‘Teaching Is the Gift of My Lifetime’.


‘Teaching Is the Gift of My Lifetime’

Sophie Godley, clinical assistant professor of community health sciences, says it is a gratifying experience to be able to help students identify a public health career based on their passions.

November 20, 2020
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“I believe firmly that the environment that you create in a classroom is everything,” says Sophie Godley, clinical assistant professor of community health sciences. “If you create a loving, warm, and enthusiastic environment, you can have challenging conversations with students, because you’ve built an environment of honesty and compassion.”

Godley embraces this teaching philosophy in all of her classes, and this approach has enabled her to build solid relationships with hundreds, if not thousands, of students since she first joined the School of Public Health as an adjunct professor in 2003, later becoming a clinical assistant professor in 2010. With particular interests in the intersection between poverty and sexual health, Godley previously oversaw prevention and education programs as deputy director of the AIDS Action Committee, and also served the director of the Office of Adolescent Health and Youth Development at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

At BU, Godley wears many teaching hats, teaching the Individual, Community, and Population Health (ICPH) core course in the MPH program, the Essentials of Public Health course to undergraduate students, and two courses at Kilachand Honors College—a freshman seminar on poverty and health and a research methods class.

She also serves as the director of undergraduate education at SPH, where she advises students enrolled in the public health minor and the 4+1 program (SPH’s combined BA/MPH or BS/MPH program) and helps them carve out an academic and professional public health path that fits their interests.

In each of her classes, Godley says she grows and learns from her students as much as they learn from her.

“What’s amazing to me about the joy of teaching graduate students is that we all grow together, and I know that the next time I teach ICPH, I’ll teach it differently because of what I learned from students in our conversations about really tough topics,” says Godley. “I can bring the scholarship, experience, and enthusiasm that I have as someone with a doctorate in public health, but students bring their lived experiences and their work experiences, and that’s how we move the field forward.”

Being able to introduce the vast opportunities within public health to undergraduate students is nothing short of “a magical experience,” she says.

“Teaching undergraduate public health is the gift of my lifetime,” says Godley. “It is so much fun because the field offers students who are ambitious and passionate about social justice, racial equity, gender and sexuality, and global issues an opportunity where they can learn the tools and skills they need to actually make concrete change in the world.”

Undergraduate students, in particular, are at optimal age to learn about public health, as they are at a time in their lives when they are developing independence and discovering their purpose and identity, she says.

“For a lot of students, only one track has been pressed upon them, and they’re told that the only way they can be respected or have a lucrative career is if they become a clinician,” says Godley. “But that’s not the right fit for a lot of people. If students are good at historical analysis, or statistics, or if they love thinking about policy, there is a place for them in public health.

“I have this amazing opportunity to ask them, ‘what do you love doing? How do you want to change the world?’—and then show them how public health can be part of their story,” she says.

Adapting to BU’s Learn from Anywhere hybrid teaching model has brought expected and unexpected challenges—technical glitches, communication difficulties, and mental exhaustion, as students are living through many of the subjects that they are studying—but there also silver linings, Godley says.

“Teaching in an online platform can be exhausting, but it’s still possible to create a really connected, emotionally sensitive classroom, and that’s been a wonderful surprise,” says Godley. “I love the Zoom chat function, which gives many students who wouldn’t normally participate in class, an opportunity to do so. I’ve been blown away with how kind and thoughtful and considerate my students have been throughout this whole process, and we just have to pray that we’ll all be back together in a more normal sense, hopefully soon.”

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‘Teaching Is the Gift of My Lifetime’

  • Jillian McKoy

    Senior Writer and Editor

    Jillian McKoy is the senior writer and editor at the School of Public Health. Profile

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