In spite of the apparent technological advancement of the nation’s health care system, how is it that the United States ranks 28th in the world in infant mortality, the second-lowest ranking in the developed world?
That is a question a biologist, a political scientist, a historian of gender and an economist are asking Franklin & Marshall students in a course examining pregnancy outcomes in American women.
Students “get the opportunity to interact at a very high level with students from very different disciplines at the College as they explore an important problem in depth and from multiple perspectives,” said Kirk Miller, professor of biology.
The course, first taught in the spring semester of 2006, was recently chosen as a model of interdisciplinary study by Science Education for New Civil Engagements and Responsibilities (SENCER), a group established by the National Science Foundation to improve science education at undergraduate institutions. SENCER highlights only seven courses annually as models of interdisciplinary study.
Taught by Miller; Berwood Yost, director of the Floyd Institute for Public Policy; Professor of Economics Sean Flaherty ’73; and Alison Kibler, associate professor of American Studies and director of the Women and Gender Studies Program, the upper-level seminar examines the question of poor pregnancy outcomes in American women through the study of locally collected data.
SENCER chose the course as a model for teaching social problems at other colleges and universities because it effectively connected scientific knowledge and data to public decision-making and policy development, Miller said. The course challenges students to consider what is good prenatal care and whether access to it improves pregnancy outcomes.
By exploring questions that affect public policy, students gain experience with the evaluation and use of evidence drawn from multiple sources. It helps the students build and defend arguments based on statistical and other forms of evidence, Miller said.
“Gathering students from sciences, social sciences and humanities makes the class dynamic and more provocative as students challenge each other to look outside their fields of study to examine a problem in different ways,” Miller said.