When COVID-19 was first discussed in early 2020, it seemed like a myth. Now, in the middle of a very real global pandemic, some people have generated their own myths that have discouraged others from following safety protocols such as wearing a mask and staying six feet apart.
For someone who has been studying and researching epidemiology — the study of the spread of diseases — for five years, Stephanie Wang from Katy, Texas found herself frustrated and disheartened by how easily uneducated citizens were being manipulated.
“The only reason why people are feeding into these lies, is because they don’t have anything else to believe in,” Wang said. “If people were taught about diseases in their K-12 curriculum, they would be less gullible to these online predatory sources.”
Knowing that the key to making an impact in her community was through educating others, she sought out the resources and textbooks she had used in her own epidemiology education. However, Wang soon realized that no one from the general public would willingly want to read her textbooks filled with technical terms, mathematical equations, and biological concepts. So what else was there to do, but write her own book? In about three months, Wang illustrated and wrote the book “Epidemiology Unmasked: An Introduction to Epidemiology in Public Health”.
Supported and fact-checked by professors and public health experts in the Texas area, Wang’s book invites young readers through colorful designs and by placing the reader into the shoes of an epidemiologist who is studying a hypothetical outbreak.
“You have to let readers figure out by themselves how an outbreak progresses from beginning to end in order to guide them through the steps in becoming an informed citizen of society,” Wang said.
Through easy to read segments, Wang is able to teach children technical reasonings such as how R0 values reveal how quickly a disease is capable of spreading, how COVID-19 travels through respiratory droplets and thus can’t survive long distances, and how wearing a mask can easily prevent further contamination.
“I wanted to present my book in a friendly way, something that kids and adults without experience in the field would want to read,” Wang said.
At 16 years old, Wang understands the need for disease education in youth.
“Why are we not taught this stuff?” she asked.
The only way she discovered her passion for epidemiology was through participating in extracurricular STEM competitions like Science Olympiad. Starting in seventh grade, Wang fell in love with the category “Disease Detectives” and has been competing ever since.
Her team earned second place at the National level last year. According to Wang, it was through STEM programs outside of school where she developed and learned the majority of her science skills. Looking to provide the same programs for her community, Wang taught a course on public health using her book as the curriculum through a non-profit she helped start called Kid Teach Kid. Approximately 1,000 students signed up.
“Being able to instill public health and inspire them to make a change in their community was the most rewarding impact,” she said.
In Wang’s book, she stresses time and time again on the importance of not just following safety protocols to help oneself stay protected, but to care about the impact on the people around them.
“You need to make sure your actions aren’t harming others,” Wang said. “Even if you aren’t interested in public health, no one has the right to refuse to be educated on this health crisis and harm other people.”
It is this same selflessness perspective that Wang used to motivate her progress in writing the book. Like every other high school student in the nation, schools were converting to online platforms and any minuscule task seemed to take twice as long with twice as much effort. Wang admitted that she felt burnt out quite a few times in her process.
“I also am drowning in AP classes,” she added. “But every time I got burnt out, I would go back and look at all the progress I had already made. I’d think to myself: imagine the impact you’d make if you just finished it.”
Completing the book was only one obstacle, however. The next phase was promoting her self-published book and according to Wang, overcoming her sense of self-insecurity is still a challenge. Again, Wang looked to the impact rather than her own desires to remain within her comfort zone as she reached out to professors, libraries, and local magazine stations.
“Although I still am insecure, I realized that it doesn’t matter what people think of you as long as you are out there making an impact,” she said.
Whether it be through writing a book or simply wearing a mask in public, Wang wishes that she can help change people’s perspective to be aware of their potential and impact on their community.