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An Intensive, Interdisciplinary Study of Ebola, Maymester-Style

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Medical personnel preparing to enter an area where people may be infected with Ebola.

The 2014 Ebola outbreak caused more deaths and illnesses than any previous Ebola outbreak, according to the World Health Organization. It also raised a lot of questions, some theoretical, some practical:

  • What’s the best way to communicate the nature of the Ebola virus to the public — while also reducing anxiety?
  • What level of quarantine should medical personnel undergo?
  • How were medical and policy decisions made as the outbreak unfolded?
  • Should we fear the virus?

Students who want to know more can enroll in an NC State Maymester* course called Current Controversies in Health and Life Sciences: Ebola, led by political scientist Kathleen Vogel, who directs the college’s interdisciplinary Science, Technology and Society Program.

“The Maymester format offers students the opportunity to move beyond the traditional classroom setting and go out and learn about the Ebola outbreak from experts in the field,” says Vogel. “It also allows  students to see the interdisciplinary character of complex medical and policy problems.”

Vogel is bringing in guest speakers like Jens Kuhn, a top Ebola virus specialist who will discuss technical aspects of how the virus spreads and mutates, and Andrew Weber, deputy coordinator for the Ebola coordination unit within the U.S. Department of State.

Outside the classroom, students will travel to Washington, DC, for briefings from the Department of Homeland Security, USAID and the National Security Council. They will visit high containment laboratories where scientists are at work on the Ebola virus. And they’ll visit hospitals and emergency response centers to examine how medical units are prepared in the event of Ebola infection in the United States and what they have learned over the past year about preparation efforts.

“I want students to hear directly from medical personnel,” Vogel said. “It is useful to see first-hand some of the gear and protective equipment local hospitals have in place to gain a solid understanding of what is required to deal with a possible local Ebola outbreak.”

Students will learn about more than Ebola itself. Science students will gain a sense of how broader social science factors shaped the propagation of the disease, and social sciences and humanities students will see the technical aspects of the outbreak. Students will also explore career opportunities in such interdisciplinary fields as science communication, public health and governmental science policy careers.

*Maymester offers students an opportunity for intensive learning. Undergraduate and graduate courses range from an introduction to the forensic anthropology laboratory to an examination of the Vietnam War on film or nonprofit marketing and public relations. The 2015 session runs from May 11 – May 29, 2015. Most classes will meet for three hours a day, five days a week, during the three-week session. NC State’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences piloted Maymester several years ago; now other NC State colleges are adopting the Maymester format.

Private funds help make high impact, experiential learning opportunities for students possible.

Adapted from an article written by Sara Awad, Senior, Communication