Supporting Learners in New Ways: Reimagining the Fireside Chat

November 23, 2020 - By Asia Siev

For over 25 years, the Honors College has hosted Fireside Chats for first-year students. The Chats have always provided an informal interaction between faculty and new Honors students. This year, the Fireside Chat series hosted a record number of 23 chats, ranging in topics from music, mental health, collegiate sports, the imposter syndrome, and many more. However, like many things this year, the Fireside Chats looked a little different. 

Besides the transition from in-person to Zoom meetings, Professor Jim Anthony took the Fireside Chats one big step further. 

Professor Jim Anthony

Instead of a single session, Professor Anthony expanded his Chat into a five session courselet titled, ‘Epidemiology Is For We The People.’ The course covered everything from the theory, concepts, and principles that guide epidemiological research to neurodegenerative diseases to reproductive health research. It also included two guest speakers, Professor Claudia Holzman and Professor Andrew Bender. 

Professor Anthony’s primary reason for developing the courselet was his concern that students would delay their education due to the pandemic. He wanted to make sure that early on they could, “become engaged in the learning process.” It seemed to work. Around 25 incoming Honors College students attended each session for the five week Chat. 

“The idea was to connect some of the Honors College students into our epidemiology undergraduate program,” said Professor Anthony. At the time, he was thinking of a non-credit mini course that would help new students settle into the fall semester. Eventually, the course developed into an extended Fireside Chat with five, one hour sessions. 


Some students who attended the extended Fireside Chat this summer.

“One thing that impressed me at the time was the interest and the commitment,” said Professor Anthony of the students. “This course wasn’t for credit, it wasn’t for a grade, they weren’t going to be able to put it in their résumés. They were just interested in the topic.” 

“Epidemiology doesn’t just study one domain of causes...we study everything that is going on,” said Professor Anthony. “I think part of that is what engages people in epidemiology, when they want to learn a lot about a lot of things.”

Professor Anthony’s passion for epidemiology encouraged some students to expand their knowledge in the field beyond the summer session. Ellen Young learned of Professor Anthony’s research group through the sessions and joined this fall. Currently, she is assisting doctoral students with their research and learning how to author her own research paper. “Epidemiology combines all of the things I’m interested in,” said Young.

Ellen Young, a first year student who attended Professor Anthony’s extended Fireside Chat

Through the Fireside Chat sessions, Young learned of the new 5-year program that allows students to earn both the baccalaureate and the epidemiology Master of Science degree. She joined the program due to her personal interest in zoonotic diseases and her ultimate goal to become a veterinarian. 

Looking toward the spring semester, Professor Anthony hopes to host a series for students to assist them with writing National Institutes of Health grants and fellowship applications. He believes that our Honors College students will be quite competitive for them. Thanks to Professor Anthony, they have a great start. 

Contact: Bess German, germanr@msu.edu