We asked Ned Sherry to tell us a bit about what he’s up to, and with his graduate studies in mind, we asked him to describe how useful our department’s curriculum was in preparing him for his program. Here’s his reply.
It’s pretty incredible how often the tools I learned in the CSOC SOAN department come up in graduate school. I just finished my first semester as a Master of Public Health candidate at the University of Minnesota. I am concentrating in environmental infectious diseases, with an eye towards global health. I cannot say enough great things about the hard skills learned, like actually knowing what an ethnography is, how to write one, and mastering SAS. However, there’s another aspect from these four years that stands out. This piece was not taught in one class, but learned from years of practice in the department — a hanging motif throughout the SOAN curriculum that I was unaware of at the time. What I’m talking about is cultural competency and an energy for curiosity.
This is the drive that pushes us toward unknown exploration; while giving us the tools to know how to function once we are there. It is being aware of the constellation of factors that influence life, from political instability, socio-economic influences and even to individual relationships.
I have seen humanitarian international development groups that lack this competency and curiosity while studying global health. So often humanitarian health groups move into an area with mindset that they are the change that will improve an area’s health — operating with a paternalistic mindset, plowing through a people’s way of life, ignoring needs that do not fit the health group’s paradigm. But to really improve health, to create sustainable change, requires cultural competency.
What I am referencing goes beyond being open-minded and unprejudiced; it means anticipating your own biases and closed-mindedness, even when you’re not aware of them. It’s one thing to say and be open to new and diverse perspectives, but it is a different level to be able to recognize your own hidden judgments below your consciousness. This is the key that is driven home in SOAN department, a skill that I did not see surface until I had already graduated.
In the example of global health, cultural competency is being aware that your comprehension of a people is limited and ,in fact, probably wrong. This means listening to the individuals whose lives you are there to improve, working with them, not over them. When you are able to release your inner compass, borrowing one from the lives you are surrounded by, it is possible to achieve sustainable global health change.
These learned skills are not restricted to global health. Regardless if you take this skill abroad or utilize it in a new setting here in the United States, this training prepares you to problem-solve in situations where others feel uncomfortable and unprepared. As current members and alumni of this department we are individuals that are primed for curiosity and trained to thrive in new surroundings. The key is recognizing we possess the tools, using them in careers, relationships and everyday life.
That’s really great to hear, Ned. We hope to hear from you again in the coming years, and let us know if you ever return to this neck of the woods.