JOHNSON CITY – For years, leaders in East Tennessee State University’s College of Public Health have utilized the ETSU Eastman Valleybrook campus in rural Washington County to teach students valuable skills – everything from making a brick from scratch to constructing a filter to obtain clean drinking water.
“But at the end of the day, we realized that we have to make sure our students not just have the skills, but can apply them,” said Dr. Randy Wykoff, dean of the College of Public Health. “Our students must be able to impact health in low-resource settings – following a disaster or in rural areas both domestically and abroad.”
On Friday, leaders launched the Niswonger VILLAGE at Valleybrook, a public health simulation lab featuring real replicas of low-resource homes from various nations. The VILLAGE (Virtual International Living: Learning Across Global Environments) represents how people live in rural and isolated communities around the world and provides students with the ability to demonstrate their skills and engage in hands-on exercises.
“Our job here in the Niswonger VILLAGE is to create the kind of situations that challenge our students to use creative thinking, problem solving, teamwork and innovation to really make a difference in people’s lives,” Wykoff said. “I really want to teach the students to be able to identify problems and come up with creative solutions to address them.”
Through the Niswonger Foundation, Scott Niswonger, a local businessman and well-known philanthropist in the region as well as the chairman of the ETSU Board of Trustees, donated funds for the creation of the VILLAGE, recognizing its ability take higher education to the next level.
“The Niswonger Foundation has a long and successful history of working with ETSU overall and with the College of Public Health,” he said. “The Niswonger Scholars have received training from the College of Public Health here on the Valleybrook campus and I was privileged to be able to contribute thoughts and ideas about the VILLAGE as it was being conceived.”
Both graduate and undergraduate public health students spend educational time at the Niswonger VILLAGE, offering the opportunity to go from theory and notebooks to hands-on experience. In those experiences, students discuss health systems and health challenges, both domestic and international, then try to develop interventions and programming to improve health outcomes and change environments and policies.
“ETSU shares with Mr. Niswonger a commitment to improving this region, whether it’s improving education or health outcomes,” said ETSU President Brian Noland. “We’re trying to prepare students who can make a difference wherever they go in the world.”
For more information about the Niswonger Village, visit https://www.etsu.edu/cph/village.php. For a video about the work being done at the ETSU Eastman Valleybrook campus, visit