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May 20, 2003

Student project educates public on SARS

This is one class project that extends well beyond the classroom as California State University, Sacramento students create a public information campaign on severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.

Students in two sections of Ronald Hodges’ management course are gathering information on SARS from the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Department of Health Services. Students will compile the information in kits that can be distributed to media outlets and members of the public, with a special emphasis on California.

“I wanted an assignment that would allow students to apply knowledge and skills learned in the classroom to real-world issues and events,” Hodges said.

Students in the course, almost all graduating seniors, are working on the assignment in 15 groups of five to seven students. Each group will produce an information kit containing background information on SARS, fact sheets, Q&A sections, photos, media alerts and standby statements.

It’s a demanding assignment, said Hodges, and he admits being unprepared for the enthusiasm and originality it inspired.

Two students, Robert Allshouse and Ryan Fraser, invested their own money to create separate SARS websites. Students are working with the California Department of Health Services to ensure the information available on the sites is accurate and particularly useful for residents of California.

As part of the assignment, Hodges also required students to develop strategies for reaching the state’s culturally diverse population. As a result, students are taking advantage of some of their fellow classmates’ international backgrounds and expertise.

Some of the kits will be translated into a variety of languages, including Spanish, Chinese and Russian. At least one of the websites, which students hope will eventually be taken over by the California Department of Health Services, will also be available in Spanish.

“When I see students taking this kind of initiative, especially on a project that can benefit other people, it’s incredibly rewarding,” Hodges said.

Beyond developing skills that will one day be useful on the job, Hodges hopes the project will also help students in their efforts to land a job. “These packets, and also the websites, give students something tangible to show potential employers the kind of work they’re capable of,” he said.

“It shows that we can go out and research information and put it together in a professional way,” said Amanda Miller, a graduating marketing major in the class.

Although both student Web sites are still under construction, a working draft is available at www.xygon.net/SARS/index.html.

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