A service trip to Liberia in the early 2000s defined University of Michigan nursing professor Jody Lori’s career path. After 14 years of civil war, the African nation’s health care system was decimated.
“There were very few nurses, very few midwives, very few physicians in the country that had gone almost two decades without any upgrading of skills or continuing education,” Lori said.
“There was a great need. So I went there with a team to provide clinical training to health care providers on basic emergency obstetric care and encourage women from the communities to deliver at the facilities. That’s how I started my global health journey.”
Lori, the Sara H. and Robert B. Rothschild Endowed Professor of Global Nursing, professor of nursing and associate dean of global affairs at the School of Nursing, is one of two recipients of this year’s President’s Award for Distinguished Service in International Education.
The award honors faculty and staff for outstanding efforts to advance international education and create an ideal environment for students to expand their knowledge with a global lens.
“This award is extremely meaningful because it’s from my peers across the university, making it so much more special,” Lori said. “Global health is a team sport; it is not something you do individually. It’s interdisciplinary. It is everything that health care should and could be. It’s the best work in the world.”
Katie Lopez, director of the Office of Global Activities and adjunct clinical assistant professor at the School of Social Work, is the other recipient of this year’s award.
“It’s an amazing recognition to receive this award and to know that the nominations came from students and colleagues,” she said. “It’s particularly meaningful to be recognized by some of the social work students I’ve worked with over the years.”
An experience abroad also steered Lopez’s career toward global health education.
“After college, I spent a summer in Tanzania where I volunteered with a local agency providing community care to those with HIV/AIDS,” she said. “Working closely with local social work students and learning about their responsibilities and jobs, I got hooked. I was previously interested in this field, but that experience reinforced my desire to have a career addressing global issues.”
President Santa J. Ono said both Lori and Lopez have advanced international education and outreach for students while also strengthening the university’s global presence.”
“Jody Lori has provided impactful international experiences to our students for decades, engaging them as partners in work that has vastly improved childbirth outcomes in Liberia,” he said. “And Katie Lopez has made social justice a central aspect of her work developing cross-cultural relationships for our institution, and providing equitable opportunities for our underrepresented students.”
Better maternal and neonatal outcomes
For more than two decades, Lori has led innovative global education models through immersive field experiences, formal coursework and the creation of a worldwide health minor and a graduate certificate in global health at the nursing school. Under her leadership, the school’s annual Global Health Summer Institute in 2022 attracted more than 400 learners from 31 countries.
“She has been an exceptional partner for advancing educational opportunities that benefit so many of our learners here,” said Joseph Kolars, director of the Center for Global Health Equity, who has known Lori since he arrived at U-M in 2009.
“At the undergraduate level, she has led global intercultural experiences for undergrads in Mexico and Guatemala and has mentored dozens of them in scholarly projects based in global health settings in Liberia, Ghana and Latin America. And more, Lori is a pioneer in preparing students for clinical leadership in global maternity care.”
Working closely with both undergraduate and graduate students, Lori has improved maternal and newborn health in areas of the world challenged by a lack of human resources, long distances to care, and cultural, gender and socioeconomic barriers in Liberia, Ghana, Zambia and other countries.
Helping rural mothers and newborns
One of the projects Lori said she is most proud of is developing and testing maternity waiting homes in Liberia to support women who live far away from formal care services.
“Women said that before the war, they had safe spaces where they could give birth, but those were destroyed during the civil war,” Lori said. “So, we talked with communities and came up with this idea of having that safe space again.
“Rather than being isolated, this place should be near a health facility, where a nurse or a midwife worked so moms could get care from the health care system right when they were in labor. In these rural areas, women walked very far in labor to get to a health facility.”
Following a model started in Nicaragua, Lori and her students, along with local partners, built a pilot study of five of these maternity waiting homes.
“The women had much better outcomes of their pregnancy and newborns,” she said. “We then published the evidence showing the impact of having those spaces and sent it to the Ministry of Health and policymakers. When they wrote their strategic plan for maternal and newborn health, they then included these maternity waiting homes.
“Fast forward, the maternity waiting homes had scaled up from the original five to 114 across the country, one in every county. It was an outstanding result.”
Sarah Compton, research assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, was part of the Liberia project as a postdoctoral fellow.
“In this work, Dr. Lori included a diverse array of learners, including students and mentees, in the design and conduct of this ambitious project,” Compton said. “She has built capacity for scholars focused on client-centered maternity care in West Africa and other regions that face human, physical and/or fiscal resource constraints. I have been honored to partner with her on scholarly efforts.”
Intersection of international education and social work
Lopez enrolled in the School of Social Work’s master’s program after her experience in Tanzania in 2008. She has been at the school’s Office of Global Activities ever since, first as a student worker and now as director.
“I’ve grown up with the office in a way,” she said. “It’s been fulfilling to be involved with the school’s prioritization of global programming and the creation of new projects and curricular options. Social workers work for social justice and change, and it is happening worldwide, so we have to think innovatively, critically and add a global lens to our practice.”
As the director, Lopez is responsible for the office’s overall administration, including overseeing the Global Activities Scholars Program, Master’s International Volunteer Program, Peace Corps Coverdell Fellows, and the Visiting Scholar and exchange student programs.
Lopez also serves as the Office of Field Education liaison for students completing global field placements. Her previous international experiences have strengthened her resolve to build positive, sustainable, intentional collaborations among schools of social work and institutions to train social workers to address global issues.
“Over her 14 years, Katie has demonstrated a strong commitment to global education, service and community building, while consistently working toward social justice,” said SSW Dean Beth Angell. “She is a gifted leader and collaborator and is deeply committed to creating opportunities to build international, cross-cultural relationships. Her global work consistently focuses on equity and social justice and has worked to increase opportunities for underrepresented students.”
From first-generation students and undocumented students in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to transgender and nonbinary students, Lopez has sought ways to reduce barriers for first-time travelers and advance the participation of a diverse student body in global social work and opportunities abroad.
In 2019, Lopez’s office collaborated with the Spectrum Center to create the annual Trans Visibility Passport Day to assist students and community members apply for, renew or make changes to their passports in the form of a name change or updated gender marker.
“I’m always trying to think about how international educators can engage groups of students that may be marginalized or underrepresented,” Lopez said. “We realized that for transgender and nonbinary individuals having identification that reflects their gender and name is crucial. Organizing an event to help individuals secure valid identification was a wonderful way to use international education skills to address a social justice issue.”
Greta Kaempf, global opportunities coordinator at SSW, said her first interactions with Lopez as a prospective master’s student influenced her decision to come to Michigan.
“The opportunity to work with her, learn from her and be a part of the work she is pursuing in the field of international education was the decisive factor to my return this fall as an employee,” Kaempf said.
“The impact she has made on the lives of students, colleagues and in the field is a testament to her dedication, and her integrity of character shows in the way her work consistently centers social justice and equity.”
The awardees will be recognized in a Sept. 15 celebration at the Michigan Union.