The Charger Blog

Health Sciences Major: ‘There Couldn’t Have Been a Better Time to Take an Epidemiology Course’

During the spring semester, students taking an innovative course taught by Alvin Tran, Sc.D., MPH, conducted research and applied what they learned in class to better understand the impact of the global coronavirus pandemic.

July 7, 2020

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Image of Online Course
Dr. Alvin Tran’s “Principles of Epidemiology” students presented their research online.

During the spring semester, Emily Holland ’21 took a “Principles of Epidemiology” course that gave her a deeper understanding of the coronavirus pandemic as it unfolded around the world and enabled her to better interpret the data reported in the news.

Image of Emily Holland.
Emily Holland ’21.

As she and her classmates learned about epidemiology, discussing topics such as prevalence and incidence, they saw real-world examples of what they were learning about. While completing their final projects, she and her classmates were able to apply everything they learned.

Holland and her teammates explored the impact of COVID-19 on stress levels in adults, and they were especially interested in learning more about how the pandemic impacted parents. They conducted a study, administering a survey and analyzing the results.

“I learned a lot about conducting studies and data analysis, including how to reach a more diverse population,” said Holland, a health sciences major. “One of the most significant outcomes that I found from this project was that data will not always yield the results you were expecting, and that reporting what you did not find is just as important in reporting what you did find.”

Taught by Alvin Tran, Sc.D., MPH, the course included undergraduate students and, for the first time, was offered to graduate students, including candidates in the University’s MPH and MHA programs.

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Students focused their research on the impact of COVID-19.

Five teams of students designed and administered a cross-sectional survey online that covered a variety of public health topics, including COVID-19. They then presented their findings to the University community via Zoom and answered questions.

“The role of public health professionals, including epidemiologists, is more critical now than ever as we continue to battle this pandemic,” said Dr. Tran, who will be teaching several sections of a special topics course about pandemics and public health threats this summer and fall, all of which are already full.

Image of Sharidan Witkowski.
Sharidan Witkowski ’21.

“I believe that understanding the foundation of epidemiology is essential for all current and emerging healthcare professionals,” he continued. “We need to understand not only the underlying causes of disease and mortality, but, also, how to track how they spread across populations in order to develop effective strategies to combat them.”

Sharidan Witkowski ’21, a health sciences major, and her teammates focused their research on sleeping habits, comparing people’s sleep schedules before and after the quarantine started. They found that although people were sleeping more each night after the quarantine restrictions began, they were not enjoying quality sleep, and as a result, they did not report feeling more rested or motivated as a result.

“I found presenting remotely and presenting our findings to a live audience to be very gratifying,” said Witkowski, a psychology minor. “Professor Tran found ways to adapt and keep each virtual class meeting interesting and relevant to the current circumstances. There couldn’t have been a better time to take an epidemiology course.”