Dr. Gavin Macgregor-Skinner is a World Campus faculty member in the Homeland Security master’s program (Public Health Preparedness option), who brings a wealth of professional experience to his courses. He teaches three public health preparedness courses on emergency operation plans and bio-risk management. We recently chatted with Gavin about his work in the field and what he loves about teaching online.
Tell us a little bit about your background. Where were you 5 years ago?
I was a technical team leader for pandemic influenza at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). We worked with the World Health Organization to help 34 countries prepare themselves against potential flu outbreaks.
What about 10 years ago?
I was working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, as an epidemic intelligence service officer. That year, too, I served as a team leader in response to the terrible Indian Ocean tsunami that struck Indonesia, working to make sure that everyone had access to food, shelter, water, and other necessities.
What do you hope each student will get out of your courses?
An understanding that there are many tools available to them to make their job easier. Within public health preparedness, we don’t work as individuals; we work as a team. We use many tools in our courses to facilitate group work, such as videoconferencing, creating maps to show where we are located, and even texting each other.
That’s one thing I’ve learned can be really helpful when teaching: email is great for lengthy responses, but text messaging is better for quick responses. I’m always getting a lot of texts leading up to assignment deadlines, and it’s something I encourage my students to do with each other, too, to improve their group work.
What lessons have you learned from your students?
After I started teaching with Penn State in spring 2011, I found that all students have many different kinds of professional experiences — a lot of successes, lessons learned, and failures. There’s a lot of opportunity for reverse mentoring.
When students email me with an experience that’s related to something we’re discussing in class, I tell them to email the class. I tell them, there are 30 students who want to know, too. They also will want to know about your training course, the natural disaster you went to. As they start to share stories, they begin to share photos and videos. It makes for a really enriching experience.
What inspires you each day?
I’m very competitive in what I do. I’m a runner and soccer player, and I’m competitive in the workplace, too, which is one reason I love being at Penn State. Penn State strives for excellence, and as teachers, we need to stay ahead of the curve. We’re always looking at what competitors are doing, and how we can ensure that the experience we give students is better than other universities.
Now for some lighthearted questions. What’s your favorite food?
An Australian dish called sausage rolls, which is pretty much meat with pastry. It’s a traditional Australian dish, and something my family eats during celebrations.
What do you do for fun?
I have two children, and I love supporting my family. I also coach my children’s soccer team.