An Introduction to the New Global Health Initative on Campus: Interview with Jake Moskol

Since March 2010, Jake Moskol has supported the coordination, programming, project planning, and facilitation needs of UW-Madison’s Global Health Initiative (GHI). Before coming to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he worked as a project manager at Epic implementing health information systems for health care networks around the United States. He earned an undergraduate degree from UW-Madison and a master’s degree from the University of Michigan.


Jake Moskol



Could you give the people who don’t know about GHI a quick summary of the Initiative?

It is a campus-wide initiative of the Chancellor and Provost with leadership from 14 UW-Madison faculty members, stretching across 12 disciplinary units on campus with Professor Jeremi Suri and Dean Jeanette Roberts serving as co-chairs.  The Initiative strives to promote global health education, service-learning, and research, with a special emphasis on research. We do this by offering a platform for people across campus to share ideas, build a community, and form new trans-disciplinary collaborations that will address complex global health problems in new ways. Specifically, we’re interested in encouraging our campus to think about the upstream social and environmental determinants of global health problems.

What are some of the activities you are planning?

At the moment, we have a couple of key features we are working on. One is an interdisciplinary workshop series we are calling the GHI Incubator. This series will happen alternating Monday afternoons at the new Town Center in the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery. We will have two faculty speakers per event, each speaking for 15-20 minutes before engaging the attendees in a dialogue. Again, we want to provide a space where the campus can engage, share, and discuss these problems as they set out to pursue solutions. We will kick-off the series in the early portion of the spring 2011 semester and run it for eight alternating weeks. On the off-weeks, we  intend to help coordinate some student-centered forums that will drive from the same themes presented in the Incubator series. Both will be framed around the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Millennium Development Goals. In that way, each session will discuss a specific global health challenge vis a vis one of the goals. Professors Jeremi Suri and Jonathan Patz are coordinating the content for the series now.

The other related feature is a Request for Proposal (RFP), which we expect to call for later this semester. We expect to receive proposals for projects from those who attended the incubator events and from there, offer seed funding to the most competitive proposals. Ultimately, we would like to see the funded projects spin off into larger ventures that attract funding from sources external to the university. Dean Jeanette Roberts and Professor Chris Olsen are leading this RPF piece.

We also expect to have a couple of larger events over the next calendar year, one possibly integrating with the Wisconsin Alumni Association’s International Convocation of 2011 and another aligned with the European Union Center of Excellence. We have a sub-committee led by Laura Heisler [Director of Programming, WARF] and Tom Oliver [Professor, Population Health] that is working on programming for these events.

The Incubator, the RFP, and other events are exciting aspects of the GHI but the real test will be how well we are able to engage on these fronts with the whole of our campus. To that end, we have Nancy Mathews [Director, Morgridge Center for Public Service] and John Ferrick [Director, CALS International Programs] leading our Engagement subteam, which pursues creative ways to communicate and engage people across campus with our work.

You state your thematic focus over the next three years to be: understanding root causes, anticipating emerging problems, and innovating new solutions. Why do you think these three areas should be the main focus of the Initiative?

My own opinion is that a large research university like ours is well suited to frame global health problems in this way. We are particularly well equipped to perform discovery through research, spur innovation, and do evaluations to find out what works and what doesn’t. I think our thematic focus captures this. A challenge for us in the future will be to apply these innovations to problems in the real world. That will be an important component. We want to ensure that we are remaining action-oriented and pragmatic.

What are the root causes and common dynamics for contemporary global health problems?

It’s one of the questions I hope contributors to our Initiative will help us answer. What we want to do is offer a platform to our colleagues on campus for responding to this question. It’s our challenge to the campus at large: What are the root causes or upstream social or environmental determinants and how does each discipline see itself contributing to the problems at hand? My own opinion is that there is room for all disciplines to come to the table and make a contribution. In fact, I see it as necessary for us to arrive at the most effective solutions.

What are the potential areas (new, unexplored) for interdisciplinary collaboration on the Madison campus that could address these root causes?

The possibilities are limitless right now. That said, I think there are some areas that are particularly attractive for us because of our competitive advantage in these areas and their visibility away from the campus as well. I’m hopeful the Incubator and the RFP will bring a diverse set of disciplines together to address global health as it relates to food and agriculture, women’s issues, mobile health, and diplomacy and national security, just to name a few.

Part One: RFP Call, Fall 2010

The proposals need to address root causes and common dynamics for contemporary global health problems. Can you give an example(s) of root causes, common dynamics of modern global health problems, and unexplored areas of interdisciplinary collaboration on campus that may address these root causes?

You are able to find a connection to global health in nearly every discipline. Healthcare is a common human need and so I think contributions and examples are varied and plentiful. Water is a simple example of something that everyone needs and many have access to it, but it can be very problematic. There are a number of water-borne parasitic diseases that threaten low resource areas and populations around the world. Some can be addressed with medicine and some cannot. Guinea worm is an example where there are no medicines or vaccines to address it so it becomes an issue of human behavior and education. In this case, the prevention measure is primarily one of health education and some low-end technologies like water filters. With this example, I would expect to see educators, health professionals, engineers, and perhaps anthropologists involved in solving this problem.  It requires an interdisciplinary approach where the medical sciences are necessary but not sufficient unto themselves to solve the problem. In any case, the key is doing these kinds of interventions with local partnerships and by invitation so there is mutual learning and respect.

Photo Credit: Abrianna Hau Barca, Center for Global Health, Ecuador Field Course

Part Two: Global Health Incubator, spring 2011

What kind of faculty members will speak at the “Global Health Incubator” (expertise, department, etc.)?

We’re still discussing potential content areas and speakers. What we do know is that we will structure the dialogue with the United Nations Development Program Millennium Goals as a backdrop. We think the goals provide a useful context and one that is quite accessible and visible for the campus at large. The goals tend to be very inclusive of all disciplines so that aligns well with our purpose as a group striving to inspire interdisciplinary collaborations.

In terms of format, we will have two speakers and then a discussion afterwards. We want to come at the issue from the top down and bottom up; that is, one speaker who can address the question from a broad, macro perspective and one person who interacts with the realities of the problem of the ground. We expect the speaker to be mostly faculty but it might be that not all of them are squarely doing global health work. Hopefully, we’ll find people who are experts in their disciplines and also have a new contribution to make to this area.

For the symposium in early 2011, would you like to see local Madison business and organizations collaborate with the proposal teams? Does this mean groups outside of the university may fiscally sponsor the proposals; will they pool resources for the projects?

We are in the planning phase for our 2011 events but in general, yes, we would like to engage the broader Madison community. It’s important to know that our definition of global health includes the local community and the state of Wisconsin. My opinion is that anyone can engage in global health work just by walking out their front door. I heard a good example of this recently. A journalist and a professor in Seattle collaborated to provide an undergraduate communications course on global health. So, the challenge was providing a global health journalism experience without leaving the United States. What did they do? They assigned students to pursue stories around the health care experience of immigrants in the local community. I thought that was a really creative and effective approach.

Part Three: RFP Submissions, Summer 2011

What types of projects may be submitted next summer to being in the fall of 2011; what types of projects would you like to see?

I think the topical nature of the projects will depend on how the university community imagines themselves as part of this initiative. The Initiative is broadly about providing a platform for creative problem solving. I hope we see projects that represent novel, trans-disciplinary collaborations that create opportunities to produce some really innovative results that can be applied to solve problems. I’m hoping we see projects that create a dialogue but also invite real action.

Where is the money to fund the projects coming from?

We are receiving internal campus money to seed fund the project. Our ambition is to have these projects develop in a way that attracts more funding from large external donors. I think that will be one indicator of our success.

Part Four: Project launch, Fall 2011

When you talk about “project close-out and evaluation processes will follow upon completion,” what do you mean by this?

I think this goes back to our will to stay results-oriented. We want to ensure that the project does what it set out to do and I think measuring that on a project-by-project basis will be the responsibility of the individual investigators. But within the GHI, we would like to track the projects as a whole to know what’s working. We are going to be very outcome-oriented and will be able to evaluate the projects based on their level of achievement and ability to solve real problems.

GHI Retreat Visioning Exercise


Are you looking to incorporate the student body beyond those who are involved in the proposals? Could some of the proposals turn into student- run campaigns or organizations?

That’s a great question. In my own opinion, student involvement is critical to creating a real genuine and organic groundswell of interest and participation campus-wide. I personally would like to explore partnerships with student-based organizations with interests common to the GHI. I think there is potential for some beneficial synergies in doing so, especially in the area of research.

What are some ways you will or have been promoting GHI?

Doing interviews are great! We also have a Web site: But we are also dependent upon those people who have already started to engage with the GHI. We have had two campus-wide retreats, one last March and another in May. We had about 80 people from more than a dozen campus units in attendance at each event. Both were instrumental in shaping our thematic purpose, which was driven by our core faculty team and our retreat attendees. So that sort of engagement is a start but we are also looking at working with University Relations and the Chancellor’s Office to ensure that we are known across campus. We want to stay visible and accessible since this is an initiative that belongs to everyone on campus.

By Flannery Geoghegan, Division of International Studies