Bard College First-Year Students Study Ebola Epidemic During January Intersession as Part of Citizen Science Program
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. – As part of Bard College's Citizen Science Program, all first-year students of the college returned to campus in January to take part in a rigorous three-week course that introduces them to natural science and the ideas underlying the scientific method. The innovative program is designed to develop a core understanding of both the conduct and the content of science and provide a foundation of skills and tools for future course work, as well as preparing students to grapple with the ever-increasing number of national and global issues influenced by science. This year’s theme, “Reducing the Global Burden of Infectious Disease,” explores the biology of infectious disease and the myriad of impacts that outbreaks and subsequent management can have on our global society. As a health emergency with global implications, one topic that will be central in this January’s course is the Ebola epidemic and crisis in West Africa.
“The Ebola epidemic that continues in West Africa is a tragic opportunity for students to wrestle with the complex interplay of all of these issues—as scientists and healthcare professionals do daily—as they develop the skills the Citizen Science Program is designed to achieve,” says Amy Savage, the program’s director. Savage said the program encompasses a robust list of subject matter, including biology of different pathogens, epidemiology, social factors influencing health, bioethics, and governmental vs. individual rights, among other topics. She said that approaches to the topics in each class session range widely to create a rich collaborative conversation outside of the classroom. Some sessions will focus on understanding mutation of viral genomes and the resulting impact on host range or transmissibility, while others will explore the process of vaccine development, considering both the scientific and economic challenges, and how they influence which diseases are prioritized for vaccine development. Other sessions will use mathematical and computational tools to model outbreak dynamics given the current knowledge of the disease. “In this way, Bard College first-year students will be considering the very real challenges that scientists face in understanding and controlling infectious diseases,” Savage says.
Mark Halsey, associate dean of Bard College and associate professor of mathematics, says that, as the program enters its fifth year, it’s gratifying to see the response students have had to Citizen Science. “Students continue to report significant learning gains in their abilities in understanding the appropriate use of evidence, identifying patterns in data, and how science is used to address real-world issues,” he says.
As part of this January’s course, Citizen Science is presenting two lectures this month. Both lectures take place at 6:30 p.m. in the Richard B. Fisher Center’s Sosnoff Theater. They are free and open to the public; no reservations are necessary. For more information contact Julie Cerulli at firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to citizenscience.bard.edu/events/.
On Wednesday, January 14, Gautam Dantas, assistant professor at the Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, will present “Networks of Exchanging Antibiotic Resistomes in Human and Environmental Microbiota.” His talk will discuss research to assess the true depth of antibiotic resistance characteristics in the bacterial species collected from healthy human subjects, as well as soil samples. The Dantas Lab at Washington University works at the interface of microbial genomics, ecology, synthetic biology, and systems biology, to understand, harness, and engineer the biochemical processing potential of microbial communities.
On Thursday, January 15, Michael Specter, staff writer at the New Yorker and visiting professor in the Environmental and Urban Studies Program at Bard, presents “Relying on Reality: Separating Fact from Fiction in Daily Life.” Why do so many people hold views on a wide range of scientific issues—from climate change and vaccination to GMOs and evolution—that are at odds with all available facts? Specter writes about science, technology, and global public health. Since joining the New Yorker, he has published articles about genetically engineered foods, avian influenza, malaria, the world’s diminishing freshwater resources, synthetic biology, the attempt to create edible meat in a lab, the use of geoengineering to mitigate climate change, the power of the human microbiome, and the meaning of the term “carbon footprint.”
For more information on the Citizen Science Program at Bard College, visit citizenscience.bard.edu.
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