Online Learning Increases USU Global Health Enrollment by 12,400 Percent

A graphic of a woman sitting at a desk with a laptop

By Ian Neligh

When COVID-19 shuttered classrooms across the country, universities and professors scrambled to bring their students and programs online. 

Technical issues, lack of virtual in-class participation — for many schools it presented a Herculean task. This led to a difficult, and sometimes unsuccessful period of transition for some institutions where the road bumps were numerous and dropped connections plentiful. 

Conversely, for the students of Air Force Col. (Dr.) Brad Boetig it was a seamless transition and led to a dramatic increase in enrollment. 

Brad Boetig
Air Force Col. (Dr.) Brad Boetig was tasked with moving the
Graduate Certificate in Global Health and Global Health
Engagement program's curriculum online when he came to
USU in 2012. (Courtesy Photo)
The Uniformed Services University of Health and Sciences’ (USU) Graduate Certificate in Global Health and Global Health Engagement program was already online before COVID reared its ugly head. The graduate program was one step ahead, ready to face the demands of students needing to make an online transition. 

“While everybody else in the country from elementary schools through medical schools had to all of a sudden figure out how to start teaching online — we already had a lot of experience doing it,” Boetig said. “We already had our processes maximized and finely tuned, so COVID didn’t disrupt us one iota.”

The 18-credit graduate certificate program provides a wide breadth of learning related to global health science and policy. It emphasizes real-world global health applications for the U.S. military and federal government. Boetig arrived in 2012 and then-department chair, Dr. Gerald Quinnan, tasked him with taking the global health curriculum online.  

Boetig said at that point the department only had a handful of students each year concentrating in global health, but once the revamped curriculum was put online, the enrollment grew exponentially, doubling with every iteration. Instead of two students per year within the graduate programs concentrating in global health, the program is now enrolling 250 students per year—a staggering 12,400 percent increase.

“And that’s all enabled by the long-distance learning component,” Boetig said.

He added that the transition was gradual, beginning first by following “flipped classroom” pedagogies where recorded lectures and other online materials are beta tested first with students on campus. Only after methods were refined and success was proven did the program “cut the umbilical cord” and begin offering graduate credit to students fully online. Since all of this was done prior to the pandemic, “When COVID struck, there was no change at all to our workflow whatsoever.”

The unique nature of the program’s online curriculum is a perfect fit for students such as Air Force chaplain Capt. James Moser.

People sitting around a table looking at a presentation on two screens.
Regional Health Command Europe recently conducted its first-ever 'virtual' Global Health Engagement with their Polish military medical counterparts. The
two-day virtual event was held Feb. 3-4 and consisted of briefings and presentations by subject matter experts from the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force.
(Photo Credit: Master Sgt. Jason Zielske)

Moser is not a traditional student. He performed his military swearing-in ceremony online — while living in New Zealand. Before entering the Air Force Reserve, and later active duty, he was a community college professor and university lecturer. Moser taught religion, history, art history, and today doubles as an Air Force historian. The global health program at USU was exactly what he was looking for.

Moser was chosen for the selective USU graduate program taught by an international cadre of professors living in the United States, Australia, Europe, and Africa. When he graduated in February, he became the first military chaplain to graduate from USU.

“It’s truly been global learning,” Moser said. “I have enjoyed asking internationally known guest speakers questions as well as interjecting in-class debates and many times ‘staying after’ the official class time had ended to discuss a variety of things with folks from around the world.”

During the year and a half Moser took the courses, he said he could connect to his classes from home, hotel rooms, and even the dining room at his supervisor’s house when his own internet was out.

Moser said this education will help him in his duties as a chaplain to better relate to those working in the medical field, particularly if he’s deployed.

U.S. Navy Capt. (Dr.) Michael Sullivan, a USU School of Medicine alumnus and pediatrician, gives a sticker to a two-year-old boy after examining his skin infection
U.S. Navy Capt. (Dr.) Michael Sullivan, a USU School of Medicine alumnus and pediatrician, gives a sticker to a two-year-old boy after examining his skin
infection at a temporary medical treatment site in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti as part of a global health engagement mission with the hospital ship USNS Comfort
(T-AH 20). USU's Global Health and Global Health Engagement program prepares its students to excel at these missions with the utmost integrity and skill.
(U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Maria G. Llanos)

“We have established a whole network of mutual personal and professional connections through study of global health at USU, and it has given me and my colleagues all new insights into matters on public health and global health, but also ethics and history and philosophy,” Moser said. “To be a military chaplain and have that background, and to see how military students absorb and respond to the challenging issues presented in the curriculum gives me a good in-road with a lot of people.”

Boetig added robust word-of-mouth by students and graduates also fueled the graduate program’s reputation and subsequent popularity over the last few years. 

“They’re telling their friends, coworkers, bosses, and even their spouses that it’s a challenging program, but enjoyable and very much worth the effort,” Boetig said. “It’s just intriguing to a lot of people, and I would say it is increasingly recognized in the military as something that is important and fun to get involved in.”