The best bootcamp you (n)ever went to

Amid all of the bad news the COVID-19 pandemic has brought, there are a few bright spots where disruption of business as usual has spurred exciting new ideas. The IGHS education program finds itself in one of those bright spots, thanks in large part to the passion and commitment of local teachers. 

COVID-19 threatened to cancel IGHS’s summer high-school internship program, Summer Researchers in Global Health, and put on hold efforts to launch a summer course introducing high school teachers to the field of global health. 

The hands-on internship program was unsalvageable. But rather than give up, the education group decided to take the teacher training course virtual to empower teachers to instruct high schoolers on the very infectious disease issues that were forcing them to learn online. 

An added benefit, the education team considered, would be that students’ motivation to learn about a range of health topics would be piqued by the immediate relevance to their lives. 

The IGHS team devised a summer course on infectious disease in which high school teachers could learn from UCSF experts. Led by PhD program associate director Ali Mirzazadeh, MD, PhD, the professors and high school teachers would work together to adapt the content for high school classes. 

“We wanted to cover the basics that apply, using examples from HIV, Ebola, measles, and to compare those outbreaks with COVID-19 when relevant,” Mirzazadeh said. “We saw countries’ failure to control the virus as a reflection of what we don’t know about emerging infectious diseases.” 

Nine teachers participated, meaning the material will reach about a thousand students. 

Carrie Maslow, a science teacher at Lick-Wilmerding High School in San Francisco, heard about the program from a student who had participated in the IGHS internship and who is now planning to pursue a career in global health. 

“There was a morbid fascination because we’re having a pandemic, and there I was in a fulltime course learning about pandemics through history from people who really know what they’re talking about,” Maslow said of the course. “It was amazing in a knowledge-is-power kind of way.”

Maslow attributes the magic of the course to the expertise of the instructors – including George Rutherford, MD, whose name has regularly appeared in the news throughout the pandemic. Maslow noted that there were only two learners to each instructor, so even in the virtual classroom, everyone was engaged at all times. 

The initial plan that gave rise to the program for teachers consisted of two weeks of asynchronous online learning followed by two weeks in-person fulltime at UCSF – earning it the somewhat tongue-in-cheek name Curriculum Bootcamp. But that plan quickly shifted to Plan B: all online learning. The class met for two hours in the morning, when UCSF instructors taught infectious disease materials, and two hours in the afternoon, when the teachers worked together to try to devise lesson plans. 

“The level of care for us and care for our individual lesson plans has been over the top,” Maslow said.

But Mirzazadeh and IGHS PhD students Jane Fieldhouse and Sarah Gallalee, who worked as teaching assistants, attribute the magic that the Curriculum Bootcamp sparked to the teachers, who brought strong science backgrounds and a fire in their bellies to learn more about infectious diseases such as COVID-19 and develop engaging lesson plans for their new virtual classrooms. 

“We gave them confidence that they can do it for high school,” Mirzazadeh said. 

In light of the other events over the summer, Maslow was taken with how the history of epidemics and pandemics showed that certain groups are consistently left most vulnerable. She plans to have her students analyze the spread of Human T-lymphotropic virus, a poorly understood relative of HIV which can cause fatal lymphoma. It has had disproportionate impact on Australia’s aboriginal peoples. Maslow will organize the unit around the questions of why it happened and what could have been done to fix it. The students will present their findings in mock radio interviews, with different students playing experts from a range of fields. 

“I just want to expose them to the concept that health problems are very interdisciplinary, and whatever they go into for a career, it’s all related,” Maslow said. 

Like many of the other teachers, Maslow was especially wowed by the overview of One Health that Fieldhouse led. One Health is an emerging approach to global health emphasizing the connections among animal, planetary and human health. One Health proponents, including Fieldhouse’s advisor Jonna Mazet, DVM, PhD, argue that tracking viruses among animal populations will give us advance warning of what could emerge in humans. 

Several teachers, including Maslow, have asked Fieldhouse to give guest lectures during the school year. 

“I think One Health lends a positive light, a sense that we know how to approach these complex problems,” Fieldhouse said. “It gives a lens on solutions.”

If you’re interested in the Summer Researchers in Global Health internship program or the Global Health Curriculum Bootcamp, please contact program manager Rachel Cox