Back in the fall, a dozen Homewood undergraduates met
to discuss a speaker series for the
spring term focused on urban health issues. The students,
mostly public health studies majors and
student organization leaders, were trying to hash out how
many speakers to bring in, where and when
they would speak and, of course, who might agree to
At one point, a deep-sounding voice — which
belonged to James Goodyear, associate director of
the undergraduate Public Health Studies Program —
piped up from the back of the room.
"What about offering a for-credit course wrapped
around the speaker series?" Goodyear asked
those gathered. What followed, he said, was an awkward
"I wasn't sure what to think — if they were
excited about the idea, or if I had just laid the
biggest egg in the world," Goodyear said.
They were excited, and with that the die was cast for
Urban Health and Advocacy, a new one-credit course to
introduce students to topics in the field, with a special
emphasis on Baltimore City
and the role of socioeconomic factors associated with
The course, which debuted this spring term, centers on
a series of speakers from the Johns
Hopkins Bloomberg School
of Public Health, the Urban Health
Institute and the community.
Goodyear said that he wanted to expose students to
urban health and also take advantage of
the university's location and expertise in this area.
"There is a huge opportunity for us to educate on
urban health issues with Baltimore right here,
coupled with the resources of the Bloomberg School and the
Urban Health Institute," he said. "My
bigger hope is that Johns Hopkins undergrads can focus on
urban health during their time here. There
are plenty of students interested in international health,
infectious disease and the such — quite
understandably and rightfully so — but in urban
health there is profound and important work that needs
to be done."
The response to the course offering was
The course, capped at 50, filled up in less than two
days, despite the fact it was made available
after the official registration period and students had to
sign up in person. Goodyear said they could
have easily topped the 100 mark.
"It's exciting, and those who registered are not all
public health studies majors," he said. "It
just shows that Johns Hopkins students have a strong
interest in these issues."
The distinguished list of speakers for the class
includes Joshua Sharfstein, Baltimore City
health commissioner; Chris Gibbons, associate director of
the Urban Health Institute; Phil Leaf,
professor in the Department of Mental Health in the School
of Public Health; Jeff Singer, president
and CEO of Health Care for the Homeless; and Vincent
DeMarco, president of the Maryland
Healthcare for All Coalition.
Goodyear said that two students, junior Sonia Sarkar
and senior Adam Milam, were instrumental
in organizing the course, recruiting the speakers and
working out the logistics for each event. Sarkar
and Milam are both public health studies majors and
co–campus coordinators of the Baltimore chapter
of Project Health, a national volunteer program for
undergraduates that was introduced to Baltimore
in fall 2006.
Sarkar said that Goodyear has been "incredibly
supportive" of the students' efforts and praised
him for making this course a reality.
"We were a little skeptical of the idea at first;
there are already so many speaker series on
campus, and making one part of a for-credit course didn't
seem doable," she said. "But it's worked out
wonderfully, as now we have this large captive and engaged
audience for a new speaker every week. It
couldn't have worked out better."
In addition to the speakers, the course will offer a
bus tour of the city that features an
extended site visit to the 88-acre redevelopment effort by
East Baltimore Development Inc., located
just north of the medical campus, and a viewing of
Unnatural Causes, a four-hour documentary series
on PBS that explores America's racial and socioeconomic
inequities in health.
For their final project, each student will present a
photo essay of what urban health means to
him or her.
"We're hoping that the students will get really
creative with the projects," Goodyear said.
"That's the great thing about a course like this — we
can let them loose to be creative and really use