By Dr. Evelyn Rynkiewicz, Assistant Professor of Ecology,. Department of Science and Mathematics at the Fashion Institute of Technology, State University of New York.
My name is Dr. Evelyn Rynkiewicz, I am a professor of ecology at the Fashion Institute of Technology. I teach a course there called “Disease Ecology in a Changing World,” and my background and research is in disease ecology of coinfecting parasites in mice. I wanted to present a course like this for FIT students because diseases are something that affect all of us, everyone has experience being sick, and because emerging infectious diseases are a growing global issue (even before the Covid-19 pandemic, which is of course still impacting us). The challenge in teaching science courses at FIT is that our students mainly have majors in the design and business fields, not in the sciences, so I try to make the course material relate to their backgrounds and experiences as much as possible, to make the content more relevant to them. I also want to increase science literacy in my students, making them comfortable reading, understanding, and talking about science in their personal and professional lives.
I learned about the New York Academy of Medicine Library after seeing the “Germ City” exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York. I got in contact with the Historical Collections Librarian, Arlene Shaner, who set up a visit to show me some of the materials she thought would relate to my course. I was blown away! I knew my students would love to see these historical documents. These materials highlight not only the art and history of how scientists and the public interacted with diseases through time, but also show how intertwined social, economic, and political issues are with how society’s experiences of disease.
Our class took a field trip to the NYAM Library and was shown an array of material; from Hooke’s book on microscopy, Edward Jenner’s work describing his development of the first vaccine, to posters and leaflets used from WWII to the present day to inform people about diseases such as malaria, HIV, or tuberculosis. I am always excited to see what students find interesting from this visit. Many enjoyed seeing the graphic design and illustrations used in the posters, such as those by Dr. Seuss and Keith Haring. Others picked up on how women and marginalized groups were often those who did a lot of the work caring for sick and infected people. Some just liked seeing the historical materials related to New York and being able to see how their home was impacted by diseases in the past.
One of the main assessments for the course is a creative research project where students choose a disease to study and then make a presentation with something creative related to that disease that would help someone learn more about it. I encourage the students to think about how they could use their skills learned from their major and apply it to this topic. The field trip to the NYAM Library provides the initial inspiration for this. I am always so proud and surprised at what they come up with!
Here are some of the things they created:
Arriana Tran, a Fashion Business Management major, created a movie poster. Inspired by the warnings her parents shared with her on the risk of becoming infected with Dengue in her parent’s home country of the Philippines.
Packaging Design major Ethan Wolfsberg designed a malaria testing and monitoring kit that would be able to be used in remote areas that are heavily impacted by this disease. A real-life version would be made in languages appropriate for the area.
To reduce the stigma of taking PreP, Francis Lavery, also a Fashion Business Management major, made an image that emphasizes that this treatment is appropriate for everyone.
Illustration major Leia Garrette wanted to visually show how infection with the agent of Lyme Disease impacts all parts of the body. She created a paper doll where each layer illustrated a different system (e.g. muscles, nervous system) accompanied by an explanation of how each is affected by the infection.
This flyer was created by Sarah Sepulveda from Fashion Business Management. Her plan was for a support group for parents worried about or impacted by Zika virus. There was a focus on Brazil where the outbreak was especially significant in 2016.
Once again, a huge thanks to Arlene and the others at NYAM for their help and insight. I look forward to more collaboration!