Ebola, flu, Zika, cancer: scientists, engineers and medical professionals are diligently working to slow the progression of these health challenges that many 21st century humans face. Among them on a November Sunday on Stevens’ campus were a group of ambitious and curious seventh- through tenth-graders.
The Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY) spent the day at Stevens Institute of Technology for a family academic program, where over 40 young students and their families took part in a “Community and Public Health” series, presented by the College of Arts and Letters’ Science and Technology Studies (STS) program.
Led by assistant professor Dr. Theresa MacPhail and seven Stevens students, the day revolved around immersing the young students and their families in experiences working on the front lines of public health, in activities like tracking an infectious disease to its source, calming the public’s nerves during an outbreak, and urging the World Health Organization to distribute vaccines during crises. The program examined the emerging field of global public health through the lenses of science, history, technology, anthropology, epidemiology and humanitarianism.
This is Dr. MacPhail’s second year leading this program with CTY and Stevens and she’s always been impressed by how special these students are.
“They are young and motivated to learn more about topics that they are interested in, perhaps in making their future careers,” she said. “It's a chance for them to see what college-level approaches to a subject look like and it helps them to hone in on what types of programs they want to apply for when application time rolls around.”
CTY is a nonprofit organization dedicated to identifying and developing the talents of academically advanced pre-college students around the world, giving bright students the chance to participate in challenging educational opportunities they won’t experience anywhere else.
“The other great thing about this program is that it's a bonding moment between a parent and a child around the child's interests,” MacPhail added. “It was really special to see parents and children having fun solving a zombie outbreak and getting into and out of full protective gear during a mock Ebola outbreak.”
After a keynote presentation from the dean of the College of Arts and Letters Dr. Kelland Thomas, the day consisted of three breakout sessions. First, the CTY students had to be disease detectives and track a zombie outbreak to its source by interviewing and collecting data from Stevens volunteers who were all given specific characters for the role-playing exercise.
Next, the young students participated in an exercise that Dr. MacPhail uses in her Global Public Health course at Stevens—students must act as healthcare workers during the West Africa Ebola outbreak of 2015. They must first carefully and precisely dress themselves in sterile infectious disease suits, gloves and goggles, and then they are sprayed with shaving cream to mimic infectious bodily fluids. They then have to remove the suits without getting the shaving cream onto their own body in order to demonstrate how difficult it can be to contain the spread of diseases like Ebola.
Iman Alshafie, a class of 2019 STS major on the pre-med track, was one of the volunteers at the event.
“I loved seeing how passionate the kids were about medicine and disease; a few of them even told me that … they want to be doctors someday and work with infectious diseases,” she said. “This program allowed me to view learning about disease from a different perspective, one that was effective and hands-on, and it only further established my love for medicine and science.”
Another volunteer, senior chemical biology major and medical humanities minor Olivia Schreiber, was thrilled to see how the young students were engaged and energetic throughout the activities.
“I completed the same activity in Dr. MacPhail's class and I was so impressed by their questions and field-work methodology,” she said. “Looking back, this program would have been a great opportunity for my younger self to explore both the challenges and thrills of a career in public health, and I am happy to know Stevens is assisting in early exposure to these types of careers."