Inspiring Learning Through a Pandemic: How the College of Life Sciences Took Initiative
While COVID-19 disrupted the world, members of the College of Life Sciences continued to find ways to uplift and impact their communities through inspired learning. In a devotional offered in 2016, BYU President Kevin J Worthen stated that students should seek experiences that bring “strength to others in the tasks of home and family life, social relationships, civic duty, and service to mankind.” Following are a few examples of how students are participating in President Worthen’s inspiring learning initiative through opportunities related to the pandemic.
In addition, the Department of Public Health contributed to educating the community by developing a packet of COVID-19 fact sheets containing science-based information on topics ranging from vaccines to mental health during the pandemic. Collaborative contributions were made by faculty from several colleges and departments across campus, including: public health, plant and wildlife sciences, microbiology and molecular biology, biology, computer science, nursing, and the law school. Three fact sheets are included in this issue of Impact; all fact sheets are available here.
BUILDING A PCR TESTING LAB
When Utah Governor Gary Herbert announced his executive order for increased COVID-19 testing at higher education institutions, BYU evaluated its testing resources and found a need for an improved testing supply chain. Microbiology and molecular biology professor Mary Davis helped open a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments Certified Lab within the BYU Student Health Center.
In a condensed six-week schedule, the new lab was equipped with ThermoFisher TaqPath tests. These polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests remove significant variability in the testing process. Each PCR test takes five hours to run, is more sensitive and accurate, and can assess 384 samples per run.
Recognizing the critical role medical laboratory science has played during the pandemic, Davis saw an opportunity to involve her students in the process and provide an inspired learning experience. This opportunity fit seamlessly into medical laboratory science students Adriana Cardon’s (‘21) and Emily Bohnee’s (‘21) career aspirations, but it also emphasized the importance of caring for their community and serving others.
“I was excited to get involved with something I’ll do in my career and to help with the effects of the pandemic,” Cardon said. “That’s why I want to become a medical laboratory scientist after all—to help people who need it.”
Bohnee found the experience invaluable as the pandemic took away her hopes of a traditional university experience. “I wasn’t going to be here much longer and felt cheated on my senior year, but this was a way to give back to the university that I love,” Bohnee said.
The project was completely consuming, but Davis knew the temporary inconveniences were worth it for the university and her students. She commented, “As much as I want to help with the pandemic, for me and the other faculty, we couldn’t do this on our own in addition to our normal jobs. As faculty, I love doing this, but providing the opportunity for students is the reason I’ve been willing to work 70-hour weeks the last two months.”
PULLING LIFE SCIENCES STUDENTS TO THE FRONTLINES
In order to test nearly 20,000 students in the first ten days of winter semester, students across multiple disciplines were recruited as COVID-19 swabbers. Luke Mitchell (‘21) and Liz Stroud (‘21) were among many public health students pulled to the frontlines of the pandemic to meet BYU’s urgent need.
Mitchell was eager to provide relief during the pandemic. “When COVID-19 hit the United States, it was like all the training and schoolwork I had been doing for the past few years was thrown in the limelight,” he said.
After participating in blended video and in-person training, Mitchell and Stroud found themselves amid the entry-testing madness. Stroud commented on her experience, “It was a little intimidating wearing all the personal protective equipment and thinking there was a chance that I could come in contact with someone who was positive, but it was an exhilarating learning experience.”
In addition to overseeing testing at BYU as a student supervisor, Mitchell is interning at the Utah County Health Department. This hands-on work has allowed him to learn about COVID-19 testing and vaccine protocols while applying integral public health knowledge to the pandemic.
“Being involved with testing has allowed me to see the positive impact of public health programs on my environment,” Mitchell said. “Although not everything always works out how we might have originally intended, the overall benefit of the work has been overwhelmingly positive, and we have helped limit the spread of COVID-19 on campus.”
The commitment to complete entry testing was essential to the campus community’s well-being and safety. Stroud and Mitchell were honored to do their part to help the student body while reinforcing their passion for public health.
LIFE SCIENCES STUDENTS LEARN CASE MANAGEMENT WORKING WITH UTAH COUNTY HEALTH
Several life science students have played an instrumental role in controlling COVID-19 on campus by working on the case management team. Overseen by the Utah County Health Department, BYU’s case management team traces the spread of the virus, informs people about isolation and quarantine procedures, answers questions, and keeps campus as healthy as possible.
While looking for a way to serve their community in pandemic relief efforts, public health student Megan Trout (‘22) and medical laboratory science student Jayline Martinez (‘22) apply pathophysiology and social understanding principles as case managers.
Trout commented on her role, saying, “It’s definitely been a challenge in some ways. The pandemic has hurt everyone to some degree. I’ve been grateful to have such an interesting and relevant job, but I’m painfully aware that this job has come because of a time of tragedy. I’m glad that I’ve been able to contribute and feel like I’m actively fighting against the spread of the virus every single day.”
Martinez recognizes the various mental, emotional, and physical impacts of the pandemic: “I think it is incredible that something that we cannot see has affected our lives in such profound ways.” Serving as the contact point for COVID-19 information can be complicated, but the process is effective when the case managers treat each case with the highest level of compassion.
Case managers juggle the unknowns of COVID-19 and the constant flow of new information to keep campus safe. Tamie Harding, BYU emergency manager, expanded on the core purpose of case management: “While we are doing contact tracing for our campus, our number one priority in reaching out to the students is to make sure they’re okay."