Not long after students in Professor Eric Carter’s Medical Geography course began studying pandemics, they found themselves living in one.

“We started talking about the coronavirus epidemic all the way back in January,” says Carter. “I always have a unit on infectious diseases and pandemics and pandemic planning. We monitored the situation as it moved along and had lots of really great class discussions. They became less academic and less abstract as we began to deal with the reality of the pandemic coming to the U.S.”

As the pandemic spread throughout the country, and the college moved to remote learning, Carter asked his students to start keeping daily journals about their experiences of life under lockdown in their homes and neighborhoods.

A few weeks later, Carter read the journal entries and identified seven themes. Instead of doing their own final research papers, students worked on seven teams, each exploring one of the themes. After more writing and analysis, students presented their findings to the class via Zoom. Their work is also now part of a Medical Geography Pandemic Time Capsule housed in the college library’s digital archives for future research and study.

Rebecca Driker-Ohren ’22 (Huntington Woods, Mich.) worked on the theme of embodied experience. “My group made a ’zine that has a lot of illustrations of embodied experiences like sleep, exercise, interactions with family, going out or not going out, that kind of thing,” she says. “Some of the other case studies that we talked about in class are the Chicago heat wave in the ‘90s and the Flint water crisis. It’s interesting to be living through a case study that’s on a much larger scale than what we’ve been looking at.”

Another student, Konrad Bostrom ’21 (St. Paul) credits Professor Carter. “He’s done a really good job,” says Bostrom. “It’s nice to have a collaborative project right now where I see people.” Bostrom and a classmate studied the theme leadership and governance–where people are turning to for leadership during the pandemic. He collected artifacts such as news articles that will become part of the pandemic’s archival evidence. “It’s a bad situation, but we’re trying to make the best of it. Hopefully sometime down the road, young people can learn something from this.”

Carter says the final projects show that these are not just individual experiences. “They are commonalities across the U.S.”

May 18 2020

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