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Yale-Liberia Partnership Launches Center for Teaching, Learning, and Innovation

July 21, 2022
by Abby Davis

The 2022 grand opening of a new teaching and innovation center at the University of Liberia marks an important milestone for an ongoing partnership and global health initiative between Yale University and the University of Liberia.

Yale’s partnership with the University of Liberia is focused on improving health care in Liberia, a country on the western coast of Africa that was at the center of the Ebola outbreak in 2013-2015 that killed many people and caused socioeconomic disruption in the region.

Now, with the new Center for Teaching, Learning and Innovation (CTLI), the country has a permanent academic hub at the University of Liberia College of Health Sciences (ULCHS). The center will offer training on utilizing research in teaching and policy-making, faculty development and inter-professional educational programs, an experiential learning and assessment lab, a summer camp for Liberian high schoolers, and a health startup incubator.

The center was launched by ULCHS as part of the USAID-funded project BRIDGE-U: Applying Research for a Healthy Liberia Project (BRIDGE-U: Liberia). Kristina Talbert-Slagle, PhD, assistant professor (general internal medicine) in the Department of Internal Medicine at Yale School of Medicine, and associate director at the Yale Institute for Global Health, is the PI of the project.

BRIDGE-U: Liberia is a five-year collaborative project with the University of Liberia, Vanderbilt University, the Consortia for Improving Medicine with Innovation and Technology, and iLab Liberia. The project is funded by a $15 million grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

“This center has been designed with programming and opportunities for health sciences students and faculty in Liberia, as well as the country’s policymakers, health entrepreneurs, and clinical care providers to expand their knowledge, learn how to incorporate research into practice, and hone their professional skills,” Talbert-Slagle said. “As CTLI impacts Liberia’s current and future health workforce, we envision that it will significantly and sustainably improve the country’s health sector as a whole.”

Talbert-Slagle started working with partners in Liberia in 2015 when a team from Yale was invited by the Minister of Health to help rebuild the country’s health workforce in the wake of the Ebola crisis. Talbert-Slagle has since worked with partners from Yale, the University of Liberia, and Vanderbilt University to help identify needs and challenges in Liberia and build various academic and administrative systems to meet the goals of her Liberian partners. The center houses a collection of programs, many of which were developed throughout Yale’s long-standing partnership with faculty and leadership at ULCHS.

For example, the Faculty Apprentice program, which helps young Liberians develop their academic careers in biomedicine through mentorship and academic training, was first developed in 2017, after needs assessments conducted by Talbert-Slagle and her partners highlighted severe shortages in permanent, preclinical faculty at the country’s only medical school. “Thanks to funding from USAID, ULCHS was able to establish the Faculty Apprentice program, which is now in its third year, with multiple future faculty poised to complete graduate training in biomedical sciences and return to teach at Liberia’s medical and pharmacy schools,” she said.

Camp xSEL (Excellence in Science Education for Liberia) will now be offered through CTLI as well. This annual summer camp was launched in 2021 to inspire the country’s future health workers as Liberian high schoolers spend four weeks learning about biomedical sciences and health careers. The Experiential Learning and Assessment Lab (ELAB), a clinical simulation center developed through a partnership with Vanderbilt University, where robot “mannikins” provide hands-on learning opportunities for students and current health practitioners, will also be housed in the Center.

“We have also launched a first-of-its-kind innovation incubator program at the CTLI,” said Talbert-Slagle. “Focused on the importance of entrepreneurship in the health sector, CTLI’s innovation program provides professional development opportunities, including training and mentorship, for Liberia’s current and future entrepreneurs to learn about how to turn an innovative idea for the health sector into a profitable business.”

The launch of CTLI June 21-23, 2022 involved a three-day series of events hosted by ULCHS to introduce the Center’s programming through spotlight presentations, a panel discussion by key stakeholders, and a preview of the ELAB simulation facility at The John F. Kennedy (JFK) Memorial Medical Center. ULCHS also hosted a Health and Innovation and Entrepreneurship Seminar, which connected potential health entrepreneurs, including health sciences researchers, faculty, and students, with businesspeople to exchange ideas about economic growth and social impact in Liberia’s health sector.

“Watching all of these programs launch and seeing how excited people in Liberia are to participate in them has been incredibly rewarding,” said Talbert-Slagle. “We have worked hard for a long time to develop new ideas, find ways to fund the programs, and advocate to funders. For us to be at a place now where so many of these visions and ideas have come to fruition gives me a feeling of joy and delight, combined with relief, that is quite unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my professional life.”

Talbert-Slagle was initially inspired to join the Yale-Liberia partnership after reading the Liberian government’s post-Ebola recovery plans, particularly a document called the “Investment Plan for Building a Resilient Health System in Liberia,” which was released by the Ministry of Health after the Ebola crisis in 2015. “The leadership, vision, and tenacity exhibited by the Minister of Health at the time, Dr. Bernice Dahn, and other senior health leaders in Liberia was awe-inspiring,” she said.

With a PhD in genetics and virology and postdoctoral training in global health systems strengthening, Talbert-Slagle felt that she would be able to make meaningful contributions to the goals set out by Liberian leadership. The Yale team has worked closely with Bernice Dahn, MD, MPH, UL Vice President for Health Sciences and co-PI of BRIDGE-U: Liberia and other health leaders, while remaining cognizant of their role as outsiders and invited guests in Liberia.

“Global health as a field has a troubling history of inequity and neocolonialism,” said Talbert-Slagle. “Generally driven by people from high-resource settings, global health has often involved people like me, from places like Yale, imposing ideas, practices, or behaviors on people in resource-constrained settings. I am very mindful of this history, and of the importance of counteracting neocolonialism in global health by seeking and sustaining humility, and by trying to follow instead of lead. So, we start by asking, ‘How can we be helpful?’ and go from there. That is always how we have worked together with our partners in Liberia.”

As for the future of the CTLI, Talbert-Slagle says her team is focused on maintaining permanent improvements. “Everything we do is with an eye toward sustainability, toward building up institutions in Liberia that will be well-equipped to carry on the work when the grant ends,” she said. “We talk frequently about steps we can take to ensure that the programs we’ve developed and the systems we’ve built continue for years to come.”

Submitted by Jane E. Dee on July 21, 2022