Studies Program and other campus units to plan the curriculum for the fellows.

YALI Tuesdays


Graduate•Professional•Capstone Certificates in Global Health open doors for students across campus


For Teresa Caya, who earned her Graduate•Professional Certificate in Global Health while completing her medical degree, the certificate was a way to plan and carry out an infectious disease global health project in Nicaragua. “We live in a world in which disease and poverty do not respect geographic boundaries,” she says. “Better understanding health problems and cultures in other countries helps me to better diagnose and treat patients I see in the United States.”

The certificate showed Johnny Uelmen, who earned his Ph.D. from the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, a new career path. “During my (field experience) in rural Thailand, I was fortunate to meet so many local citizens that were so kind and welcoming,” he says. “Learning about the general fear of arboviral illnesses and the safety of their community inspired me to study diseases in areas of the world that are most affected.”

Johnny Uelmen, who earned his Graduate•Professional Certificate in Global Health, checks for mosquito larvae. Certificate

Across campus. Across the world. Across Wisconsin. The Graduate•Professional•Capstone Certificates in Global Health train students in the classroom and bring them to under-served communities to learn, to share, to grow.

This year’s application deadline is April 30.

Students from programs as diverse as human and veterinary medicine, engineering, nursing, pharmacy, education, anthropology, nutrition, environmental studies and more pursue the certificate as a way to develop marketable skills to work with diverse communities.

“The certificate will broaden your perspective on the meaning of health and well-being in cultures and populations around the world,” says Certificate Director Christopher Olsen. “Certificate students experience first-hand their role as global citizens and their potential as global health leaders.” Olsen explains more about the program in a new three-minute video.

The 9-credit certificate program is open to all UW-Madison graduate students and students in professional programs, including medicine, pharmacy and veterinary medicine. It’s also available to community members who want to know more and contribute to global health. The program includes a field course experience, including faculty-led courses in Thailand, Uganda and Ecuador.

The certificate is offered through the Global Health Institute (GHI) and the Departments of Academic Affairs and Population Health Sciences in the School of Medicine and Public Health. Students can find a detailed description of the certificate and the application form on the GHI website.

The application deadline for 2018-2019 is April 30.


By Ann Grauvogl/ April 5, 2018




Tupesis helps design global health course for health care learners

A new version of “The Practitioner’s Guide to Global Health,” an online, open-access course, is available, says UW Emergency physician Janis Tupesis, the Global Health Institute-Graduate Medical Education liaison, who helped develop and teaches in the program.

The course provides a uniform and comprehensive national education program to help medical students safely and effectively participate in international rotations. It is an open-access course that’s available free-of-charge, Tupesis and his colleagues write in The Journal of Travel Medicine. Gabrielle Jacquet and Suzy Sarfaty from Boston University School of Medicine are co-authors of the Letter to the Editor.

“Many of our institutions were spending a tremendous amount of time putting together these global health programs with administrative components, financial components and logistics,” Tupesis says. “But they were spending little time in actually preparing the learners.”

Global health faculty from many countries and many specialties collaborated to complete the three-part course. It includes three segments:

  • The Big Picture, completed 6 to 12 months in advance of the international experience, looks at what students expect from a global health rotation and what experience will be right for their level of training.
  • Preparation and On the Ground, completed 1 to 3 months in advance of the experience, looks at the logistics of preparing for the trip, including topics from transportation and security to vaccinations and cultural awareness.
  • Reflection, completed near the end of the rotation, gives students tools to prepare to return, It includes information about dealing with unexpected feelings and health issues, and planning for the future.

March 14, 2017


Job posting: GHI is hiring two student interns

The Global Health Institute  (GHI) is hiring two interns who are interested in contributing to better health for all —humans, animals and the planet. Interns are vital to GHI, bringing their perspective, their energy and their enthusiasm to both operations and communication.

The general/education intern will begin in April and support office operations, as well as education, research and outreach activities. The communications/social media intern will begin in May with special responsibility for social media effort. Both positions will continue through the summer and the next academic year.

All students with the needed skills are invited to apply.

See the job postings at:

Students should be able to work 8 to 12 hours during the semester and up to 20 hours a week during the summer. Hours are flexible based on class schedule. Interns work mostly from the Global Health Institute office in the Medical Sciences Center.

Working for GHI gives students an opportunity to collaborate with staff, leadership and the GHI community on campus and across the world. Interns leave with knowledge and experience in areas as diverse as running an office, contributing to education programs, hosting events and managing communications for a cross-campus entity.