Professor, Community Public Health
"[In developing a course in South Africa,] I saw an opportunity for my NYU students to have a richer experience in international health, where they could both be taught and see what was going on in the midst of a country in transition."
"I started out as a social anthropologist in the mid-sixties," says Sally Guttmacher. "But because of what was going on in the world at the time, I decided anthropology was not relevant for the work I wanted to do as an "activist academic." At that point Guttmacher switched gears and enrolled at Columbia University, where she received an MPhil and PhD in public health. "I realized I had to work in an applied field - a field where I could affect social change."
Public health concerns, particularly as they pertain to world health, are at the center of Guttmacher's work. After receiving her doctoral degree, Guttmacher continued at Columbia as assistant professor in the division of Socio-Medical Sciences, taught at Rutgers University in the Department of Public Administration, and then came to NYU to join what is now called the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies.
Today Professor Guttmacher teaches full time and directs the Master Program in Community Public Health as well as the graduate summer study abroad program on International Health/Community Health in South Africa: A Society in Transition, a course she developed seven years ago.
The idea for the course in South Africa occurred to her when she was doing research in that country. "I saw an opportunity for my NYU students to have a richer experience in international health, where they could both be taught and see what was going on in the midst of a country in transition. Southern Africa has the highest proportion of people infected with HIV anywhere in the world. Students should understand how that country is - or is not - dealing with that kind of epidemic."
Guttmacher also continues to research extensively in South Africa. She has an honorary appointment at the Medical Research Council, the primary medical research facility funded by the South African government, and also serves on the faculty of The University of Capetown. With colleagues there she is studying the impact of parental consent forms on AIDS education and intervention.
"The National Institute of Health, which frequently funds much of my research, requires adolescents who participate in my work to get their parents' consent," Guttmacher explains. "Getting parents to consent to their children's participation in school-based research is quite difficult in any society. South Africa presents us with some unique issues in gaining active parental consent. We have just completed a methodological study funded by NYU to understand some of the barriers to parental agreement for school-based interventions involving HIV/AIDS prevention."
Closer to home, Guttmacher is working on a research project in collaboration with the Wagner School. "We're evaluating whether the NYC Department of Health's asthma initiative is effective, while looking at the impact of that initiative on the community."
In all of her work Guttmacher relies on graduate research assistants. "I try to involve them in every aspect of a project. Because I consider myself an applied social scientist, I believe that's the way students best learn - by actually getting engaged in the research."
Guttmacher's next project will be research afforded by her recent Fulbright award, in a country yet to be determined. She also heads the masters program in Community Public Health. Guttmacher sees this MPH program as an example of the department becoming "better and bigger. We have a really interesting faculty now with much more experience in public and international health." Guttmacher also looks forward to the department having stronger ties with other schools within NYU, including Wagner, Social Work and the medical and dental schools. "The focus of the program is health promotion and disease prevention and has a strong emphasis on international as well as community health."