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Inspired to teach: How Penn State is helping everyone view the COVID-19 pandemic in a different way

Moved by the pandemic and in tribute to a student who died, for these Penn State experts the need to help became a rallying cry to teach

Penn State Professor Frank Ritter and his fellow specialized experts saw signs that the pandemic was coming as early as January and February of 2020. So, they got to work on what they do best: spreading knowledge.

The goal of their combined effort was to dive into the nitty gritty details of daily life-changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic in order to arm people with information and give them a new perspective on how to approach behaviors that shape their lives. 

The result was a 202-page book published in December with 10 co-authors that eventually led to a fully-designed one-credit course at Penn State University. 

"In this course we're talking about, in many ways, the theory that's behind the posters and giving more details about the behaviors that people are being encouraged to take," said Dr. Ritter.

"Skills to Obstruct Pandemics (STOP): How to protect yourself and your community from COVID-19 and similar infections"  is a collection of information based on specialized research and knowledge from cognitive and bioterrorism experts along with public health, military, and medical leaders. 

Learn more about the book here.

The book, along with its companion course, seeks to explain the 'why' and 'how' of health directives such as those CDC guidelines that include hand washing, social distancing, and wearing masks.  

"We've been at that long enough that people are now asking the questions of why and how much and when. And, I want more details and I want to understand how it all works," said Ritter who added that the book and course also include details into infection pathways and behavior modifications. It examines everything from how a cough lands to studies on when social distancing is and is not effective. 

Watch the two videos below to listen to Dr. Ritter discuss the lessons he hopes students will learn during the COVID-19 course:

Ritter said the group of experts behind the book have distributed 'tons' of copies and hope the exposure and the course will assist the public as they also seek to navigate the pandemic. 

The group has already heard from school leaders in the Hershey area regarding the course and from a church in Dayton, Ohio that is interested in using details for their congregation.

"The reason that I and this team did this is because...we had a pandemic in our town. We had a pandemic in our country," said Ritter, who later added "if you want to help you got to try." 

Penn State senior Matthew Greenjack is among the handful of students who signed up for course.

Greenjack said the class has taught him a better understanding of COVID-19 and the scientific research behind the safety guidelines. He credits the course with making him more aware and providing him with knowledge that he said he has already shared with his friends and family. 

Greenjack added that he is pleased that the class structure allows for students to discuss and raise their own questions about the pandemic.

"It piqued my interest because as we know COVID-19 has really impacted the world around us," he said. 

Listen to PSU Senior Matthew Greenjack discuss his experience so far in the course.

"Skills to Obstruct Pandemics: How to protect yourself and your community from COVID-19 and similar infections" is dedicated to a student of Ritter's.

"I had a student who passed away due to stress caused by the pandemic and the book's dedicated to him. And, I really wish people would take this more seriously. And, I think that's happening as it's spreading more widely," said Ritter.

Learn more about the book and how to stop the spread of COVID-19 here.