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Vassar Forges Partnership with Innovative Medical School in Rwanda

Vassar College and the University of Global Health Equity (UGHE), an innovative medical school in Rwanda, have forged a partnership that will help the medical school blend the liberal arts into its curriculum, officials from both institutions announced today.

In a ceremony on the Vassar campus, Vassar President Elizabeth Bradley and Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, Vice Chancellor of UGHE, signed an agreement forming the unique partnership. The alliance calls for members of Vassar’s faculty to teach classes in the humanities and sciences that are part of the liberal arts component of UGHE’s medical school curriculum. Following the signing, President Bradley and Dr. Agnes Binagwaho planted a Rwandan flag amidst flags of other African countries represented in Vassar’s student body.

Bradley visited Rwanda last December to explore the partnership, about a month before the medical school opened. She called the new venture a natural extension of Vassar’s role in higher education. “The core values embodied in the curriculum of the University of Global Health Equity align perfectly with our values at Vassar,” Bradley said. “They believe, as we do, that a background in the liberal arts will make their students better doctors. The opening of this institution will change the way medical education is delivered in Africa.”

Dr. Binagwaho said the partnership would help UGHE fulfill its mission as an institution that provides some of “the best education on earth, and to do so, we have to partner with the best.”

“Having a partnership with Vassar will help us provide a liberal arts education that will make our clinicians better clinicians,” she continued. “Research has shown that doctors and nurses that are educated in the liberal arts have better interactions with their patients and are able to collaborate better among themselves.”

Bradley said the partnership would not only benefit UGHE but Vassar as well. “This new collaboration is really going to enrich our campus, the lives of our students and our faculty,” she said. “When you engage with a different culture that is thinking about equity, you learn new ways to think about the issue. And suddenly, the world doesn’t seem quite so large and quite so different.”

Other UGHE representatives at the ceremony included Dr. Marissa Mika, Head of Humanities and Social Sciences; Librarian Anthony Kiuna, and Research Associate Kateri Donahoe.

The first contingent of Vassar faculty to participate in the partnership will travel to Rwanda this summer to teach three-week courses in African history, psychology and political science in collaboration with the faculty at UGHE. Vassar faculty involved on the planning of the new curriculum include Professor of Psychological Science Abigail Baird, Professor of Psychological Science Michele Tugade, Assistant Professor of History Sam Opondo, and Professor of History Ismail Rashid.

Rashid, who has been involved in the planning for the partnership since its inception, said at least 10 Vassar faculty members have expressed interest in teaching at UGHE. Rashid introduced Paul Farmer, the co-founder of UGHE, to Vassar officials in 2018 during an exploratory visit to Uganda with President Bradley, Professor of Biology Jodi Schwarz, and Special Assistant to the President Wesley Dixon.

“This new partnership opens up opportunities for Vassar to participate in the development of the University of Global Health Equity through collaborative curriculum development, co-teaching, and sharing of educational experiences,” Rashid said. “It is expected to be mutually beneficial and transformative, supporting the creation of a solid liberal arts foundation for UGHE’s medical program while contributing to Vassar’s ongoing re-imagination of the liberal arts and building a 21st-century global campus. Students from both institutions will be an integral part of the partnership.”