A new class at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine will use a multidisciplinary approach to educate graduate students about the novel coronavirus and the pandemic. This fall, Kylene Kehn-Hall, professor of virology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, is leading the special-studies course, COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2).

The class was designed as a part of the Center for Emerging, Zoonotic and Arthropod-borne Pathogens (CeZAP), an interdisciplinary network of Virginia Tech scholars that trains graduate students through the Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program in Infectious Disease. The class, however, is open to all Virginia Tech graduate students, regardless of their course of study.

“Over the past year and a half, people who don’t classically study virology have really delved in, taking what they know in other disciplines to help with the pandemic. That’s very important because we can’t look at just the virus; we have to look at it from many different viewpoints,” said Kehn-Hall. “[This class] goes beyond your traditional science course to try to understand the pandemic and the pathogen.”

The course will be offered virtually, and a different instructor will deliver a lecture each week. Kehn-Hall says that her priority was to find a diverse range of faculty members actively involved in COVID research.

Many of the instructors come from within the veterinary college, which houses the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology and the university’s Public Health Program. The instructors also include faculty from the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Virginia Tech's College of Science and College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, as well as faculty from the University of New Mexico and the University of Maryland.

“COVID-19 is a very complex disease, and no single scientific discipline alone can tackle the problem,” said X.J. Meng, University Distinguished Professor of Molecular Virology at the veterinary college and the founding director of CeZAP. Meng will deliver two lectures for the course. 

“Dr. Kehn-Hall assembled a cross-disciplinary team of world-class experts across the university to dissect this rapidly evolving pandemic and offer students enriched learning experiences,” said Meng. “The interdisciplinary nature of this course will be particularly beneficial for graduate students in the Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program in Infectious Disease, but also for professional veterinary and medical students and other graduate students on campus.”

Kehn-Hall’s goal is that students not only will gain a greater understanding of COVID-19, but also will be better equipped to explain it to others. 

“As scientists, we have a responsibility to make sure that the public trusts the scientific process,” she said.