University of Washington School of Public Health

UW SPH News: UW Honors I-TECH Director for Contributions to Lifelong Learning

UW Honors I-TECH Director for Contributions to Lifelong Learning

04/10/2015
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Ann Downer, a pioneer of distance learning at the University of Washington, has been named winner of the UW's 2015 Distinguished Contributions to Lifelong Learning Award.

Downer is founding director of the International Training and Education Center for Health (I-TECH) within the Department of Global Health.

Ann Downer and nurse photo
Ann Downer (right) with a nurse at the Govt. Hospital of Thoracic Medicine in Chennai, India

"I am humbled by receiving this award at a university filled with people who devote their lives to lifelong learning," said Downer, associate professor of Global Health and adjunct associate professor of Health Services. "That's our business – education – so it's humbling to be singled out."

In a letter to Downer, UW Interim President Ana Mari Cauce and Interim Provost & Executive Vice President Jerry Baldasty cited Downer's "amazing ability to engage a huge team across two universities and dozens of global academic and professional education systems to have an enormous impact on utilizing eLearning to save the lives of millions of people with HIV infection."

Founded 13 years ago, I-TECH has provided education and training to more than 150,000 healthcare workers around the world. The agency works with foreign colleges and universities to strengthen their curricula and the methods they use to teach doctors, nurses, pharmacists, health officers and social workers. It's run in partnership with the University of California, San Francisco.

"I believe in the power of education to change the world, and I consider teaching and learning to be acts of personal and social transformation," Downer said. "In some parts of the world, promoting the right to education is even a revolutionary act."

Downer's own online course, Leadership and Management in Health, registered nearly 1,500 students from 30 countries this year. Students gathered weekly at 62 sites to discuss learning materials they had studied individually online.

"I believe in the power of education to change the world" - Ann Downer, associate professor of global health

"It's not often that you can point to one person who has improved health systems, education and training around the world, but Ann's exceptional leadership at I-TECH has done just that," said Judith Wasserheit, William H. Foege Chair of the Department of Global Health. "Her work exemplifies the best of global health efforts – collaboration with in-country partners, proven impacts on health, and innovation in learning technologies. Under Ann's leadership, I-TECH has become a model in global health capacity building around the world. Ann is a truly exceptional teacher and leader, and an inspiring and delightful colleague."

Downer typically starts her days at 5 a.m. because it's the best time to work across time zones. "It's nice to talk with people who are still at work, but ending their day just as we begin ours," she said. "And we tag team a lot with staff in our 11 offices- we work while they sleep, and visa-versa. Some of our country teams, like the Zimbabwe team, work this way every day in order to maximize the team's productivity."

In addition to training, I-TECH works to strengthen laboratory activities and to develop national electronic medical records systems. The agency also provides direct services -- in three countries, it offers voluntary male medical circumcisions to reduce the risk of HIV transmission.

"Our work is always done in collaboration with the local Ministry of Health so that whatever improvements are made can be integrated into the public health systems of that country and sustained over time," Downer said.

Downer said she is excited to collaborate with the Department of Global Health's e-learning team, known as eDGH. "We offer access to UW-quality courses to people in developing countries who would otherwise never be exposed to a US university educational experience," she said.

Downer will be honored at a June 11 ceremony in Meany Hall as part of the UW's annual Awards of Excellence recognizing distinguished staff, faculty and alumni.

See a 2012 Close Up profile of Downer.