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Foundation gift funds innovative interdisciplinary courses on food

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Columbia College has announced a series of new courses, “Food: An Interdisciplinary Perspective,” thanks to a $750,000 gift from the Chapman Perelman Foundation, a New York-based foundation that gives to health, human services and education causes. The courses will provide students with a holistic understanding of food in the 21st century, considering questions such as how to feed a growing global population in a way that is sustainable with regards to the environment and public health.

“This funding will create three innovative courses that will enable students to pursue their passions, develop new interests and engage with experts from across the University and the city,” said James J. Valentini, dean of Columbia College and vice president for Undergraduate Education. “We are grateful for the Chapman Perelman Foundation for providing new opportunities and fields of study for our students,”

“This transformative gift, which leverages the expertise and resources across several Columbia schools and disciplines, has enabled a very exciting multi-school collaboration in undergraduate education – a great model for our future,” added Dr. Lee Goldman, executive vice president and dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine.

The courses, a collaboration between interdisciplinary faculty in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology (E3B), the College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Mailman School of Public Health, have been created in recognition of the increasing role that the modern food system plays in today’s world, where the production, distribution and consumption of food has far-reaching implications for the environment, public health and the distribution of resources.

Dr. Anna Chapman PS’00, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who leads the Chapman Perelman Foundation, approached Columbia faculty with the idea for the program in Fall 2015. The concept was inspired by Green Beetz, a nonprofit cofounded by Dr. Chapman that seeks to “empower middle schoolers to navigate the complex issues surrounding food in the 21st century.” Dr. Chapman’s initiative was met with great enthusiasm by several Columbia faculty members, who galvanized their respective schools and departments to collaborate in forming the innovative program for undergraduate students.

“We are just beginning to become aware of the extent to which food stands at the nexus of many of today’s most pressing social issues – from climate change and environmental degradation, to the rising epidemic of diet-related illnesses, and social equality,” Dr. Chapman said. “My hope is that this program will prepare young adults to think critically about these issues, deepen their sense of social responsibility, and consider career paths that they might not have previously.”    

The resulting program will focus on the interplay between food and the environment, individual and public health, economics and public policy. By providing students with a holistic understanding of the modern food system, the curriculum is intended to broaden students’ global awareness and consideration of their own social responsibilities, while also providing a basis for understanding one of the largest economic sectors.

“We’re more aware than ever of the link between food systems, health behaviors and human health,” said Heather Greenlee, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health. “These courses will provide students with the opportunity to understand how changes in global food systems and public health policies are keys to improving health and eradicating health disparities across local, national and global communities.”

“These gifts will give Columbia students the opportunity to build the knowledge base that promotes health and imbue their undergraduate experience with a passion for studying the many dimensions of food and nutrition,” added Linda P. Fried, dean of the Mailman School of Public Health and the DeLamar Professor of Public Health Practice. “This support will also help us create a pipeline of scholars interested in this increasingly important field.”

The courses, “Food and the Body,” “Food, Ecology and Globalization,” and “Food, Public Health, Policy and Economics,”  will draw from a diversity of disciplines, including biology, chemistry, environmental sciences, anthropology, history, economics, public health and public policy. Two of the courses will be offered through E3B, which emphasizes a multidisciplinary perspective to understanding life on Earth. The third will be overseen by the Mailman School of Public Health. 

“This new educational program focused on food broadens and strengthens our offerings of courses taking a systems perspective on some of the world’s most important and pressing issues,” said Kevin Griffin, chair of E3B. “Our students and community are eager to learn about these critical topics and become involved in scholarly activities related to the security and future of the global food system.”

The courses reflect a nationwide trend towards “systems thinking” in higher education, examining the linkages and interactions between the components that comprise the food system, as well as the links between food, the environment, ecology and human well-being. They also represent as well as increased interest in studying “food” among students and faculty.

“This is an exciting opportunity to work with students [and] to think broadly across complex systems in order to understand the dynamic connections underlying the food we consume every day,” said Eleanor J. Sterling, chief conservation scientist in the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and an adjunct professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology. “For the past five years, I have been teaching about food, ecology and globalization at the graduate level, and I look forward to exploring these interdisciplinary issues with undergraduate students.”

“Since food and nutrition intersect with virtually every field, the opportunity to teach with Dr. Sterling about the impact of globalization on food, health and ecology, has made me aware of the many faculty working in different aspects of food and food systems at Columbia University,” added Sharon Akabas, associate director of the Institute of Human Nutrition and director of the M.S. in Nutrition Program at the Institute of Human Nutrition. “This gift allows Columbia to join many prestigious universities to respond to the strong interest of undergraduate students, hungry for knowledge about food systems.”

The courses will be offered as science electives for non-science majors and will be targeted towards sophomores, juniors and seniors. The first course will likely be offered in Spring 2017, with subsequent courses offered in Fall 2017.

“‘Food: An Interdisciplinary Perspective’ is a key step to break traditional silo approaches to nutrition and health as it emphasizes intersectoral education for improving human well-being through food,” said Dr. Richard Deckelbaum, the Robert R. Williams Professor of Nutrition, professor of pediatrics, professor of epidemiology and the director of the College of Physicians and Surgeons’ Institute of Human Nutrition. “With the stimulus of the Chapman Perelman Foundation gift this interdisciplinary program is building needed partnerships across departments, schools and campuses inside and outside Columbia University.”

As head of the Chapman Perelman Foundation, Dr. Chapman has championed several multidisciplinary and innovative approaches to tackling social problems. In 2012, she launched the Domestic Violence Initiative, a collaboration between Columbia’s Department of Psychiatry and New York City’s Family Justice Centers, which seeks to create a comprehensive mental health program for adult and child victims of domestic violence, as well as to research the effects of trauma on the brain and to investigate and prevent the intergenerational transmission of trauma. In 2016, the foundation funded Columbia Psychiatry faculty to act as technical advisors to the mayor’s office in order to expand the program citywide.  

In addition to her work with the foundation, Dr. Chapman works as a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in private practice. She received her bachelor's degree in English literature from Harvard and her medical degree from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, and completed her psychiatric residency at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Cornell. Dr. Chapman serves on the voluntary faculty of New York Presbyterian Hospital Cornell and Columbia campuses, where she does clinical supervision with the residents and teaches the neurobiology of mental processes. She also serves on the Board of Trustees at Rockefeller University, is the president of the Neuropsychoanalysis Foundation and is vice president and cofounder of Green Beetz. She is married to Ronald Perelman, chairman and CEO of MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings.

For more information this program, please contact Corey Aronstam, deputy vice president for development, Columbia College and Arts & Sciences, and associate dean for development, Columbia College.



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