Global health community mourns loss of Robin Mittenthal

Read tributes to Robin Mittenthal here.

The UW-Madison global health, entomology and many other campus communities lost a good friend and colleague this weekend. Robin Mittenthal, who managed the Undergraduate Certificate in Global Health for six years before being named center coordinator for the Midwest Center of Excellence for Vector Borne Disease, died in a farm accident. His passion for agriculture, health, his children and his students made him a big presence in many lives. We send our sympathies to all his family, friends and colleagues. He will be missed.

This post will be updated as more information is available.

Remembering Robin Mittenthal

Mittenthal will be remembered at a grief session for faculty and staff from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. today (Tuesday, Dec. 5) in the conference room in 116 Ag Hall.

A grief session for students will be from 4 to 5 p.m. today (Tuesday, Dec. 5) in 38 Ag Hall. A grief counselor will be available.

His funeral will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at Cress Funeral Home, 6021 University Avenue. Visitation begins at 10 a.m.

Read the Badger Herald’s story. 

Apply now for Medical Spanish for Health Science Students

Health science students are invited to apply now for Medical Spanish (Medical Sciences 622-735). The class helps students improve their Spanish-language skills in a medical interviewing context and effectively interact with Spanish-speaking patients from the community. Students earn one credit in the class taught by Araceli Alonso, R.N., Ph.D., an associate faculty member in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies and the School of Medicine and Public Health.

Apply here

Applications will be accepted beginning Monday, December 4, 2017. Deadline for applications is by midnight Wednesday, January 10, 2018. Students will be notified of acceptance by Friday, January 19, 2018. Students should not register for the course prior to notification of acceptance. Students currently enrolled in health professions programs are given priority for acceptance into the course.

Two sections of the course will be taught spring semester 2018 on the same evening (note time differences below). The Intermediate Section is designed for students who have solid Spanish speaking ability (are able to communicate in a number of interactive social and task-oriented encounters) and good oral comprehension skills. The Advanced Section is designed for students who are near or completely fluent in speaking and comprehension and can effectively initiate and sustain a wide variety of conversations with finesse. Students should indicate on the application which section they prefer for placement consideration.

Course Dates

  • 10 weekly sessions: Thursdays, February 1 to April 19 (no class March 22 or 29)
  • The Intermediate Section will meet from 5:30 to 7 p.m.; the Advanced Section will meet from 6:15 to 7:45 p.m.
  • Classes meet in 1309 HSLC.

Class Features

  • Pertinent medical vocabulary for clinical histories and physical exams
  • Grammar component to facilitate effective and professional communication
  • Small group interaction with native Spanish speakers serving as “teaching patients”
  • Information about cultural practices unique to the Hispanic community and working with interpreters
  • An opportunity to gain insight into a different culture’s concerns and a better understanding of the diversity in the Madison area
  • Practice scenarios that relate to medicine, pharmacy, nursing, PA, PT, and veterinary medicine students

Minimum of Intermediate level Spanish speaking skills are required for the course. Course enrollment is limited. A completed online application is required for admission. Students are required to attend eight of 10 sessions to receive credit.

No tuition or fees are charged for full-time students. Purchase of course book ($11.95), available at UW Bookstore in HSLC, is required for the Intermediate Section only.

Professor Wins Award for Research on Genocide

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UW-Madison political science professor Scott Straus has won the 2018 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order for his book “Making and Unmaking Nations: War, Leadership, and Genocide in Modern Africa.”

The University of Louisville presents the $100,000 award annually for outstanding works in ideas improving world order, psychology, education, music composition and, in conjunction with Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, religion. The Ideas Improving World Order award is a major honor in the field of political science, with roughly 50 nominations sent from around the world each year, says award director Charles Ziegler.

In Making and Unmaking Nations, Straus – who specializes in the study of genocide, political violence, human rights and African politics – explains how ideas and political messages can become tipping points for genocide. His research examines patterns and circumstances that have resulted in genocide and contrasts those with similar situations where genocide seemed likely to happen but did not.

“The book is about trying to understand how and why genocide happens,” Straus says. “The premise is to examine not just those cases where it did but also near misses. In doing so, I sought to isolate the dynamics and factors that distinguish genocide cases from non-genocide cases, and from there to develop a general theory of genocide.”

“Straus’s work alerts us to the circumstances under which genocide emerges and he identifies key points when action by national leaders, and efforts by the international community, can halt the slide into mass violence,” Ziegler says.

Straus became interested in genocide while working as a journalist in the mid-1990s covering the aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda and a related ward in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In his 13 years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he has taught several courses on genocide and related topics and is grateful for the students who have shown interest in the subject. Straus worked on Making and Unmaking Nations for nearly a decade, with support including Vilas Associates and H.I Romnes Faculty Fellowship awards.

“I am very pleased that the award committee chose a book about genocide for its selection on improving world order,” Straus says. “There are many pressing global challenges. To me, understanding and preventing genocide remains a global priority, but I worry that such a view is not widely shared. The award, I hope, will bring renewed attention to the topic.”

New Certificate Brings Humanities Into Health Care Studies

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Last spring in a Biology and Society course, Makenzie Wydra had an aha moment. Health, she realized, isn’t just the way diseases form and how the body responds to medicines and treatments. It’s so much more, from the way notions of health have developed over time to how individuals and groups experience health care.

Makenzie Wydra. Photo by Sarah Morton, College of Letters & Science

The class, taught by assistant professor of history Nicole Nelson, explores the history of biotechnologies, ethics and how scientific developments both shape and are shaped by society. It was exciting to Wydra, who had already taken several science courses as a biology major planning a career in nursing.

“All the rest of my classes were formulas and memorization,” says Wydra, now a junior. “This introduced how things happened. It was a brief overview but it made me want to learn more.”

She is now getting that chance, as one of the first students admitted to a new certificate program that examines historical, cultural and philosophical ways people make decisions about health care.

The Health and the Humanities Certificate is a five-course, 15-credit program designed to give students a fuller and more nuanced understanding of health that complements study in the biosciences.

It stems from a problem Dija Selmi and Susan Nelson noticed a few years back while working at the Center for Pre-Health Advising, which sees about 3,000 students a year and helps about 500 apply to medical school annually. The advisors saw that students were excelling academically and gaining strong experience in labs, yet they weren’t well-versed in the bigger picture of health care.

And they weren’t ideally prepared for the Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, which in 2015 was revamped to include sections on social and behavioral determinants of health and critical and analytical reasoning skills.

The advisors knew the university had a variety of classes on health — in departments ranging from Gender and Women’s Studies to anthropology, and history to English — and worked to bring faculty from those disciplines together to create the certificate program.

Certificate director Nicole Nelson says courses that count toward the certificate make students aware of the cultural, religious and other backgrounds that people bring with them when they interact with the health care system — and that gaining an understanding of these perspectives gives them a competitive edge.

“There’s a trend toward medical schools nationally seeking out students who are more well-rounded,” Nelson says, adding that the health care industry has increasingly focused on interpersonal aspects of the field as well.

Students begin by enrolling in one of five core classes — Biology and Society, 1950–Today; Bodies, Diseases and Healers: An Introduction to the History of Medicine; Introduction to Social Medicine; Literature and Medicine; or Exploring Religion in Sickness and Health — before they apply to the certificate.

If accepted, they then take two intermediate or upper-level courses with a focus on health and illness in social context, as well as a cultural competency class that may not necessarily focus on health and illness but that considers the experiences of at-risk or underserved populations in health care. They finish with a capstone, either through a special Health and the Humanities class or a health-focused service-learning course.

Certificate advisor Julia Dauer says some students have expressed concern about how much reading and writing the program will entail, since most of their sciences courses utilize problem sets, lab experiments and multiple-choice tests.

“The modes of assessment are so different,” she says.

But those different approaches ultimately will help students be able to communicate better and use evidence in discussions and debates about health. And the certificate helps organize coursework so students can gain expertise in an area.

Judy Houck, co-director of the certificate who teaches a class about the cultural history of disease, says students are often surprised when a course piques their interest in a new way. Some like learning about how elements of health care have changed over time, while others gravitate to “thorny” issues such as how to weigh individual rights against the public’s health.

Houck believes the certificate will prepare students to be better future doctors, nurses and pharmacists who know that “the patient sitting in front of you is not a mere physiological problem to be solved.”

But she also hopes aspiring policymakers, playwrights and other types of professionals see value in studying health in conjunction with the humanities.