Following several meetings with guest speakers such as Commissioner Bill Daugette and (virtual) Rep. Senfronia Thompson as part of our LEAP LEADs program, our educational odyssey continued with additional training and guest speakers.
Tonight, in our fifth meeting, we began with an introduction from Ms. Fors, who provided us with tips on email etiquette and how to create an email signature block. We were reminded to (1) keep emails short unless length is absolutely necessary, (2) to use a subject heading that is accurate and telling, (3) and to ensure that the email employs good grammar and correct spelling.
After Ms. Fors’ extremely instructive discussion, we moved on to watch the Texas Tribune Festival’s discussion with Peter Hotez, the dean at the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and an expert in vaccine development.
As optimistic as we all were about the current COVID-19 situation, watching this talk with Hotez certainly put a damper on our hopes about the virus. Hotez shared that “vaccines may not be introduced until spring 2021” and that we are likely to have a third surge in COVID-19 cases–and that it could be even worse than before. Though this discussion wasn’t filled with the best of news, it most definitely provided us with new information to keep in mind as we continue to navigate through this new COVID lifestyle that we may begin to call “normal” pretty soon.
The highlight of our night was a Q&A with Dr. Christine Blackburn, the Assistant Research Scientist, lecturer, and Deputy Director of the Pandemic and Biosecurity and Policy Program at the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs.
During this Q&A the eight LEAP LEADs’ students were able to engage in an interactive conversation with Dr. Blackburn on her career, her advice to young people and the substantive aspects of the Coronavirus–which was very educational.
We learned, for example, the 3-4 phases a vaccine must go through to become approved.
We, apparently, are nearing phase three trials, which means tightly controlled experiments on humans should begin.
One of the interesting things about Dr. Blackburn is her educational background. She has an “individual interdisciplinary Ph.D.” in “Political Science, Communications, and Veterinary Science.” The idea is that, as the world becomes more specialized and silo-like, people with interdisciplinary degrees can cut across multiple domains. She persisted in this degree despite others telling her, “No one is going to hire someone with that combination of degrees.” But, of course, the ability to cut across domains is exactly what is needed in a pandemic because it affects supply chains, economics, food and, of course, health–all the while being entangled with politics.
In conclusion, we asked Dr. Blackburn what her goals were and what she hopes to accomplish. She prefaced her response by saying it was a “cliche,” but that she went into her field just “hoping to make the world a better place.” And for a group of students who signed up for LEAP LEADs, in part, to make the world a better place, it was a validating answer.
Finally, our eventful night ended by us getting our dinner from Farmhouse Café and talking amongst ourselves about how interesting and inspiring our talk with Dr. Blackburn was. Though it was only our fifth meeting of the semester I am excited to continue to learn and grow along side other individuals who are eager to do the same.