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HSPH Pilots Hybrid Course for International Students

Harvard School of Public Health offered an in-person course this semester that allowed international first-year students to live on campus this semester.
Harvard School of Public Health offered an in-person course this semester that allowed international first-year students to live on campus this semester. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Meera S. Nair and Andy Z. Wang, Crimson Staff Writers

The Harvard School of Public Health developed and ran a novel hybrid course this spring in which 16 instructors rotated teaching 3-hour lectures for a class of 34 first-year international students.

Last summer, the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement barred international first-year students taking all-online course loads from remaining in the United States. Organized in response to these federal restrictions, HSPH’s new hybrid course ID 900: “Current Topics in Public Health” enabled international first-years at HSPH to learn in person and thereby live on campus this semester.

Nancy Turnbull, senior associate dean for educational programs at HSPH, wrote in an emailed statement that students in the ID 900 hybrid program are the only HSPH students taking courses with in-person instruction.

John Quackenbush, a professor at HSPH who taught in the hybrid course, said he “felt very safe and informed the entire time,” feelings he attributed to the school’s health and safety protocols. These included pre-screening surveys for involved students and faculty, onsite Covid-19 tests, and spacing between students and the instructor to allow for social distancing within the school’s Kresge cafeteria.

“And, of course, everybody wore masks throughout the entire process, including me as the instructor,” Quackenbush added. “I think that represents really everyone involved recognizing that adherence to these basic safety protocols are necessary, and they’re designed to protect all of us.”

HSPH instructor Erin K. Lake — who also taught the hybrid course — emphasized that every individual will have “unique and personal perspectives and approaches” to an in-person return.

“Not everyone will be anxious to return right away, for all matter of completely justified reasons,” Lake said. “This is a time, over upcoming months, where flexibility — and consideration of how uniquely each person experiences this process — seems paramount.”

Some international students who did want to come to campus this semester were not able to do so, though.

Apoorva Gomber, a MPH student in ID 900, said HSPH gave students a brief window to confirm their enrollment in the course. For some, the notice was too short to secure a visa in time.

“Some of my friends did not even get a visa because it was such a short span, I think less than 10 days, that we had to get everything done,” Gomber said.

“The prospect of taking courses at Harvard and interacting with students and faculty is a great thing to be able to do," HSPH professor Sebastien J. Haneuse said. "To be in this position where you’re not able to do it, it’s devastating for a lot of people."

Some students who were able to participate in the in-person class reported positive experiences.

Ana Lucia Rosado, another MPH student in ID 900, said she appreciated HSPH offering the hybrid program this spring for first-year international students.

“For me, at least, this hybrid program totally reframed my experience in a positive way and allowed me to see the full potential of the School, which is our colleagues and classmates and the professors, by interacting with them in-person,” she said.

Amrutha Denduluri, a MPH student in ID 900 from India, said that the ability to collaborate with a diverse group of classmates face-to-face was the “difference” that the hybrid class offered.

“The MPH program in itself is really short, so it’s difficult to meet outside class,” Denduluri said. “I really enjoyed being in class and seeing other students, and in the process, I actually made a couple of friends who I think will last with me for a long time.”

Kwabena F. Lartey, a student from Ghana, said he appreciated the ability to have a “semi-Harvard experience.”

“The sense of community of having people with the same challenges and experiences that you have — or similar to them — is helpful,” he said. “It’s that warm feeling of actually being with someone, that you’re not separated by a screen.”

—Staff writer Meera S. Nair can be reached at meera.nair@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Andy Z. Wang can be reached at andy.wang@thecrimson.com.

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