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News & Stories: 2009-10

Interim 2010: Pathogens & Pandemic Potential
January 15, 2010

A field trip to the Lowell water treatment plant got a Calvin interim class talking about a variety of topics: politics (the relative insecurity of the nation's water treatment plants and how that could be exploited by terrorists), economics (the impact on Lowell's water prices when a local business went bankrupt and left town) and even chemistry (the temperature at which water is heaviest).

Students listen to an employee of the Lowell Water Treatment Plant

Students in the "Pathogens and Pandemic Potential" interim course visit a water treatment plant in Lowell, Mich.

For Calvin professor David De Heer, a biologist who was team-teaching the course, titled "Pathogens and Pandemic Potential," with fellow biologist Arlene Hoogewerf, the field trip was a microcosm of what he aims for in a typical interim.

"Interim is a chance to explore," he said, "to go into different territories and to give the students exposure to opportunities for learning that they might not find during the regular semester. So the conversations we had (on the field trip) were a terrific example of what interim can give our students."

Field trips key part of interim class

Lowell Water Treatment plant
The Lowell water treatment plant

That trip was just one of several planned for the students by De Heer and Hoogewerf. Also on tap were trips to the Kent County disaster preparation center, scheduled just three days after a massive earthquake struck Haiti, for a session on government disaster preparation, and one to the West Michigan turkey producers co-op, for a conversation on safe food supplies.

In between trips was a wealth of classroom sessions on such topics as clean water and infectious disease control, malaria, smallpox, tuberculosis and food poisoning. De Heer and Hoogewerf led many of the sessions, but they also tapped into the expertise of guest speakers from local hospitals and health departments, introducing students to infectious diseases, and their potential for catastrophic, worldwide outbreaks.

Haiti earthquake impacts students in class

A week into the course, the 20 students who signed on expressed both an appreciation for the topic and for their professors' approach to the three-week interim session at Calvin, during which students take just one, three-hour class a day.

For Kristin Vanderwell, a sophomore from Jenison, Mich., the topic became especially powerful after the earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12. A nursing major, Vanderwell has made numerous trips already to the impoverished Carribean country, and her post-Calvin graduation plan is to return there as a missionary nurse. She took "Pathogens and Pandemic Potential" hoping to learn more about the different diseases she might encounter in Haiti and to learn more about different matters of public health.

"I took microbiology last semester," she said, "and really enjoyed learning about different diseases, how they affect our body and how modern medicine has developed ways to protect us against these diseases. This course seemed to continue with these ideas, and I was interested in learning more about them, so I registered for the course.

"Pathogens and Pandemic Potential" fits career plans

Joe Singer, a junior from Darlington, Wis., said future career plans also nudged him towards taking "Pathogens and Pandemic Potentials."

"I am interested in researching diseases," he said, "and plan to go to grad school for a profession similar to this. So far, I have really enjoyed the teaching by the profs of the class; they are fun and encourage discussion. I also am learning a good deal about diseases, although my interests lie a little deeper in exactly how the pathogen causes diseases at a cellular and molecular level. I also like the low-key lab exercises: effective for interim but not enough to stress me out."

Constance Kreamer, a sophomore who grew up in Nairobi, Kenya, where her parents are missionaries, also hopes to be a nurse someday. For her the interim course was a way to learn more about diseases, their worldwide impact and their prevention. The pace of interim, she said, is slightly more relaxed with just one subject on the docket. "I like having some extra time to spend with friends and at work," she said, "while still having plenty of time to study for the interim class."

Students big fans of interim

Singer and Vanderwell both echo Kreamer on that score. Said Singer: "I'm a big fan of interim. With typically lower-key classes, interim is a time to re-energize for the next semester." Added Vanderwell: "I like the fact that there is only one class and one set of deadlines to keep track of. I also enjoy studying one topic in a more in-depth manner."

All of this was music to the ears of both De Heer and Hoogewerf. Oh, and water is heaviest at 39 degrees Fahrenheit.

~by Phil de Haan, communications and marketing

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Interim at Calvin

Check out news, stories, videos and blogs from interim at Calvin.

Also read a story from the News & Stories Web site about the college's efforts in 2009-2010 to combat H1N1.

And consider coming to special Science Visit Days events on March 5 and March 12, 2010.