Modeling Infectious Disease

NCSSM Online students model infectious disease

Sept. 2020

Looking for a silver lining in the radically different school year caused by COVID-19? Because of the flexibility in their local school schedules caused by COVID-19, students in the NCSSM Online program were able to enroll in a unique course offering, Infectious Disease Dynamics and Modeling! This course is offered by visiting instructor and NCSSM alumna Dr. Kathy Paur and is delivered remotely by Zoom from her home in California.

Dr. Paur graduated from NCSSM in 1995 and went on to major in mathematics at MIT and then continued on to earn her Ph.D. in mathematics from Harvard. Her dissertation topic was "Modeling the Effects of Population Structure and Vaccination Strategies on Infectious Diseases." She later went on to run the simulation and modeling group for a robotics company that was later purchased by Amazon. After staying at home with her daughter for several years, Dr. Paur taught high school mathematics at the Nueva School in California. She also is currently volunteering for 15 hours a week at The COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer organization dedicated to collecting and publishing the data required to understand the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States.

While teaching in California, Dr. Paur developed a curriculum for a course in infectious disease modeling to be taught during the 2020-2021 school year. However, Dr. Paur ultimately decided to take a sabbatical from teaching face-to-face this academic year. Not wanting to let a good curriculum sit on the shelf, especially in light of COVID-19, she reached out to Dr. Dan Teague at NCSSM to offer this very timely course to our students and find her own way to give back to the NCSSM community. A mix of students from both the NCSSM online and residential programs work with Dr. Paur and Dr. Teague to study a variety of infectious diseases from several different perspectives. Students will consider different modes of transmission and the effect of biological, ecological, social, political, and economic forces on the spread of infectious diseases. The course will also cover vaccination strategies, diseases throughout human evolution and history, emerging infectious diseases including COVID-19, and major causes of morbidity and mortality including tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV/AIDS.

While we don’t expect these students to be expert epidemiologists by the end of their time with Dr. Paur and Dr. Teague, we hope that this course will inspire students to see how the intersection of mathematics, biology, and public policy can combat infectious diseases even after the battle against COVID-19 is over.