Each fall and spring, students from around the world return to classes at top universities — along with many JSI employees. As professors at schools ranging from Harvard University in Boston to Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, JSI experts share the experience they’ve gained in the field and the office with undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, demonstrating practical applications for the students’ technical and theoretical foundations in public health.
JSI president and co-founder Joel Lamstein, who has co-taught a course at Harvard for the past decade, calls JSI’s engagement with academia the company’s “commitment to the community.” He explains that encouraging JSI employees to teach the next generation of public health professionals not only shares JSI’s learning and best practices, but also improves the organization itself.
“It’s good for us, because we hear directly from students what their concerns are. We also learn what young people want in an organization. The only way you know that is to ask them,” Lamstein said.
While he didn’t plan on becoming a professor, Lamstein’s class at the Harvard School of Public Health, “Foundations of Global Health,” is required coursework for all public health Master’s students.
Often, staff find both knowledge and enthusiasm come from a direct connection with students.
Senior research scientist Tom Mangione encounters this connection with students in the Survey Research Methods class he teaches each fall and spring at Boston University and Harvard University, respectively. This year he will also teach four lectures for Harvard’s Research Methods in Public Health course in Saudi Arabia
“I like the process of mentoring new people coming into public health and teaching them how to collect high-quality survey data” Mangione said.
Mangione found that through the mentoring experience, his students’ desire to understand new online survey methods encouraged him to research the new technology himself — theoretical expertise he is able to apply directly to his work at JSI.
Senior advisor Michelle Samplin-Salgado also finds incredible value in the diverse array of projects she’s been exposed to at JSI. When preparing for her Health Communications course at Tufts University this year, she drew heavily from the projects she works on every day and included fellow JSI staffer Elizabeth Costello as a guest lecturer to expand the course’s scope.
“I incorporate lots of case studies in my class,” she said, “and my students appreciate real examples from my JSI work.”
“In an academic environment you always have a tendency to speak from a kind of an ‘ivory tower,’” Lippeveld said. “By working with JSI, my teaching has become more field-oriented.”
Lippeveld co-teaches a health and information systems master’s level class called “Using Health Information for Health System Improvement” at Brandeis University with several JSI colleagues, including Deirdre Rogers, Herman Willems, Sabrina Eagan, David Boone, and Mike Edwards.
Five years ago, because he felt he lacked the field experience his students needed to hear for a holistic perspective on public health, he pursued a field position with JSI and spent three years living and working in Liberia. During this time he continued to teach, flying back for several sessions of his Brandeis class.
Real world examples are designed to not just provide interesting class material — they’re intended to give students the tools to influence their communities.
Tammy Calise, a senior research scientist, has taught a course on obesity that she designed at Boston University for the last three years. Calise’s class, called “The Obesity Epidemic: Moving from Individual to Environmental and Policy Approaches for Promoting Physical Activity and Healthy Eating” is the only course on obesity at Boston University’s School of Public Health. A core goal of the class is gaining experience with hard skills.
“I really want the students to learn practical skills — I want them to learn how to convince a decision maker that changing policy and creating a healthy environment in that organization or community is important.”
Across the globe in Ethiopia, strategic and partnership director for Strengthening Ethiopia’s Urban Health Program (SEUHP) Zelalem Adugna co-teaches Healthcare Leadership at Addis Ababa University, School of Public Health with the goal of inspiring students to see their nation’s future with optimism.
“I like empowering my students with knowledge, and more importantly, with the right attitude to create the next generation of leaders for my country. I like my students to feel confident and see the future with hope. I enjoy creating ‘change agents’,” Adugna said.
The knowledge that students gain in the classroom is directly linked to their later performance as public health professionals in the field.
In Zambia, SHARe II deputy chief of party Michael Chanda lectures on the weekends at the University of Lusaka for three courses, two on Health Systems Development and Policy (one for postgraduate and another for undergraduate students), and a postgraduate course on Health Entrepreneurship.
He sees preparing future public health professionals as a responsibility to facilitate learning.
“The best thing that I’ve learned from my students is that often, students know a lot more than what they think they do. What they need is someone to help them to express themselves freely in an environment of learning, free thinking, and sharing knowledge. I often encourage my students to express themselves and say what they have to say, even when they don’t think it is correct, because that is the platform on which new ideas are born, that is the platform on which mistakes are going to be corrected rather than wait to put into action wrong concepts in the field after graduation, ” Chanda said.
Geographic information systems (GIS) analyst Imelda Moise also sees her work at the University of Miami teaching “GIS for Health and Environment” as a way to give back to the next generation of public health experts.
“The most important moment for me as a health geographer is when I see people starting to make connections between their generated map and the issue they are trying to solve,” she said. “When students take a class from me, when they leave they have to at least be comfortable enough to apply whatever they learned in my classroom in a real setting. I believe that I am not only here to impart knowledge but also to build skills.”
First-time professor Karyn Madore sees teaching as an extension of not just her work at JSI, but the further integration of her two academic subjects — advertising and counseling. In addition to her work as a senior consultant for JSI, she is teaching a Health Communication and Marketing class at Rivier University in Nashua, New Hampshire this fall.
“I think I bring a different perspective. Hopefully a fresh perspective. I feel like my background in marketing and counseling, my recent online graduate work, and my work at JSI have come together at the right time for me to begin teaching,” Madore said.
Other JSI staff also find strong connections between their own work as students and their responsibilities as professors.
Paula Nersesian is currently pursuing her PhD in Nursing at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, where she teaches two courses, a public health nursing clinical and a genetics module for a graduate pathophysiology course, in addition to part-time work as a consultant for JSI.
“I’ve found that being a student myself allows me to have perspective on the student’s workload and their need for time to work together on group activities,” Nersesian said.
Professional development is a key reason Lamstein encourages the JSI staff to pursue academic opportunities.
“I think it adds to who they are, it adds to their breadth of knowledge. It’s good for JSI to have people around who are enthusiastic about what they do, who don’t do just one thing over many years, but who vary what they do,” Lamstein said.
Melissa Sharer, project director for JSI’s Live Learn & Play project, started teaching last year and is currently leading her second social work research course, in addition to a human development and psychopathology class at The Catholic University of America.
“The secret that no one talks about when you teach is that you’re getting paid to learn,” Sharer said. “It’s a way to keep me sharp on both my skill sets — mental health and research which are key, I think, to me being a better performer at JSI.”
For both himself and other JSI employees, Lamstein sees academia as a productive outlet to not only engage with the community, but also to provide staff with opportunities to grow and thrive beyond JSI.
“The kind of work we do is very intense,” Lamstein says. “It’s project management, dealing with funders, meeting deadlines. There’s not a lot of slack. Teaching moves away from that a bit. And the more we can encourage people to think and be just a little different, the more helpful it is to keep JSI current and connected so we can be even more innovative.”