How do you learn about global health issues during a pandemic? Because of travel restrictions, two mennonite organizations, Goshen College and the Mennonite Central Committee, piloted an online class to replace international learning.

Both organizations found themselves in a similar predicament. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, GC’s Study Service Term (SST) and the MCC’s counterparts, such as Serving and Learning Together (SALT), had to adapt to continue global learning without travelling. The result was the Global Health Virtual Practicum. According to an article by the MCC, this is a year-long class meeting every Saturday for two hours beginning in Oct. 2020. 

In total, 15 students participated: five from Goshen College who had the option to take the class for SST-alt credit and the remaining ten students joined with connections to MCC. 

Abby Hochstetler, a senior year biochemistry major, planned to go to Ecuador for SST. When that was cancelled, she met with Jan Bender Shetler, Director of International Education. 

“We were just trying to figure out my options. And she told me this might be a class,” Hochstetler recalled before the class was confirmed. 

When it was, Hochstetler’s advisor sent her a pampleft. The global health class also lined up with Hochstetler’s interests as she has been playing around with the idea of going to medical school. She was also very interested in making connections with MCC and the other participants. 

Joe Wheeler, a senior year biochemistry major, also took the class for SST-alt credit. 

“I was supposed to go to Senegal for SST… but then the pandemic happened,” Wheeler said. “I took SST-alts over the summer but I knew I wanted to do something different than just more core classes.”

“I worked with Jan [Shetler] to figure out how it could fill in the rest of my credits,” Wheeler said. “I needed the credits and this worked pretty well for that.”

Neither student was sure what the class would involve. Because it was a pilot class, nobody really knew what was happening. 

“Our professors are trying to figure it out at the same time we are,” said Hochstetler. “We just have to be flexible.”  

“I was thinking it would be similar to other courses where you get information and write it down, regurgitate it, and do a final paper or something like that,” Wheeler explained, agreeing with Hochstetler. 

Wheeler appreciated the diverse backgrounds of the students. Some members, he explained, were joining from South Korea, Nepal, Canada and Bangladesh. 

“Throughout the course I have gotten a wide, or diverse perspective on global issues,” Wheeler said. “And since we are in the pandemic, we got current events…. related to a variety of locations from around the world.” 

A theme in the class’ discussion was colonialism’s impact on global health. Hocshtetler recalled the discussion began with a lecture trying to get that base understanding so we’re all on the same page. The class continued to develop the discussion throughout the class.

“Something that I have learned through this course and other classes is how to understand different intersections, social and historical context of people, and to make better health approaches,” Hochstetler said. “The legacy of colonialism is why certain groups of people have different health outcomes and are treated differently.”  

MCC acknowledged in their article past mistakes, and are working to reshape how to serve local communities. Wheeler recalled how MCC works with, and gets feedback, from community leaders. By doing so, Wheeler explained, helps organizations learn how to serve the needs of the people, and decrease project failures in the future.

Wheeler offered an example from his past experience with MCC. 

“A lot of the time projects go in and implement without asking what the communities they are going to really need,” he said. “So there’s a disconnect between people trying to serve and what their goals are.”

Both Hochstetler Wheeler feel the class should be offered again in the future. 

“Overall it’s been a good experience and beneficial to keep moving forward,” Hochstetler said. “Students are looking for more application based classes and forming relationships with classmates outside of the Goshen College community has been really nice.” 

Wheeler offered similar sentiments. 

“There’s a purpose other than just getting a grade or learning about global health. You have a broader understanding of global health.”

Students are currently doing project evaluations with MCC that will conclude the class, according to MCC.