Local High School Teacher Uses K-State Olathe Education to Boost Students’ Knowledge of Zoonotic Diseases

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Using her K-State Olathe veterinary biomedical education, Nicole Ioerger teaches animal science and wildlife biology to Olathe North High School students.

Students in the Animal Health Academy at Olathe North High School are benefitting from their teacher’s JCERT-supported education at K-State Olathe

High school teacher Nicole Ioerger (right image) is earning her master’s degree in veterinary biomedical science and recently presented her master’s defense, “An interdisciplinary One Health case study for high school students.” High school teacher Nicole Ioerger
Using her university education, Ioerger teaches animal science and wildlife biology to high school juniors and a zoology course for Academy seniors.
Her master’s project, a case study about Rift Valley Fever, is part of her high school curriculum.

Rift Valley Fever is a highly infectious disease currently isolated to Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. It’s transmitted by mosquitos to food animals, such as cattle, sheep and goats, and wildlife, such as white-tailed deer. The disease is zoonotic, meaning it can jump from infected animals to people, wherein it can cause mild flu-like symptoms or a lethal hemorrhagic fever. A U.S. outbreak would cost an estimated $50 billion in animal losses and trade.

Responding to and controlling Rift Valley Fever requires an approach from numerous academic disciplines and professions in human, animal and environmental health, Ioerger said.

“Rift Valley Fever is a major concern in the U.S. and a very realistic problem that requires a lot of planning about how to respond to and mitigate it should it reach our country,” Ioerger said. “So, it made sense to integrate it into my classroom lessons.”

For the real-life simulation, Ioerger’s students read up on Rift Valley Fever. Then, working in groups, the students receive a scenario about a U.S. outbreak and roleplay one of the professions responding to it.

Each group addresses:

  • What are the necessary immediate actions?
  • What are the financial costs?
  • How do we safeguard the public?

In answering these questions, students develop a response plan and discuss their top five suggestions for approaching and mitigating the disease.

“It’s a pretty comprehensive project for high school students,” Ioerger said. “My hope is that they learn why it’s important to study and plan for these diseases.”

She also said that having case studies, such as the Rift Valley Fever one, are important to the One Health dialog and to encourage young minds to consider pursuing careers in One Health fields. One Health is a collaborative local, regional, national and global approach to achieving optimal health outcomes by recognizing the interconnection between people, animals, plants, and their shared environment. 

“We need researchers to address complex diseases with a One Health approach,” Ioerger said. “To enable researchers to do that, we need educators to teach them.”

She plans to integrate this case study into her spring 2021 wildlife biology class.

Learn more about the JCERT-supported Master’s in Science in Veterinary Biomedical Science at K-State Olathe.