June 23, 2020 (updated June 25, 2020)
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to alter the lives of millions of people across the country and billions around the world, Albion College is focusing a new action-oriented initiative on addressing some of the greatest public health issues in the last century.
Led by 1977 alumnus James Wilson, M.D. Ph.D., a renowned medical scientist, Albion College has launched an ambitious Comprehensive Public Health Initiative that will advance community conversation and understanding of the social, political, economic and public health dimensions of the devastating pandemic and is beginning work with students, staff, faculty and community members to address the ongoing toll of COVID-19. The endeavor features a range of academic components for students—including training in contact tracing and expanded nursing opportunities—as well as public health training for all members of the Albion College community. The multifaceted initiative also includes an online seminar series developed and led by Dr. Wilson featuring world-recognized experts in public health and policy. The series begins September 10, 2020.
“Albion is a place where we face the challenges of today and tomorrow. We understand deeply our public purpose and we understand our responsibility to move from understanding to action. The Lisa and James Wilson Institute for Medicine exemplifies our approach to integration of knowledge and action. Our scale is an asset—it allows us to pivot toward challenges quickly, examine them thoroughly and act decisively,” said Dr. Mathew Johnson, who was named Albion College’s 17th president in April. “I can think of no one better for leading Albion in this crucial endeavor than Dr. Wilson, whose work in public health and genetics research is known around the world.”
What is slated to be a nine-part seminar series has already attracted several leading voices in the fields of public health and policy. The series will premier September 10, 2020 at 7 p.m. ET with Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House of Representatives. Each virtual seminar series event will be streamed on Albion College’s YouTube channel and accessible through the College’s other social media channels. Along with Dr. Wilson’s moderating role, Albion students will be featured as well.
Additional guest speakers who have already committed to participate, on dates to be announced, include:
In 2018, Dr. Wilson and his wife, Lisa, ’79, created the Wilson Institute for Medicine at Albion College, a landmark program that provides students interested in pre-medical education the opportunity to participate in transformative experiential education.
Dr. Wilson, who has also been appointed to serve his alma mater as special advisor to the president for medical affairs, is the Rose H. Weiss Orphan Disease Center director’s professor and director of the gene therapy program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. He received his M.D. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan after graduating Phi Beta Kappa with a B.A. in chemistry from Albion. His lab at Penn has been identified by national public health experts to assist in the research effort to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, which has led to the deaths of more than 120,000 people in the United States, sickened many more and led to a reshaping of American society in the last few months.
“Higher education’s role, broadly, in this pandemic is to discover and provide access to new information related to coronavirus and its public health implications,” Dr. Wilson said. “We believe that Albion College and the Wilson Institute’s role is to provide access to cutting-edge thinking from leading experts in public health to our students, faculty, staff and the greater community.”
Under the leadership of Dr. Bradley Rabquer, director of the Wilson Institute at Albion College, Albion’s Comprehensive Public Health Initiative will also include a significant expansion in health curriculum and co-curricular training to prepare a new generation of students and other stakeholders for a world that will likely look very different in the wake of the current pandemic.
Faculty and staff have collaborated to develop a suite of public health offerings including:
A post-baccalaureate pre-medical studies program: Starting in spring 2021, Albion’s one-year post-baccalaureate certificate program in pre-medical studies will allow students to enhance their academic record prior to starting medical school.
Expanded nursing opportunities: Working closely with partners at the Oakland University School of Nursing, the Wilson Institute is crafting a four-year nursing degree for students that will provide the highest level of clinical training coupled with the analytical and critical-thinking skills that a liberal arts college like Albion provides.
Contact tracing: Efforts are underway to train Albion students who are members of the Wilson Institute to become COVID-19 contact tracers. Trained students will work with local public health officials to confidentially identify individuals who may have been in contact with someone infected with SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus strain that causes COVID-19.
Opportunities for additional course credit: A new free online course focused on the pandemic is being offered to all newly enrolled students and will begin in July.
A public health living-learning community: A living-learning community will be open to more than 30 first-year students who want to study the public health challenges faced today.
New public health programs: New programs are being built and explored in undergraduate and graduate public health.
"We want new Albion students to understand right from the beginning that being a Brit means learning and doing; it means facing the challenges of today and tomorrow; it means building a better community and society together,” Dr. Johnson said. “We chose to move beyond coping with the tragedy of the pandemic and into adaptation, recovery and solution seeking.”
“Albion students are passionate about serving others, and the pandemic has generated tremendous demand from students for training in public health,” said Dr. Rabquer, who along with directing the Wilson Institute is also an associate professor of biology at Albion. “A societal increase in investment in public health will also lead to an increase in career opportunities in this area. The Wilson Institute and, more broadly, the College’s Comprehensive Public Health Initiative are answering this call and doing more than preparing students to succeed in this new landscape. These students, through their foundation in the liberal arts and sciences, will help create it.”