COLUMBUS, Miss.-- Dr. Nicole Welch understands the interconnectedness of our lives.

As a professor of biology at Mississippi University for Women, Welch’s job is to help students see, experience and appreciate how changes in one area have cascading effects on others.

As a result of the impact of the outbreak of COVID-19, Welch and her colleagues in The W’s Department of Sciences & Mathematics have prepared a variety of summer classes to emphasize the importance of scientific literacy in our daily lives.

Welch’s redesigned SM 102 Environmental Science II is one of several new courses that will be offered in The W’s two summer sessions, which begin May 20. The first summer session runs through June 26. The second summer session will run from June 30 to July 30. All the courses can be found in The W’s Schedule of Classes https://ssb.muw.edu/pls/prod/wwskschd.P_SelTerm

“The COVID-19 outbreak reminds us that humans are a part of nature,” said Welch, who has been at The W since 2008. “We are a species in the web of life that both impacts the environment and is subject to repercussions of environmental pressures. The Department of Sciences & Mathematics is offering several online classes this summer to help students understand the science of the Coronavirus outbreak."  

SM 102 will be offered in Summer Session II with BSB 102 (General Biology II) and BSM 485 (Introduction to Epidemiology). SM 101 (Environmental Science I), BSB 101 (General Biology I) and BSM 485 (Introduction to Infectious Diseases) will be offered in Summer Session I.

Welch said she re-designed SM 102 after many years of teaching the general education course with a textbook. The new course will focus on an open-resource copy of Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” and study the ecology of select chapters. Welch said “Silent Spring,” which was first published in 1962, challenged the idea “man can control nature” and shifted public understanding toward “man as part of the environment” instead of outside of the environment. She said the class will examine emergent diseases, like COVID-19, as natural signals of environmental stress. The class doesn’t require a physical textbook. It will include open-book online quizzes, backyard/kitchen sink “lab” activities and one short paper, which will be handled through Canvas.

Welch also said the class will discuss what students can do to promote sustainability at home, work and school.

“ ‘Silent Spring’ was one of the first books to bring environmental science into the homes of people,” Welch said. “Carson’s explanation of biomagnification of pesticides through food webs, and how humans are as much a part of those food webs as are birds and other species, made enough people stop and think about humankind's place in the environment that it launched the environmental movement of the 1970s.”

Welch said she first read “Silent Spring” in the 1990s when she was in graduate school. She said she admired Carson’s use of language based in peer-reviewed science, yet eloquent and understandable. She said the book taught her the importance of being able to explain scientific concepts in everyday language. She said scientific literacy depends upon that.

Welch said the class will focus on chapters of “Silent Spring” that explain how components of the Earth’s system -- atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere and biosphere -- are interconnected. She said the book and the emerging fields of ecology and environmental science demonstrated there were alternatives to the idea man could control nature. She said students will learn how all species are connected with each other and with the atmosphere, soil, oceans and rivers through readings and hands-on activities they can complete in their backyards.  

“Human actions impact the environment, and those environmental changes -- such as pollution and global climate change -- impact human health and economic stability,” Welch said. “This is the heart of scientific literacy that allows people to make informed decisions in all aspects of their lives. Many of today's environmental issues are the result of the ‘man can control nature’ philosophy of past decades. Genuine understanding of where humans fit into the web of life, and adoption of sustainable practices that promote the environment, social justice and economic growth, will lead to a better future for all.”

Welch said the emergence of COVID-19 makes it an ideal time to study about the human race’s place in the web of life. She said the class also will discuss the loss of biodiversity as a natural signal of environmental stress.  

“The more we understand each emergent disease, the more we can manage their spread through shelter-in place-initiatives, scientific research and the development of treatments grounded in scientific research,” Welch said. “The good news of recent is that environmental conditions have improved during this global pandemic. A less-stressed environment plus sustainable practices are the keys to a better future.”




May 4, 2020
Contact: Adam Minichino
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