While many McMaster students participated in homecoming festivities on Oct. 13, a dedicated few considered issues beyond Hamilton’s horizons in the Health Sciences Centre.
The annual Talk Change Conference was hosted at McMaster this year, organized by the University’s chapter of Smart Solutions. The club, part of an inter-university network, is focused on developing innovative and sustainable solutions to global development problems. McMaster’s chapter is still in its infancy, but was nonetheless chosen to play host for this fall’s conference.
“The actual Talk Change event has been present for the past couple years, and we knew that McMaster was hosting,” explained Nithin Vignesh, co-president of McMaster Smart Solutions. “What we didn’t know was that it was going to be this early in the school year.”
The theme for the conference was global health. The executive invited a range of speakers familiar with diverse facets of global health.
Dr. Katherine Rouleau of St. Michael’s Hospital, who is director of the Global Health Program at the University of Toronto, was among the speakers at the event.
“Every time I accept an invitation like [this] … I really hope it’s worth my time,” Dr. Rouleau said. “But I have to tell you, today I am so happy I’m here.”
Her morning workshop was well attended, and the topic of primary care and community-based medicine seemed to engage the audience.
“The caliber of question, of insight, of understanding of the students is spectacular,” she said, after exceeding her time limit to field questions. “These are well-informed, open-minded, critical [students] … who are clearly quite committed to the essence of global health.”
Dr. Rouleau, as well as the other speakers and workshop leaders, were chosen based on survey results from students.
“Our education directors… put out a survey about topics that they [felt] students may be interested in…and we got a list of topics that we could potentially use,” said Vignesh.
The most popular topic was HIV/AIDS, which led the team to choose Dr. Prabhat Jha, O.C.
Dr. Jha, as well as being the founding Director of the Centre for Global Health Research at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, was recently awarded the Order of Canada for his work in epidemiology and the economics of global health.
In addition to such researchers as Dr. Jha, the conference featured two student speakers. Fourth-year Health Sciences student Lauren Friedment offered a workshop on the ethics of “volun-tourism,” inspired by her time volunteering in Africa.
Alexandra Sproule, a third-year Arts and Science student, earned the Engineers Without Borders fellowship last year, and spoke to some of the conference delegates about her insights on designing for real people in Ghana, after having spent four months on an internship in the country.
McMaster students weren’t the only ones involved, however. As Smart Solutions is a cross-university club, students from other schools were invited.
“We were surprised … we had a good mix,” said Nida Sohani, the club’s vice president, of the 135 delegates, who hailed from Western, Guelph, Waterloo and Ryerson.
“They weren’t all undergrads. We had people that have graduated, an older audience. We honestly weren’t [expecting that].”