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Washington State University Graduate School

Christine Crudo, Independent Interdisciplinary Doctoral Degree Student

Bioterrorism and the Media: A look at public policy, preparedness, and response

 

Doctoral student Christine Crudo of Tacoma came to WSU on a soccer scholarship in 2004. She earned a bachelor’s degree in political science, and while studying for her master’s degree in political science with a global justice and security emphasis, she became interested in the way policies and communications strategies address threats of bioterrorism.

Because of her diverse interests, Christy decided to pursue an Independent Interdisciplinary Doctoral Degree (IIDP) through the Graduate School—a degree that allows students to design their own unique program of study by combining different disciplines. Her research, focused on the threat of zoonotic bioterrorism and the role of communication and public policy in preparedness and response, requires the lens of her three chosen disciplines: political science, communication, and veterinary science. Her committee includes faculty members from each discipline.

“I wasn’t completely happy with political science because I didn’t believe it was fully addressing the problem,” said Christy. “Through my research I hope to better understand the kinds of communications and policies that would be most effective in implementing strategies that better contain outbreaks of diseases when they happen.”

The chair of her committee, Tom Preston, who is professor in the School of Politics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs, has focused his research on homeland security issues, bioterrorism, and current trends in nuclear and biological weapons proliferation. Crudo is also studying under Dr. Todd Norton and Prabu David, both professors in the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication and members of her committee. Norton is associate professor and director of the Communication & Society Sequence, and David is professor and associate dean for academics. Doug Call, professor of molecular epidemiology in the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health, and William Sischo from the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences are also on Christy’s committee.

“My committee is made up of a mix of social sciences and hard sciences faculty,” said Christy. “They have all been open to my research, even though it might not be their area of expertise.”

For her dissertation, Christy focused on two disease case studies in which she created a model to show how polices and communication impact the disease outbreak. The model output will help the government create the best response policies given the biological characteristics of the disease.

As a political science major for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Christy needed to increase her knowledge of infectious diseases for her interdisciplinary doctoral degree. She began researching e-coli and Salmonella in Bill Sischo’s laboratory in the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health, where she discovered a surprising passion for hard science. Sischo is a nationally recognized expert in food safety, researching the ecology of zoonotic and food-borne pathogens in animal production units.

The recent Ebola outbreak in Africa is a good example of an incident that could benefit from Christy’s research. She is currently working on a paper about the disease and building her findings into her dissertation, which she plans to complete by spring, 2015 semester.

“Since the news about Ebola, I’ve found my research about the disease really interesting in regard to communications strategy,” she said.

Although the media has incited some concerns about the disease spreading worldwide, Christy says that the scare has been sensationalized. “The truth is, Ebola is not very easily transmitted.”

It is the combination of Christy’s three disciplines that will enable her to create her own career pathway. In an ever-changing, complex world filled with complex problems, answers aren’t always available within the confines of one discipline.

“What I’ve been able to do with the IIDP is so invaluable,” said Crudo. “You cannot always address problems within one discipline. I view IIDP as the degree of the future and the way to solve real world problems.”