Former Undergraduate Students

Samar Catherine C. Abou-Nemeh, Class of 2005

I graduated from Northwestern with a double major in Science in Human Culture and Communication Studies in 2005. I am deeply grateful to Science in Human Culture for encouraging my initial passion for history of science and for providing wise counsel on graduate school. Thanks to their guidance, I continued my studies in the doctoral program in the History of Science at Princeton University.

The SHC program at Northwestern instilled in me the value and methods of an interdisciplinary approach to the study of science, medicine, and technology. In May 2012, I successfully defended my Ph.D. dissertation on the enigmatic, Dutch-born lens maker Nicolas Hartsoeker (1656-1725). This summer, I was Dibner Research Fellow in the History of Science and Technology at the Huntington Library in Pasadena, CA. I'm currently a Lecturer in History at Princeton, and preparing a book chapter on the reception of Newton. And my love for history of science continues.

Andrew Benedict-Nelson, Class of 2006

When I was an undergraduate at Northwestern, I was able to experience many different courses, activities, and people who have enriched me throughout my life. But the Science in Human Culture program provided the soul to my time in Evanston. The intellectual grounding I gained from the program provided structure and meaning to much of what I did at NU, helped determine the direction I took when I graduated, then helped sustain me when that direction changed unexpectedly.

Through SHC, I was introduced to a wide range of subjects: the philosophy of science, the history of medicine, the anthropology of public health, the critical study of imperialism, the literature of Nature and wonder. To an outsider it might have seemed a jumble, but the SHC faculty understood what I was doing: developing the capacity to think critically about the categories that structure the modern world. Because of their guidance, I came to understand that it was possible to critique the institutions of medicine while still believing in healing or question science as a method of seeking truth while still believing that truth exists. I quickly came to see that SHC faculty were the kind of people who were happy to discuss such questions whether they were on the syllabus or not.

This added helpfulness and collegiality was a key factor that distinguished SHC from other departments on campus. I entered Northwestern as a journalism student, but over the years I realized that while I wanted to write, I didn't necessarily want to do it for a newspaper. Several members of the SHC faculty helped me to consider other venues in which I could explore the topics that interested me. Nearly every career opportunity I had in college was connected to them in some way or another. These opportunities eventually culminated in my admission to a doctoral program in the History of Medicine at The Johns Hopkins University.

I ended up leaving Hopkins with a Master's— it turns out that professional academic life was not for me. But the ability that SHC gave me to critically inspect categories has proved essential to everything I've done since. Today I'm Director of Content with Insight Labs, a philanthropic think tank that partners with non-profits, governments, and business to solve intractable problems for the common good. The critical thinking I'm doing these days is more likely to involve the categories of charity or capitalism than science or medicine, but I know the theory and practice of doing it came from SHC.

Jessica Hurst, Class of 2006

As a freshman at Northwestern, I knew that I wanted to major in Biology given my interest in the subject and desire to go to medical school. My first Freshman Seminar, “The Crossroads of Biomedical and Research Ethics,” made me realize that not only did I want to learn about biology and medicine but that I also wanted to learn about how these fields influence and are influenced by society. I was delighted to learn that I could explore this interest through an adjunct major in Science in Human Culture. Courses in the history, philosophy, and sociology of science and medicine were the foundation of my curriculum in SHC.

Studying abroad in Morocco my junior year provided me with numerous real-life examples of how closely interconnected science, medicine, and culture are through an Independent Study Project on biomedical research in Morocco. The summer before my senior year, I had the opportunity to return to Morocco via a Weinberg College Research Grant to begin research for my SHC senior thesis, which focused on the treatment model of diabetes in urban Morocco. I saw how the traditional Western biomedical model of medicine failed to meet the needs of Morocco’s urban poor, and later learned about the existence of more practical models such as the biopsychosocial model of medicine. Completing this thesis with Dr. Mark Sheldon as my advisor was one of the most meaningful and useful experiences of my undergraduate career.

Since graduation, I have had ample opportunity to observe the interplay between culture and medicine on a daily basis. Working at the American Red Cross in the International Services Program, I saw the difficulties of immigrants and refugees in adjusting to the American medical system. I then attended medical school at the University of Washington where I participated in the Global Health Pathway. Through this program, I was able to spend time in Madagascar, initially to complete a public health project and later, at the end of my studies, to participate in a clinical medicine clerkship. Currently, I am completing my residency in internal medicine in the Primary Care Program at Boston University/Boston Medical Center. I am reminded of the importance of the biopsychosocial model of medicine every day in practice, as approximately half of my patients are immigrants and refugees.

Ben Parr, Class of 2008

I graduated from Northwestern with degrees in Science in Human Culture, Political Science and Business Institutions. Which one has had the biggest impact on my life? That's easy: Science in Human Culture.

There is no program like it, and it still turns people's heads when I tell them about it. I studied history, philosophy, engineering, literature, biology and more in order to understand humanity's relationship with the sciences. No other major has the breadth and depth of the SHC program when it comes to science. SHC was the foundation that helped transform me into a thought leader in the tech industry, the Co-Editor of Mashable at 24 and the co-founder of my own venture capital firm, DOMINATEFUND, at 27.

Science in Human Culture ideal for anybody who wants to become a leader in science or technology. If that sounds like you, then get a degree in SHC.

Kellie Perkins, Class of 2012

At the beginning of my sophomore year, I was introduced to the Science in Human Culture program through Ken Alder's History of Modern Science and Medicine class that I took to fulfill a distribution requirement. His enthusiasm and love for the program inspired me to consider it as a second major. I was initially pretty confused about what sorts of careers SHC could lead me to, but after taking a few more classes in the Medicine and Society concentration, I began pursuing public health as a career option. A lot of the classes took historical events related to medicine and analyzed them using a few different disciplines, which gave me a broad understanding of how those events shaped society or vice versa. It also allowed me to look at current events and predict the societal changes that might result.

Aside from the knowledge I gained about the relationship between medicine and society, my favorite thing about SHC was that all of the classes really enabled me to enjoy the learning process (rather than stress out about grades)! Most of the classes felt like they were being taken just for fun, but I actually learned a lot of fascinating things about the world around me.

After graduating in 2012, I became an AmeriCorps*VISTA at Eau Claire Cooperative Health Centers. SHC has definitely prepared me to be successful in my career choice, and I have already used so much of the knowledge that I gained about how people work and think with respect to medicine. In the future, I hope to get my Master's in Public Health and work in health policy or administration!

Lisa B. VanWagner, MD, MS (B. A. 2003)

I graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Cum Laude from NU in 2003 with a dual degree in psychology and science in human culture. After graduation I attended medical school at the University of Virginia where I graduated AOA, then completed my internship and residency in internal medicine back at Northwestern. I was honored to serve as a chief medical resident and instructor of medicine in 2010-2011 during which I also completed a masters degree in clinical investigation through the Northwestern University Graduate School. I am now a second year fellow in the Division of Gastroenterology & Hepatology and a recent awardee of a National Research Service Award (NRSA) for individual postdoctoral fellows (Parent F32) from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) within the Department of Preventive Medicine and the Northwestern University Transplant Outcomes Research Collaborative (NUTORC).

I have very fond memories of my SHC classes and the wonderful experiences and interactions that they afforded me. As both a clinician and clinical outcomes researcher, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a broad understanding of the role of medicine in society. During my undergraduate years at Northwestern, I took the opportunity to capitalize on my liberal arts education and unlike many “pre-meds” stayed away from the “hard sciences.” I firmly believe that my experiences through the SHC program have greatly shaped the physician researcher I am today offering a solid understanding of the history and ethics of science and the scientific process, in addition to a unique understanding of the complexities of health and its implications for society.

The SHC curriculum offers a variety of classes that you will not find in your medical school curriculum. I fondly remember sitting in my Medical Anthropology class during my senior year of college debating the ethical basis for widespread HIV screening as well as the many heated discussions in my Economics of Healthcare course on healthcare reform. The SHC curriculum is also flexible—I spent the fall quarter of my junior year in Copenhagen, Denmark through the Denmark International Studies program and the World Health Organization studying Western and Easter European Medical Practice & Policy, which was an invaluable experience and fully supported by my faculty advisor.

I cannot think of a better major for an aspiring physician at Northwestern and I am proud to be affiliated with this program. Good luck in your undergraduate career and please feel free to contact me with any questions about the program!