Global Problems, Scientific Solutions, and Antibiotic-Resistant Syphilis

Williston Students Join in UMass iCons Workshop
20141206 Bill Berghoff Science
By Bill Berghoff

By Michelle Lawson

After an animated discussion and three rounds of voting, the decision was final: the first case study for the University of Massachusetts Amherst freshmen would be on the increase of antibiotic-resistant strains of syphilis.

So how did eight Williston students happen to be involved in this decision on a recent rainy Saturday morning?

I’ll start at the beginning.

At 8:15 a.m. last Saturday, the students in the advanced integrated science course (AIS) at Williston hopped on the bus and headed to UMass. Our plan was to spend the morning with the first-year college students who were beginning the integrated concentration in science program (iCons), led by Professor Scott Auerbach. In previous years, Professor Auerbach has led a workshop at Williston for the AIS students, but this year we wanted to travel to UMass and immerse ourselves in the integrated science program.

Professor Auerbach started the iCons programs five years ago to bring students together from different science disciplines and address problems from a multidisciplinary perspective. Over their four years of college, the iCons students work in small groups to come up with scientific solutions to global problems.

After Professor Auerbach introduced the faculty and described some of the internship and scholarship opportunities available to the iCons students, the UMass and Williston students quickly split into groups of four to begin brainstorming. The Williston students immediately began participating in the small group discussions. The groups addressed many questions, including:

  • What are some attitudes that are necessary for problem-solving in groups? (Trust, respect, work ethic, confidence, being self-critical, creativity, etc.)
  • Based on the two articles the students read, what are some of the big problems facing the global population? (Energy sources, overpopulation, disease, food scarcity, etc.)
  • What are some specific examples (from the recent news) of these problems that could be used as case studies for the iCons class this spring? (Ebola outbreak, California drought, measles outbreak, BP oil spill, acidification of the oceans, destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, antibiotic resistant syphilis, etc.)

The Williston students confidently shared their expertise and opinions, both in the small groups and when the class reunited as a whole. As we walked to the bus, the students were talking excitedly about their new ideas of what topics they should tackle this year.

Our trip to UMass helped them understand the iCons process, how to collaborate in small groups, and how to come up with topics. It was great jumping off point for their AIS projects, and I’m excited to see what topics and ideas they have come up with.

I just hope it’s not antibiotic-resistant syphilis…

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