Ajay Sethi, PhD, MHS, has received a 2021 Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He is an associate professor in the Department of Population Health Sciences and the faculty director of the School of Medicine and Public Health’s Master of Public Health program.
Sethi’s education began with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland in 1992. He then earned a Master of Health Science in molecular microbiology and immunology and a PhD in epidemiology, both from Johns Hopkins University. He was an assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University until he joined SMPH in 2008.
As an epidemiologist specializing in infectious diseases, Sethi’s research and service focuses have included work on HIV, antimicrobial resistance, and prevention of hospital-associated infections.
Sethi is seen by students and colleagues as an incredible innovator in instructional settings, from classrooms to virtual modalities. He utilizes educational technology in creative ways, such as having students engage in role playing activities on social media, and has an ability to forecast the prevailing winds of medicine and public health in order to develop courses at the forefront of his field.
A prime example is a course titled “Conspiracies in Public Health” that Sethi developed in 2016 with the help of a campus Educational Innovation grant. He began teaching the course in 2017, and it has achieved widespread recognition on campus and globally for its innovation and relevance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s very validating to receive a Chancellor’s Teaching Award,” Sethi says. “In a lot of ways, it renews my license to be creative and take risks in my courses and teaching. I also want to reinforce in students the desire for lifelong learning.”
As an early adopter of innovative teaching tools, Sethi serves as a resource for the faculty in his department as well.
“In the Department of Population Health Sciences, Dr. Sethi is revered for his teaching,” says Maureen Durkin, PhD, DrPH, professor and chair of population health sciences and professor of pediatrics. “His course evaluations reflect the esteem in which he is held by students for his expertise in course design and blending of modalities to enhance learning, as well as for the way he respects and connects with students. But he is also the ‘go-to’ person for our faculty for all things related to teaching, especially those related to online and remote technology.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the general public have become Sethi’s students as well. He has conducted media outreach and virtual presentations to the public to bust myths about COVID-19 and vaccines, setting an example that is further inspiring students in his courses.
“His enthusiasm for public health created an excellent environment for learning that inspired me to work hard and go beyond the curriculum,” says Sarah Clifford, who was both a student and teaching assistant of Sethi’s. “Dr. Sethi’s students are at the center of his teaching and he works incredibly hard to ensure content is relevant and valuable.”