Students educating their peers about H1N1

September 10, 2009

Indiana State University's exposure this week to the H1N1 virus has one of the school's health sciences professors using the campus as her classroom.

Assistant Professor Maureen Johnson, who is entering her second year at the school, is teaching the course titled "Communicable and Chronic Disease and AIDS."

The course challenges students to learn about various types of pathogens - the biological agents that cause disease or illness - and to develop teaching strategies for dealing with the outbreak and spread of communicable and chronic diseases such as AIDS.

Johnson spent the summer researching and writing about the H1N1 virus, even co-authoring a journal article titled "The H1N1 Influenza Pandemic: Classroom Considerations" for the Michigan Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.

Her interest in communicable disease has had her watching closely the news at Washington State University. Since school began there in late August, more than 2,600 of that school's nearly 18,000 students have contacted the Health and Wellness Services center to report flu-like symptoms. The extensive outbreak has led school officials there to develop an online blog that is updated daily with flu-related news.

Even for Johnson, who tracks the daily updates on that blog, it's too much to say that she hoped H1N1 would find its way to the local area. But now that it has, she's doing her best to turn the negative into a positive.

"When I heard about the outbreak on campus, I thought this would be perfect for class," she said.

So during the first days of class, in between revisions of her syllabus and devising new instruction methods to suit the subject matter, Johnson sent her students out across the ISU campus to gather pertinent information about how campus officials and students were dealing with the crisis.

"I had them go out and ... make note of how the campus is responding to this and how individuals are taking steps to prevent the spread of the disease or to promote good health," she said.

Johnson's students, along with several others from the ISU Health, Safety, and Environmental Health Science Department, were thrown into the H1N1 frenzy Thursday when they answered students' questions at the Library Extravaganza at Cunningham Memorial Library.

Earnest Davis, 21, of Indianapolis and a senior public health major, said he spent most of his time at the event relaying very basic information about how to prevent the spread of illness. Because answering questions about disease and educating the public about prevention is the focus of Johnson's class, Davis believes it was a valuable use of his time.

"This is affecting us now," he said. "It doesn't get more relevant than this."

Andrea Cloe, 22 of Highland and a nursing major, said what she is doing for Johnson's class directly coincides with the work she's undertaking in her internship with the American Red Cross.

"I've been going into schools and teaching elementary kids about how germs are spread," Cloe said. "That's the same thing we're doing here."

What happens at the end of the semester after Johnson's students have finished collecting the data from their campus classroom remains to be seen.

"The tricky part is determining what to do with information they find," she said. "It would be easy to play it safe and have them present their findings in class. But I'd like for them to be able to do more than that."

Not knowing how the H1N1 virus will impact ISU leaves Johnson a bit uncomfortable, particularly now that she has revised her curriculum. She's uncertain what to put on the syllabus in the section that addresses "course outcomes."

But she's coping by holding on to the same advice that she gives her students.

"I think many times students and faculty want to predict and anticipate everything," she said. "But I've told them you can't do that when you're in a real-world situation and when you're on the job.

"And we certainly can't do that now with H1N1."


Photos:
http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/646307517_isYPP-L.jpg Cutline: Indiana State University Professor Maureen Johnson leads students in a discussion about how the H1N1 virus is transmitted.
http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/646306686_jCd7F-L.jpg Cutline: Indiana State University Assistant Professor Maureen Johnson's health science students share with their peers information about the H1N1 virus during an event Thursday in Cunningham Memorial Library.
http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/646307043_kxhUd-L.jpg Cutline: Indiana State University senior public health major Earnest Davis, 21, shares information Thursday about the H1N1 virus with students on the ISU campus.

Contact: Maureen Johnson, assistant professor of Health Safety and Environmental Health Science, at 812-237-3078 or maureen.johnson@indstate.edu

Writer: Rachel Wedding McClelland, assistant director of Media Relations, at 812-237-3790 or rachel.mcclelland@indstate.edu