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Youth Inspired to Pursue Pandemic-Related Careers

Healthcare and pandemic-related careers have become a big topic of interest to high school and college students. The power of science and technology to lead us through the pandemic has increased student interest in STEM and related careers. 

In a national survey of 1,060 educators in late January, 55% of teachers told the EdWeek Research Center they have seen more students express interest in healthcare careers since the start of the pandemic, and nearly 40 percent of teachers reported they had made a bigger effort to encourage their students to enter the healthcare field. Additionally, a study conducted by the Institution of Engineering and Technology found that 63% of 10-18-year-olds have considered a career in medicine as a result of the pandemic, and 52% of children consider a career in engineering after witnessing the agility of engineers in delivering ventilators to critical care hospitals. These are just a few of the many surveys and anecdotes that illustrate some of COVID’s positive outcomes, including rebirth in interest in the sciences, medicine, and technology.

Today’s youth have lived through a pandemic – and they want to know how they can use their skills to serve the greater good and solve complex scientific challenges.

Virtual Guest Speakers for the Course Include:


  • Medical Doctor and Vaccine Researcher and Educator

    Public Health Consultant

    Hospital Infection Preventionist


    Triage Nurse at Community Health Clinic

    COVID ICU Nurse

    CEPI Scientist (UK)

    Co-Director of the Coronavirus Research Center at UPenn

    Influenza Researcher

    Professor of Biological Sciences (India)

    Rabies Researcher

Penn Summer High School Programs also offers multiple courses related to science and the medical realm for students wanting to take a deeper dive into a topic of interest. These courses aren’t COVID-specific, but their subject areas address scientific principles and research that has been at the center of COVID discussions.

Genetic Anthropology: Decoding People and the Genome 
Explore the intersection of human genetics and evolutionary theory. Apply your acquired knowledge and learn how genetics is used today to talk about and can be applied to issues such as ethnic identity, sex and sexuality, and disease and health. As an added bonus, students will explore these issues using both research papers and scientific journalism to help them hone their critical reading skills in preparation for future scientific study.

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The Neuroscience and Philosophy of Depression
Suicide has reached pandemic levels, and the COVID-19 crisis has left many people feeling isolated and experiencing depression. With 1 in 10 people likely to experience depression in their life and suicide being the number one cause of nonaccidental death for young people, understanding depression is more critical than ever. Neuroscience alone might be able to describe depression’s mechanisms, and psychiatry might be able to ease suffering, but addressing depression’s complex and devastating effects on the human condition requires philosophy. To develop a holistic understanding of the suffering mind, students will participate in class discussions, attend neuroscience lectures, and reflect on primary texts from neuropsychiatry and philosophy.

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Art and Politics of the AIDS Epidemic
This course introduces students to the history, culture, and politics of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Together, students discuss the impact of AIDS on our present reality, from the struggle for healthcare and housing rights to contemporary art and design. Course materials will include films, poems, zines, artworks, memorials, and oral histories, as well as archival materials such as posters, pamphlets, and newspaper clippings. This course would benefit students with interests across various academic fields—from art and literary history to public policy to medicine.

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Philosophies of Anxiety
The National Education Association estimated in March 2019 that today’s teens are the most anxious ever, and the COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately catapulted this number to soaring heights. This course will explore why this may be by surveying different cultural and historical conversations surrounding anxiety, as well as techniques for treating anxiety such as mindfulness and gratitude. The class will challenge students to put today’s conversations in a broader historical and cultural frame through a research project and presentation about theories of anxiety.

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Introduction into Health Disparities
The COVID-19 crisis has brought health disparities even more into the limelight. This course offers students an overview of the current state of health disparities nationally and globally. Students will gain a basic understanding of racial, gender, age, disability, and mental health disparities. This course will explore the underlying causes of some health disparities, including inequalities in social determinants of health, health policy, and racism in medicine. Lastly, students will learn about the cost of health disparities. Throughout this course, students will listen to lectures, partake in multi-modal learning activities, read peer-reviewed scientific journal articles, listen to guest speakers, and engage in class discussions to meet learning goals. 

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Think Like a Scientist: Genetics, the Scientific Method, and Science Communication 
How does genetic information result in physical traits, and how are those traits inherited? How do scientists use genetics to understand biological processes? How is scientific knowledge shared within and outside of the scientific community? In this course, we will study the principles of genetics, discussing both the molecular regulation of gene expression and classical Mendelian transmission genetics; further, we will explore how scientists use genetics to contribute to our understanding of other areas of biology, highlighting neuroscience. Focusing on the use of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, as a genetic model organism, we will discuss how scientists draw conclusions from their data and report their results to their communities. Finally, we will ask how to critically evaluate genetics research presented in both scientific journal articles and as pieces in mainstream publications.

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