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College of Public Health

Mongolian Ger Unveiled at Niswonger VILLAGE

East Tennessee State University’s College of Public Health celebrated an expansion of its innovative, award-winning Project EARTH curriculum at Niswonger VILLAGE.

Located at ETSU Eastman Valleybrook campus, the Niswonger VILLAGE (Virtual International Living and Learning Across Global Environments) is a public health simulation lab that replicates how people live and work in low-resource settings. It consists of seven replicas modeled on actual dwellings from across the globe, in which students conduct public health simulations and study global health issues.

In a special event on Wednesday, April 16, the ETSU College of Public Health unveiled the latest addition to the village, a Mongolian ger. Similar to a Russian yurt, the Mongolian ger is a traditional, round-shaped dwelling that is part of the nomadic lifestyle of Mongolians. The ger replica is 20 feet in diameter, making it the largest dwelling in Niswonger VILLAGE.

Jonathan Addleton, the former U.S. Ambassador to Mongolia and current executive director for the American Center for Mongolian Studies, spoke at the unveiling of the ger.

“I really appreciate that ETSU has this interest in Mongolia,” said Addleton, who retired from the U.S. Foreign Service in January 2017 following a 32-year career that spanned the globe.

Addleton presented the audience with some Mongolian history and context at the event.

Other speakers included Dr. Wilsie Bishop, ETSU senior vice president for academics; Dr. Richard Kortum, ETSU professor emeritus in the Department of Philosophy & Humanities; Theresa Markiw, former public affairs officer, U.S. Embassy in Mongolia; Scott Niswonger, chairman of the ETSU Board of Trustees; and Dr. Randy Wykoff, dean of the College of Public Health.

Special guests and attendees were also treated to a Mongolian-themed lunch and a tour of Niswonger VILLAGE.

“Niswonger VILLAGE is a pioneering public health platform that creates scenarios where students can use their skills in real-world settings,” said Wykoff. “The new Mongolian ger is a representation of a truly unique way of nomadic living, where they are able to take down the structure, move it, and set it up in a day in the middle of the Gobi Desert. Our students can use this replica to study the health challenges faced by people who live nomadic lifestyles.”

Project EARTH (Employing Available Resources to Transform Health), which received the 2017 Delta Omega award for most innovative curriculum, teaches students how to make the tools necessary for a healthier life in low resource settings or natural or man-made disasters. Some of the skills they learn are making water filters, composting latrines and field hand-washing stations.

The Mongolian ger was a natural addition to the curriculum because of ETSU’s connections to the country, Wykoff said.

Kortum, ETSU professor emeritus who spoke at the event, was awarded numerous grants to explore prehistoric petroglyphs in the remote Altai Mountains of far-western Mongolia. In May 2016, he was invited to present a comprehensive overview of his ongoing fieldwork at the Biluut Petroglyph Complex to a specially convened group of international rock art researchers, organized by the president of Mongolia and UNESCO.  In 2017, he led another field team at Biluut, comprised of researchers from the U.S., Mongolia, China, the U.K. and Spain.

Wykoff also visited Mongolia to prepare internship opportunities through FIRE (Flagstaff International Relief Effort) for ETSU public health students like Catherine Freeland, a 2016 graduate of ETSU’s master of public health program.

Freeland interned for three months with in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, creating a pilot study to understand how much the general population is aware of viral hepatitis transmission, prevention and its impact in the country.

“Mongolia has the highest rates of hepatitis compared to any other country in the world, which results in high incidence of liver cancer from hepatitis B, hepatitis C and hepatitis D,” Freeland said. “My work in Mongolia directly led me to my current role at the Hepatitis B Foundation on hepatitis B elimination efforts nationally and internationally.”

She is excited to see her alma mater incorporate the ger into the Project EARTH curriculum.

“I believe the ger at Niswonger VILLAGE will benefit public health students in expanding their awareness of other cultures and broaden their views of global public health,” Freeland said.

To learn more about the Niswonger VILLAGE and Project EARTH, visit

Additional coverage of the event:

Media contact
Melissa Nipper


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