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Students Put Their Class Knowledge to the Test in DC


The W&M Government Department is lucky to have professors with knowledge of a variety of topics. One such professor is Adjunct Lecturer David Stiefel. In addition to his work at William & Mary, Professor Stiefel serves as the Director for Biodefense on the National Security Council (NSC). He focuses on the development and oversight U.S. Government’s policy for countering biological threats, enhancing pandemic preparedness, and achieving global health security. 

In the fall of 2022, this knowledge paid off when students in the Government Department were offered a senior seminar called “Politics of Global Health.” Professor Stiefel remarked that, “The idea for the class came from watching the news. I wanted to offer a class on something relevant and interesting, and global health seemed like a great subject.” A small group of students enjoyed the opportunity to learn from Professor Stiefel’s expertise. Nicole Larsen, one of the students, said “His real-world experience is unmatched. You can’t find that in a class otherwise.” 

Students also benefited from their peers. Professor Stiefel structured the course so that the majority of sessions are student-taught: “It keeps the course fresh and relevant to the interests of the students. It is amazing to watch how they can take two words like “plant health” and turn it into three hours of discussion.” Dylan Hartman enjoyed the experience that student-taught sessions provided: “The class was very discussion based. Everyone did their best to participate, and there was never a moment where Professor Stiefel had to come in and start a conversation because no one was talking. It was very organically interesting conversation.”  

While the students were primarily on Zoom, the class was able to travel to Washington, D.C., for their final class. Nicole and Dylan explained that the final was a “tabletop simulation” where students took part in a mock NSC style meeting. “We basically took problems that the NSC would actually face and tried to solve them,” said Dylan. Professor Stiefel said that he hoped the DC portion would “make abstract thoughts taught in a classroom more concrete.” “We started with a one sentence question. My goal was to teach the students that even a simple question can actually be pretty difficult to solve. I wanted them to understand that certain issues become politicized and why most decisions aren’t easy.” He said that the final class played out very realistically, highlighting that everyone had to concede a bit to come to a compromise in the end. 

Professor Stiefel hoped the class would “get people excited” about both policy and health. This was echoed by Dylan and Nicole who said the class was influential on their personal interests and career goals. Dylan felt that it “made [him] way more interested in public health.” Nicole and Professor Stiefel stayed in touch while she applied to graduate schools for public health. “He helped me with my statement of intent; he told me about organizations that I could look at working for; he was just a big help in general.” 

Look for Professor Stiefel’s course in the 2023-2024 academic school year.