Diverse Student Group Adds to Richness of International Health Program

Posted: September 15, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Lori Jennings

“In our classes, we have different students from different backgrounds and different cultures,” says Grace Breidy, who is from Lebanon. “We learn not only from the professors, but also from each other. Everyone attracted to the program has traveled or lived elsewhere and has such a broad knowledge base to share.”

Breidy, a soon-to-be graduate of the Master’s of Health Science Program, with a concentration in international health, is one of about 50 students currently enrolled – up from just two when the program began nearly two years ago.

Students like Breidy in the small but quickly growing program credit the diversity of fellow students and professors as one of the most rewarding and valuable attributes of the program.

The students go through the program as a cohort, taking the same classes and getting to know their fellow students well. To supplement the course material, two practicums are provided – one usually held abroad and one held in Washington, D.C., that takes advantage of George Mason’s location.

Each student shares an interest in international health, but the similarity ends there.

For example, Norbu Gyari is ethnically from Tibet, was born and raised in India and is now an American citizen. She has long felt the desire to go abroad and help others. She recently had that chance when she completed her practicum in Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal.

She worked for John Snow International’s Nepal Family Health Planning and UNICEF’s Regional Office for South Asia, helping to educate people on fertility and family planning methods and proposing health plans for monks. After she graduates in December, she plans to return to her roots and further pursue the health plan proposal.

Amira Walli, a May 2006 graduate from Egypt, recently completed her practicum by working with the Pan American Health Organization and a subset of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Washington, D.C.

She worked alongside colleagues from all over the world, many with decades of experience. Her unit focused on tracking information on the avian flu, specifically how knowledge travels from various countries to WHO’s headquarters.

And Breidy landed a full-time job working on health, nutrition and population issues through her recent practicum at the World Bank, where she first started in the Middle East and North Africa region and then moved to the executive director’s office. She, too, wants to help others by working in the field of international health and is eager to make a difference in her home country through her influence in Washington, D.C.

“Our students make fantastic success stories,” says Lisa Pawloski, chair of the program. “We see students with already great experience in international affairs and health with NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) and other multilateral institutions move up into managerial roles or serve a key role in conducting research or developing new programs after completing the program.

“It’s truly a rewarding experience to know that our graduates are working to improve health issues, and subsequently people’s lives, all over the world.”

The program, which resides in the university’s College of Health and Human Services, was created to serve students interested in global health issues, particularly in developing countries. Course work ranges from biostatistics to epidemiology, health policy to global nutrition and anthropology to organizational culture and leadership.

Students interested in the program are required to have a background in health and six credits in a foreign language.

More information can be found online.

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