The ultimate goal of Unite for Sight’s GH/Innovate Global Health and Innovation Conferences is to improve the sight of millions of people all over the world, but for five Maryville College students, the 2010 conference served to improve their vision for the incredible health needs and opportunities to make a positive difference.
Nichole Cashen, Liz Embler, Susan Evans, Hannah Smith, LetaAnn Thompson and Dr. Angelia Gibson, assistant professor of chemistry, recently attended the event held at Yale University and described the conference as “eye opening.”
Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, an internationally known economist and director of the United Nations Millennium Project Millennium Development Goals, gave a keynote address at the conference, which was attended by more than 2,000 participants from all 50 states and more than 55 countries.
Session topics ranged from global eye health needs to responsible social entrepreneurship, food security and food production to global health policy and human rights.
“Traditionally global health issues have been approached scientifically and medically - diagnose and treat diseases,” Gibson explained. “Human rights approaches to global health call for changes in the social structures that lock people into poverty and reduce their access to basic necessities like clean water, sanitation and nutrient-rich diets. This more comprehensive approach to improving global health relies on collaborations between scientists, healthcare workers, policy makers, economists, anthropologists and most importantly, the people whose health suffers as a result of poverty.”
The students who attended the conference from Maryville were juniors and seniors and represented several academic divisions: Natural Science, Behavioral Science, Social Science and Humanities. Some have studied and volunteered abroad, some have plans for medical school and some have taken Gibson’s Senior Seminar 480 course, Global Poverty and Public Health.
All, according to Gibson, are passionate about improving the health of humans worldwide.
“I wanted to go because I thought the conference could help me figure out how to use my talents and expertise for something that I’m really passionate about,” said Cashen, who recently graduated with a major in religion and has spent summers in Bompata, a small village in the west African country of Ghana.
Hearing from keynote speakers and panelists at the conference who were experts in a variety of vocational fields, Cashen said she was convinced that she and her MC peers were well prepared for a variety of roles in global health. Her current plans are to study anthropology in graduate school and go on to work abroad in community development. Ending poverty is her passion.
“Maryville College has definitely stressed the importance of being well-rounded and having a broad base of knowledge, and I now feel great about that preparation,” she explained. “The conference clearly showed us how people are crossing disciplines to address problems.”
Funding for the travel to Yale and overnight stay in New Haven, Conn., was provided by the College’s Initiative on Vocation. The Initiative, funded in party by Lilly Endowment Inc., gives students an integrated four-year opportunity to explore and consider their future lives and work in relation to a sense of calling and wider purpose - and how that purpose relates to their religious faith or existential convictions.
Because of the conference’s emphases on interdisciplinary approaches to global healthcare, Gibson is hopeful that future Maryville College students will attend.
“People presenting and people attending had backgrounds in science but also law, economics and business, and they were all making contributions,” Gibson said. “Students learn that they can - and need to - approach problems from all angles.”