Tufts graduate students have an opportunity to explore nutrition from multiple angles through a variety of dual degree programs.
Looking back, Maina Muthee can pinpoint the night five years ago that changed his life. More than 100 wounded soldiers—teenage victims of Sudan's second civil war—had spilled into the battle-torn hospital that his team of relief workers had helped to rebuild. With few supplies and no medical training, Muthee sprang into action, blocking out the boys' cries while he helped the hospital's sole doctor treat their injuries. That gut-wrenching experience, says the graduate student, led him to Tufts.
"It was one of those moments when you realize that what you have been doing is not enough," says Muthee, who has been involved in humanitarian relief efforts in Africa since 1999. "Your reach as a ground soldier is very limited. I wanted to be a general in the war."
For Muthee, a 33-year-old native of Kenya, that meant furthering his education to give him a better sense of the policy issues that impact humanitarian crises around the world, particularly those in Africa. Drawn to Tufts in 2004 by the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Muthee quickly discovered the university's dual degree options for nutrition students, which involve The Fletcher School and Tufts School of Medicine. The opportunity to complement his Master of Science in Food Policy and Applied Nutrition from the Friedman School with a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy (MALD) from The Fletcher School enticed Muthee.
"I became interested in not only the nutrition component, but the economic component and [learning about] the instruments that can be used to develop sound policies for nutrition and economic development," says Muthee, who is among a small group of Friedman School graduate students doubling up on degrees from Tufts' professional schools. While it's a demanding undertaking, dual degree students agree that it's worth the extra effort.
While in Sudan, Muthee distributed food to displaced people in the country's Southern Blue Nile region. (Photo courtesy of Maina Muthee)
"Tufts has really given me an interdisciplinary education," says Melissa Rosen, who is slated to graduate this spring with a Master of Science (MS) from the Friedman School and a Master of Public Health (MPH) from Tufts School of Medicine. The 27-year-old Massachusetts native, also a student in Tufts' Water: Systems, Science, and Society (WSSS) certificate program, says that she's been able to explore her passion—water—from both the nutrition and public health angles.
"Water and sanitation are basic human rights, and they are also so connected with food," she says. "If you don't have access to clean water and sanitation, you are sick all the time, and you aren't able to absorb nutrients from food. Poor sanitation can also end up affecting agriculture and making other people sick."
Because Rosen sees nutrition and public health as being so interconnected, she jumped at the chance to study both at Tufts. According to Rosen, a real benefit of the dual degree program has been exposure to professors who have lived what they teach.
"All of the professors have great real-world experience and they bring that into the classroom," she says.
Having conducted public health research as an intern for a Massachusetts state senator in 2005, Rosen already has some practical experience of her own. Through the MPH program, she also designed her own field study, which took place in India last summer.
Along with a team of engineers and urban planners from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Rosen explored options for implementing low-cost sanitation technology in a community where women, who were not provided with any protective equipment, served as sanitation workers. Working on that project, Rosen saw her two areas of study collide.
"Everyone was aware that this was a health issue, and that handling raw human waste was going to lead to disease and a decreased life expectancy," she says. "I was able to bring to it the idea of nutrient loss from having diarrhea all the time and raise questions about the effect on the development of children in these communities."
Like Rosen, Rachel Bingham, a student in Tufts' dual degree program between the Friedman and Fletcher Schools, sees the value in being able to assess problems from multiple angles.
"That is how I like to understand an issue—from all of the different perspectives," says Bingham, who aspires to manage humanitarian relief projects in developing countries when she graduates in May.
Rachel Bingham worked with school teachers in southern Mauritania, Africa, to determine the impact of a community environmental education project. (Photo courtesy of Rachel Bingham)
Bingham, who originally applied only to The Fletcher School, says that the opportunity to add a nutrition focus to her global education is what sold her on the dual degree program. "I realized that it was a good complement to what I was studying at Fletcher."
After three years at Tufts, the 28-year-old Massachusetts native says she not only has a broader perspective, but better problem-solving skills, too.
"I have learned a lot about how to analyze an issue, break it down and then explain it to someone else—orally or written," says Bingham, who is also a member of the WSSS program. "I think that I have really learned how necessary it is to take a step back, look at an issue and not rush through it."
Taking a step back to look at the big picture is a skill that recent MS/MPH graduate Ken Chui has mastered, as well. Originally from Hong Kong, Chui, 32, says that coming to Tufts' Boston campus—where he studied at both the Friedman School and the School of Medicine—was an eye-opening experience for him.
"[My education] gave me a good picture of what is actually happening on a global scale and on a domestic scale," says Chui, who is currently pursuing his Ph.D. through Tufts' Food Policy and Applied Nutrition program at the Friedman School. "My classes provided a big picture of how health-and nutrition-related decisions are made, what the problems are around the world and most importantly, what we can do to make this a better place to live."
He adds that he will leave Tufts with more than two master's degrees and a Ph.D.
"I am equipped with some tools—ways to tackle problems," says Chui.
It's those tools that Muthee—who hopes to return to Africa to work for the United Nations after Tufts—seeks. By using those skills to influence policy change, he says, you can bring "lasting solutions" to problems in Africa and beyond.
"You can become a mover and shaker," says Muthee, who will graduate in May. He adds, "I see myself as part of a new generation of both African and world leaders."
Profile written by Meghan Mandeville, Tufts Web Communications.
Homepage photo by Joanie Tobin, Tufts Photo.
This story originally ran on February 26, 2007.