Gen Ed course leads to healthy epiphanies
“This class will change your life!” That’s what students hear, packed into Mahar Auditorium for the start of Microbiology 160 The Biology of Cancer and AIDS.
Assistant Professor Wilmore Webley ’00G, ’03PhD, who teaches the popular General Education course, knows that enrollees are here to fulfill a biological sciences requirement so he exposes them to the intricate disease mechanisms and broader individual, social, and global implications of these two major scourges.
He also asks them to report if they are regular or casual smokers. With an enrollment that’s 75 percent freshmen, he finds that between 15 and 20 percent have smoked for about two to three years.
Toward the end of the first quarter, Webley delivers two lectures on smoking and lung cancer, touching on carcinogens in tobacco smoke, how cigarettes are manufactured—with their needless four thousand-plus chemicals, including cyanide and ammonia—and how the tobacco industry gets consumers hooked.
He also brings in smokers and workers in cessation programs, shows YouTube videos of patients with tracheotomies still desperately smoking and of a shocking demonstration of the tar that enters smokers’ lungs. A few weeks later, Webley asks who’s quit. In a recent class, 27 of 47 smokers had stopped and eight were trying. Routinely, nonsmokers vow they “won’t ever” light up.
Webley now holds a quit smoking group Monday evenings in his office. Students share struggles and discuss strategies to meet their goal and prevent lapses. A University Health Services staffer provides expert help; students needing more support get referrals to other groups.
In 2008, Webley received a Distinguished Teaching Award but his real reward is this: students are avoiding or reducing risks. Two or three years after taking MICROBIO 160, his former students still email him to say they’ve truly kicked the habit (some have even quit drinking too). “That’s life-changing for any professor,” he says.