In 2008, Center for Peace and Global Citizenship Executive Director Parker Snowe ’79 met with his old friend, David Wertheimer ’77, as part of an alumni tour of the West Coast. Wetheimer is now at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, working to eradicate homelessness in the Pacific Northwest. After noticing the number of rooms set up for videoconferencing at Gates Foundation headquarters, Snowe and Wetheimer brainstormed ways that the technology could enable Haverford students to connect with and learn from Gates Foundation activity. They ultimately decided to connect the students with Foundation staff in India who are engaged with HIV/AIDS issues. Students in the CPGC’s non-credit seminar on social medicine seemed an ideal fit for this extraordinary opportunity.
The seminar provides first- and second-year students the chance to explore global health issues. Led by upperclassmen and mentored by Pre-Health Advisor Michele Taillon Taylor, the seminar meets over six weeks in the spring semester. Regular sessions are augmented with a special event (last year the participants attended the Unite for Sight Global Health and Innovation conference at Yale University), and the student leaders enthusiastically embraced the idea of a two-way videoconference with the Gates staff as this year’s special event.
“The kids had done a lot of reading about the Avahan program [the Gates Foundation’s Indian AIDS initiative],” says Taylor. “It has become a paradigm for a sort of multi-pronged approach to AIDS prevention and AIDS reduction, and looks at structural, cultural and biological public health approaches to AIDS prevention involving the community. So the students were very well informed, and each student was prepared with a question.”
Taking into account the time difference between Pennsylvania and India, the social medicine seminar members assembled in Stokes 202, the location of the College’s video-teleconferencing equipment, at midnight on April 7. Tech Manager Roger Hill coordinated the technical aspects of the conference in coordination with his counterparts at the Gates Foundation.
After a brief summary of the Foundation’s work in India by Gates Foundation employees Aparajita Ramakrishnan and Pankaj Gupta, Haverford students asked prepared questions, which then led to a wide-ranging discussion.
“It’s really easy to read about wonderful things that people are doing, but it’s abstract,” says Taylor. “This made [the Foundation’s work] a little more tangible.”
The teleconference lasted an hour, and students say they enjoyed the opportunity to explore theoretical issues with practitioners in the field. For their part, the Gates team expressed enthusiasm for the thoughtful questions the Haverford students posed. Haverford’s Chief Information Officer Joe Spadaro tells us that this was the first time that the VTC equipment had been used to facilitate an international meeting of this nature at the College.
“I think it went really well,” says Taylor. “Students had great questions and were really well prepared, so there was an opportunity to dig a little more deeply and to really understand how complicated and demanding and challenging it is to set up these kinds of public health programs.”