When this blog just served the History Department, we occasionally shared previews of new HIS courses. We’ll plan to do the same for Philosophy and Political Science courses in the months and years to come, but we’ll continue the course previews series with the first shared all-Hippos course, Applied Humanities Seminar.

For its debut semester this fall, Applied Humanities will focus on health care and be taught by history professor Chris Gehrz, who answered some questions below.

HIS/PHI/POS491 Applied Humanities Seminar: Health Care

Day/Time: Monday nights, 6:00-10:00, in Fall 2021

Prerequisites: senior standing; major declared in Business & Political Science, Digital Humanities, History, International Relations, Philosophy, Political Science, or Social Studies Education 5-12

Counts for: required capstone course in Business & Poli Sci, History, IR, Philosophy, and Poli Sci majors; capstone option in Digital Humanities; upper-level content area course in Social Studies Ed

Why a new capstone course?

As we came together into a single department, our faculty wrestled with the question of how to live into a shared “Hippos” identity while continuing to teach distinct disciplines that have different traditions, presuppositions, methods, and bodies of scholarship. So we decided to maintain separate majors… but have them converge in a single capstone course in which students and faculty from different disciplines would draw on their backgrounds to study a single topic, using the skills common to all our programs: reading, research, critical thinking, writing, speaking, etc.

What are the “applied humanities”?

You can find a much longer answer to that question at my personal blog (where I usually go to think things through in public), but briefly…

The first thing to say is that I love the humanities for their own sake. In history, for example, I’ll tell any student that the most important reason to major in our field is simply because you love it; and the best reason to pick a course or a research project is because you’re interested in it. The past doesn’t need to be relevant to the present to warrant study. (And for everything that I say below about “applying” humanities to the “real world,” let me underscore that the single biggest part of the Applied Humanities grade is an individual research/writing project in history, philosophy, or political science, on whatever topic connected to health care students choose.) If you just follow those instincts, I’m convinced that you’ll get a great deal out of your time in college.

But I’m equally sure that the methods and insights of history, philosophy, and political science can and should be applied in a number of ways — that they have other kind of value that become more and more apparent the farther you get from college classrooms. Most importantly, that kind of study can help Christians integrate their faith with their living, as people called to love our neighbors and do justice in this world. Such study can help us become more thoughtful, engaged participants in political and economic systems. And, yes, it can equip our students with the very skills employers — and graduate/professional schools — most want.

So a closing seminar that seeks to apply the humanities to a “real world” problem can serve as a final practice run for all the kinds of application that our graduates will be doing throughout their lives.

Beds at a new hospital in Mexico – CC BY 2.0 Presidency of the Mexican Republic

Why pick health care for the first Applied Humanities topic?

It’s hard not to start with COVID-19… We first started talking about it last summer, at an open-air meeting as department chairs prepared for our socially distanced, masked semester in Fall 2020. Fast-forward one year: the pandemic isn’t over, and the stress that it has placed on health care brings into relief several of the problems that we’ll talk about this fall: e.g., the ethical and political challenges that come with balancing competing priorities and values; ongoing debates about affordability and equity, and disparities in health outcomes based on factors like race and wealth; the effects on mental health of measures meant to mitigate the physical spread and effects of the disease.

But I would have picked this topic even without that nudge from current events. On a personal level, I’ve always been curious about it because so many of my loved ones work in health care: my dad is a retired pediatrician and medical researcher; my mom is a former nurse; my wife trained in occupational therapy and my sister in respiratory therapy.

And given how central health care is to our economy (soon to account for 20% of total GDP), it’s no surprise that it has increasingly become an institutional emphasis for Bethel, with undergraduate and graduate programs in health sciences and lots of other connections to the health care industry. (Have I mentioned that Bethel’s new president worked at Medtronic for many years?)

What excites you most about teaching this course?

Even at a liberal arts college like Bethel, we tend to think about health care as a matter for those studying the sciences, or perhaps business. But I think this semester will demonstrate that the humanities are as important if we really want to understand health care and resolve its problems.

The humanities-health care connection has become clearer to me as I’ve kept in touch with our alumni. Not only do we have graduates working in sales, underwriting, IT, and other administrative roles for companies like United Health and Allina, but some of our alumni have gone back to school to become doctors, dentists, nurses, and other kinds of clinicians.

In fact, our students will meet some of these alumni. Since my job as course instructor is less to be a content expert than a facilitator, I’ve spent a lot of prep time this summer identifying and scheduling guest speakers. They’ll come from a variety of backgrounds, but it’s especially exciting to line up Hippo alumni like Linda Maytan ’91 (a Political Science major who earned her D.D.S. and now directs dental policy for the state of Minnesota), Kim Pegelow ’05 (a History/Poli Sci major who got her nursing degree and now works in public health), Caleb Graff ’10 (a History/Social Studies Ed major who works on health care policy as a Congressional staffer in Washington), and Jordan Nelson ’13 (a Philosophy/Poli Sci major who now works for a bone marrow donation nonprofit).

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