Fat dogs, coughing horses to teach kids about health careers

November 17, 2009 Brian Wallheimer

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue University researchers will use a $1.3 million grant to help further students' understanding of the role animals play in keeping people healthy.

Timothy Ratliff and Sandra Amass of the School of Veterinary Medicine, received the five-year grant to create a new health science curriculum for third-, sixth- and ninth-graders; start a faculty mentor program in Indiana schools; create fitness programs centered around animals; and develop a museum exhibit focused on the links between animal and human health. The initiative, called Fat Dogs and Coughing Horses: Animal Contributions Towards a Healthier Citizenry, is being funded through a Science Education Partnership Award from the National Center for Research Resources, a component of the National Institutes of Health.

"Animals play a large role in keeping people healthy," said Amass, a professor of food animal production medicine and associate dean for engagement in the veterinary school. "A lot of conditions that affect humans affect animals. For example, horses get the heaves, which is just like asthma in kids, and dogs get the same cancers that people do."

The School of Veterinary Medicine is working with several other Purdue departments and organizations to create a broad program.

College of Education faculty will partner with Indiana teachers to develop a curriculum focused on filling the gaps in health science education. The curriculum would be available to Indiana schools, and, eventually, to schools nationally.

"We're really interested in introducing people to science and the impact science has on their lives," said Ratliff, a professor of comparative pathobiology and director of the Purdue Center for Cancer Research. "We felt that if people learn science at an early age, they will know better its impact on their lives."

Kauline Davis, director of diversity initiatives for the veterinary school, is leading the faculty mentoring initiative. More than 20 faculty members have already volunteered to visit schools to talk about careers in health and veterinary medicine. She said that children too often receive limited views of the opportunities available in some health fields, especially animal health care.

"We are always seeking to diversify our classes and classrooms," Davis said. "Youths get a lot of advice for careers in health and medicine, but often veterinary medicine is left off the list."

Purdue's College of Consumer and Family Sciences will help develop a program that would incorporate pets into healthier lifestyles. One idea is to examine how adding dog walking to the Walks Across Indiana event - a program that promotes walking as a healthy activity - might boost participation.

Purdue's Department of Agricultural Communication will develop an interactive exhibit in partnership with the Children's Museum of Indianapolis. The exhibit would travel to different sites in Indiana, and possibly the country.

Purdue's Discovery Learning Research Center in Discovery Park will be responsible for assessing the projects to determine their effectiveness. 

The project described was supported by Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) from the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of NCRR or NIH.

Writer: Brian Wallheimer, 765-496-2050, bwallhei@purdue.edu 

Sources: Sandra Amass, 765-494-8052, amass@purdue.edu

                  Timothy Ratliff, 765-494-9129, tlratliff@purdue.edu

                  Kauline Davis, 765-496-1940, cipriank@purdue.edu

Ag Communications: (765) 494-8415

Steve Leer, sleer@purdue.edu

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