Dr. Joey Lightner
EUReka Course: PBHL 158: Public Health Principles
See Dr. Lightner's Syllabus
How was teaching your EUReka class different from other similar classes you've taught?
Teaching Public Health Principles (PBHL 158) as a EUReka course has been different than other classes in two important ways:
- Peer mentoring: Students are assigned to groups and complete a research project during the semester where they have to learn complex tasks, formulate new information, and present the results to the public. Each student has strengths that they bring to the project. Some students are better at analyzing data, reviewing literature, writing, or presenting. Students must rely on the strengths that they possess and they mentor the other members of their group in that area.
- Presentation to the university community: I made the decision early on to have students present at the Undergraduate Research Symposium. That decision made me uncomfortable. In every class, there are excellent students, as well as students that struggle. My performance as an instructor would be on full display. My dean, other faculty members, and students would engage directly with my students and informally evaluate how well I teach. If I failed to lead students to do a good job, it would be presented to the general university community.
How did teaching a EUReka class allow you to more tightly intertwine your research interest and your teaching responsibilities?
My research involves the use of secondary data to understand complex public health problems. In PBHL 158, the students engage in the same methodology of research that I do on a daily basis. However, not all people are interested in studying physical activity as I am. The students have the opportunity to study what they think is important and valuable to understand. Last year, we had projects that assessed racial differences in the criminal justice system, prevalence of eating disorders, the association between dietary intake of salt and cardiovascular disease, the link between e-cigarettes and alcohol intake, the prevalence of suicidal ideation, and many others. All of these are important public health problems that need to be studied. Overall, the students report having a great time studying what they think is valuable and I have the opportunity to be exposed to novel associations in the field.
How do you think your EUReka students benefited from being exposed to undergraduate research early in their academic careers?
At the most basic level, public health has always been the implementation and dissemination of research. The goal of public health is to promote and protect the health of people and communities. It is widely accepted that health outcomes are due to factors in the social or physical environments, like toxins, inequality, and disease, which cause differences in health status. However, exposure to harmful environmental factors are not evenly distributed among all populations. Identifying key determinants of health and understanding how those change health outcomes for unique populations is both research and public health. Public health practitioners continually use research to improve the health of the populations that they serve. To better prepare Bachelor of Science in Public Health students for a career in Public Health, we should provide a learning environment that teaches a foundational skill set to conduct and use research techniques to solve complex problems. By providing these opportunities, students are better public health practitioners and better able to serve their communities.
What advice would you have for colleagues thinking of offering a EUReka course?
Try it! We are all experimenters -- why only do experiments in the lab? I want to continually improve and be a better teacher and researcher. I think one of the best ways to do that is to experiment. Teaching a EUReka course is probably more work but the value outweighs the workload. I have several undergraduate research assistants that were in PBHL 158 who now help with research projects and some lead their own. The students challenge my way of thinking and question assumptions that I unknowingly hold. Most importantly, they hold me accountable to saying “That’s a great question. I don’t know the answer. Let’s figure it out!” on a daily basis.