New minor prepares students to address diverse health issues around the world

Betsy Matos speaking with two male students in her Global Health Disparities class.
Betsy Matos, assistant teaching professor of global resource systems and assistant director of environmental health and safety, speaks with students in her Global Health Disparities class last semester. This is just one of the classes Iowa State University students enrolled in the new global health minor will take. Photo by Christopher Gannon/Iowa State University

Students interested in a career in human health will benefit from the new global health minor being offered at Iowa State University.

Betsy Matos, assistant teaching professor of global resource systems and assistant director of environmental health and safety, is one of the people involved in creating the minor. She and other professors reviewed existing classes at Iowa State, as well as peer institutions, that are relevant to global health.

“We tried to come up with a way to incorporate what we call the social determinants of health – transportation, agriculture, income, education – into what students would need to get a comprehensive global health minor,” Matos said.

In this curriculum, students will learn how to identify critical issues regarding global health and ask the right questions in order to create effective solutions. Matos said studying global health is beneficial to any field, including medicine, nursing, community regional planning, agriculture, business and education.

“We have all the classes and resources to attract more students who are interested in going into human health,” Matos said. “Just because we don’t have a medical school or a public health school does not mean we are not ready to meet the challenge of making sure those individuals who are interested in human health can achieve that.”

Students who declare this minor are required to take two classes: Global Health, and Insects and Our Health. They need a minimum of three credits from both the biological science track and the social science track, as well as an additional three credits from either track to meet the minor’s required 15 credits.

Sarah Smith, senior in microbiology, has already taken Insects and Our Health. She is interested in plant, animal and human health. Learning about insects was key to her understanding potential vectors and diseases, like those associated with mosquitoes and other arthropods.

“The class and lab really helped me understand how different organisms can transmit diseases,” Smith said. “I never really got hands-on experience until I decided to incorporate this minor into my degree plan and took that course.”

Lauren Williams, junior in biology, has also declared this minor. Like Smith, she is interested in how diseases are spread among insects, animals and humans. Williams sees herself in a career similar to experts working to end the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Studying infectious disease is learning how it multiplies, how it’s transmitted, how it reacts to certain antibacterial and antiviral drugs,” Williams said. “I am planning on traveling to where there are hot spots of different outbreaks and studying how the disease is being transmitted.”

Also pertinent to the pandemic, Williams is interested in how public health impacts global health. She said an individual’s actions in their own community can impact people all over the globe.

“Public health is a very key thing,” Williams said. “I view it as helping each other toward maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Every little thing you do can affect the health of someone next to you.”

Matos agrees health is just as relevant on a local level as it is globally. The purpose of the global health minor is to work toward improving health for all.

“Health is in all the disciplines and professions,” Matos said. “A minor in global health will provide a foundation and solutions to address diverse health issues nationally and internationally.”

Every community is different, and understanding how humans, animals and plants interact in different communities all over the world is essential to global health.

“[Global health] means trying to make sure everybody can have the opportunity to achieve the best health they can,” Matos said. “That they can have all the resources they need to be the best for our society.”

For more information about the global health minor, visit