In response to growing student interest in public health, Associate Professor of History David Hecht is teaching an interdisciplinary course entitled “Public Health and the Liberal Arts” this semester. The course exposes students to lessons in public health through a variety of academic fields from mathematics to romance languages. 

“This class is part of a larger initiative of the College on public health and liberal arts,” Hecht said. “I’ve been working with a group of faculty for a little over a year now to brainstorm ways that we could capitalize on the large student interest in the subject.” 

Although Bowdoin rarely offers interdisciplinary classes, Hecht knew that the course had to be an interdisciplinary one from its inception. 

“Interdisciplinary was the logical place for the class,” said Hecht. “We do not have one person on campus who specializes in public health. It made sense to then bring in expertise from around the College.” 

The class’ lecturers reflect its interdisciplinary nature. Bowdoin professors from departments as varied as romance Languages, environmental studies, and mathematics are all scheduled to speak over the course of the class. Hecht also invited six guest speakers from outside of the College, whose lectures will be open to the general public.

“I wanted to make sure that we had representation from across the College,” Hecht said. “I had no particular designs on a specific department.” 

Students interested in taking the class had to fill out an application, which included a short essay detailing what they hoped to get out of the class, why they were interested in public health and their previous experience with public health. They were also required to discuss an unusual assignment that had prepared them for taking the course. 

A total of 18 students were selected from the 36 who applied. About half of the students in the class are on the pre-med track. 

“There are people in the class who are philosophy majors, anthropology majors, government and legal studies majors,” said Dhivya Singaram ’17, who is enrolled in the class. 

“You can tell that there are going to be a wide range of experiences and skillsets that contribute to our learning, and I know that the professors geared the class to us building off of each other’s expertise and applying it to the study of public health,” she said. 

Both Hecht and the students taking the class acknowledge that many aspects of the class are still being tested, but they all hope that similar classes are offered in the future. 

“I think that sometimes Bowdoin doesn’t like to focus on pre-professional because they want to be very open to everything, but sometimes it is good to have something very specific to help students decide if that’s something that they want to do,” said Michael Walsh ’19. “Even if it’s not a class on public health, there should be classes that are focused on more specific professions.” 

Hecht said that lessons from the class could help inform future public health courses at Bowdoin.

“At the moment this is just an experimental one-time thing,” said Hecht. “But we are hoping that one of the results of this class is that it helps us think about how best we can create public health programming for students and faculty in the future.”