PhD candidate explores ways to educate national park visitors in order to tackle disease emergence

Susan Howard, a PhD candidate in environmental science and policy, is designing and testing a variety of educational tools to help national park visitors understand the importance of following the rules – and the goal is to target human behaviors that contribute to disease emergence in the parks.

Over the summer, Howard and her team were at Great Falls National Park in Maryland, gathering data and collecting feedback, and ultimately conducting some 1, 2oo interviews using a novel approach: video games. Through a video game, Howard can show people how a seemingly harmless action can have major consequences and immediately give feedback on right or wrong answers.

Howard’s instructional design approach focuses on the three human behaviors that contribute to disease emergence in the parks: Going off trail, letting a dog off leash and littering. Going off trail, for instance, can disrupt predator-prey relationships. An example of this in Virginia, Howard said, is the relationship between the carrier for the bacteria for Lyme disease, the white-footed mouse, and its predators, foxes and hawks, which can be easily scared off by hikers. ​She also shared a story from five years ago about a rabid deer that had triggered her doctoral studies and dissertation research interest.

Read the full article featured in Mason News on September 20, 2019:

Important Dates for Students

SPRING 2020 Semester (modified due to COVID-19)

MLK Day (university closed): Jan 20

First day of classes: Jan 21

Spring Break (extended): Mar 9-20

Dissertation/Thesis Deadline: May 8

Last day of classes: May 11

Reading Day(s): May 12

Final Exam Period: May 13-20

University Commencement: May 22 (tentative)

COVID-19 DATE CHANGES – For the complete modified spring calendar, see and for latest COVID-19 updates, see: