Three Davidson faculty members have received a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop the "Breathe, Eat, Touch (BET) Project," a set of introductory-level cross-disciplinary courses in environmental health.
Associate Professors Karen Bernd (biology), Cindy Hauser (chemistry), and Kristie Foley (medical humanities) envision the BET Project as a way to teach students how to conduct research in the scientific literature, community, and laboratory, understand the information they gather, and relay that information to laypeople. Students in the class will integrate biology, chemistry, and epidemiology as they research aspects of the environment that they breathe, eat, and touch that impact human health. Their assignments will reach beyond the college campus, as they will also develop materials for local secondary schools and the general public.
"We want to create a course that not only teaches science, but that informs students of the applicability of that science," said Bernd. She pointed out that students who understand scientific literature will be better equipped to make informed decisions about how they interact with the environment and make health-related decisions.
The new courses are expected to be classified as offerings in Davidson's Environmental Studies Department, which Hauser currently chairs, and as part of the Medical Humanities Program, for which Foley serves as Associate Director.
Bernd, Hauser and Foley will develop modular curricula for two versions of the course—one with a laboratory component and one without. That will allow them to be adapted to fit into the curriculum at other institutions ranging from community colleges to larger universities.
Hauser said, "In the liberal arts especially, we talk a lot about encouraging students to make connections across disciplines, but we don't always show them how to do this. Hopefully, this course can help students make those connections and prepare them for higher-level courses. The sciences have always interconnected in their real-world applications. We're just building a course that raises student awareness of it."
The grant comes from the NSF's initiative in "Transforming Undergraduate Education in Science, Technology and Mathematics." The funding will cover employment of student interns to help build and plan the curricula, purchase of lab equipment, and will support the development and assessment of the curricula's effectiveness. Bernd, Hauser, and Foley will begin developing the course this January, and will offer the non-lab version of the course for the first time in spring 2014. The first lab version will be offered the following fall.
Bernd and Hauser have previously co-taught forensic science courses encompassing their two areas of study—biology and chemistry. The three collaborators developed the idea for their grant proposal in informal conversations over lunches together. "That's one of the beauties of Davidson," said Bernd. "Teachers from different disciplines know each other and can make opportunities to work together when their subjects interrelate."