We recently had a chance to talk with MFPE member Kari Cargill about the work she is doing in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Montana. Cargill’s work is incredibly timely and is part of the reason she and her students weren’t caught completely off guard when COVID-19 hit Montana. Cargill is the Senior Lecturer for the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Montana State University – Bozeman, which, like all Montana universities and college, has closed in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.
While cats may drop-in during Cargill’s virtual lectures, she continues to do work that matters for her students and the state of Montana.
MFPE: How has your work changed in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak? What is class like since the COVID-19 outbreak?
Cargill: Instead of teaching to 100-200 students at a time in a large lecture hall, I am now lecturing to my computer and recording class material by myself at the dining room table, with cats walking around. Pretty much the new normal for most teachers, for now. I miss the faces, and the questions, and the energy of my students. However, we are all making it work and they have a good attitude about this abrupt change in their learning. They tell me they miss our face-to-face class time but are enjoying the lectures I post online. I am making it up on the fly so I appreciate their feedback when things are working, or not, so I can adjust as necessary. I am staying very flexible since they are now scattered across the country, across time zones, and even across the globe!
I teach Microbiology, with a course for non-science majors, and another specifically on Infectious Diseases that our nursing students take in preparation for their nursing program.
The COVID-19 situation has not caught my students completely by surprise, since I was talking to them about it since the start of the semester in January, when I first saw news items about a new virus in China. I have always taught with a strong focus on public health aspects of microbiology, as well as historical perspectives. For decades, I’ve shown a film about the 1918 Influenza pandemic. Now my students (both current and former) are emailing me how that perspective has helped them see the common challenges we are facing now. And how some aspects are not so different than they were 100 years ago.
I was teaching during the SARS coronavirus epidemic in 2003 and thought “here we go!” with a pandemic, but quarantine and isolation measures were able to put that fire out fairly quickly. I truly thought that the same would hold true with this virus and initially did not envision the situation we now find ourselves in. We are continuing to track this pandemic in my classes, as each day brings new understanding, and as the scientists work so hard to bring hope of future treatments and prevention.
In the meantime, I continue to teach the same topics that I’ve always covered on epidemiology, viruses and other microbes, and how the immune system works. My students have an even stronger interest now, as they see the real world applications unfolding in real time. They can feel uncertain and anxious, as we all do, so I try to remain a calm source of scientific information for them. This is what I do, and so it is what I am able to offer in these times. I hope it is helpful to them now, and in their future as nurses & healthcare workers, and as informed citizens of our society.