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Teaching Usable History: An Interdisciplinary Liberal Arts Approach

Published on 24 June 2017

Whether the subject is history, English or social science — educators know that an interdisciplinary approach to core subjects is foundational for professional students. At St. Louis College of Pharmacy, faculty have reviewed undergraduate curricula through an interdisciplinary lens to ensure that students receive a well-rounded education with real-world applications.

As the world becomes increasingly more connected, there is a growing need for culturally aware conversations and global competence among health care practitioners. Bob Zebroski, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Liberal Arts and professor of history, worked with faculty in the department to address the reality of globalization and create history courses that utilize an interdisciplinary approach.

“The strategic plan, STLCOP 20/20, was really the impetus for redesigning our history courses,” Zebroski explained. “The College’s global vision needed a strong humanities program to support its initiatives.”

Modeled after Stanford University’s three-semester world civilization series, Zebroski and his colleagues developed the College’s global heritage series.

“We liked the idea of global heritage because it incorporates more than history,” Zebroski said. “We designed these courses knowing we are not teaching future history Ph.D. candidates, but we are teaching skills for health care professionals.”

Throughout the global heritage series, students hone their ability to read thoroughly, engage in document analysis and think critically. They learn to see the world and their patients through different lenses, and ultimately, gain new understanding of the world around them.

“Our hope is that we get students to think in interdisciplinary ways because that is how the world works,” Zebroski explained. “Patients are multidimensional. With an interdisciplinary humanities foundation, students develop better observational skills, which makes them better practitioners.”

For Zebroski, one of the most rewarding aspects of teaching pre-pharmacy students is the opportunity to see them in action and witness the influence he has had on their education.

“I was in line at my community pharmacy, and there was an older woman, probably in her 80s, before me,” Zebroski explained. “She lived alone, and the pharmacist immediately got a sense of that and took the time to try and explain that she had to take her medication two times a day. He had the pill box and everything, but she was still having a hard time processing what she needed to do. That’s when another pharmacist, one with a lot of experience, came over. He asked the woman, ‘Do you have a cat or dog?’ and the woman said, ‘Yes.’ The pharmacist proceeded to ask, ‘When do you feed them?’ ‘Oh, I feed them in the morning and at night.’ ‘That’s when you take your pill.’”

Zebroski continued, “I don’t know if we can teach that, but as educators, we can try to get students to think anew about routine situations. When our students go into practice, we want them to be examples of the STLCOP brand, with certain qualities and the ability to continue to learn.”

This story was first published in the spring 2017 issue of Script. Visit stlcop.edu/script to read more and access previous issues.

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