Bloomberg assistant professor Cassandra Crifasi is an investigator helping to lead a new initiative for the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research: launching the first-ever massive open online course (MOOC) on gun violence prevention and policy. The MOOC will be on Coursera tuition-free. The Center will also offer a thee day summer program on gun violence at Johns Hopkins University for motivated high-school students. Classroom sessions will be balanced with learning exercises and hands-on activities to help students advance their goals through understanding and use of data in their advocacy. Both of these initiatives are funded through a grant from the Packard Foundation.

Crifasi is an assistant professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.  She is the deputy director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research and teaches courses on research and evaluation methods for health policy.  Dr. Crifasi focuses on injury epidemiology and prevention, gun violence, and evaluation of policies that impact public safety. 

We talked to her about how her role in these new initiatives, the importance of public health research in advocacy, and what she would advise students supportive of stronger gun safety laws. 

Dr. Cassandra Crifasi
         Dr. Cassandra Crifasi

What do you seek to accomplish by educating tens of thousands of people in gun violence prevention research?

We have been motivated by the advocacy we are seeing driven by youth following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. At the same time, we saw there was a need for a program or class to provide students with evidence about gun violence prevention. We hope that the MOOC will equip these youth, and others, with the best available data and evidence-based strategies necessary to understand and address gun violence in the U.S.
 
Gun homicide predominantly affects communities of color. How will you ensure that students from these communities have access to the MOOC and are recruited for the summer program?

One of the main reasons we are offering this course through a MOOC is to ensure that everyone has access to the content, regardless of their ability to pay.  We are working with diverse student organizations to ensure we are spreading the word through a variety of networks. We are also working with organizations committed to addressing urban violence to recruit students to participate in the summer program. We are providing full scholarships for 50 students to attend the summer program because we don’t want motivated students to not be able to participate because of funding.  
 
As a young faculty member, you’re active in teaching Master’s students at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. At the same time, you are not so many years removed from being a student yourself. What’s one thing you hope to instill in students interested in gun violence prevention?

One of the reasons I love teaching is having the opportunity to help students engage with a topic about which I am so passionate. I enjoy seeing the spark in a student’s eyes when they are learning something new and things click. I hope that students, regardless of their age or level of training, recognize that they have an important voice and bring a unique perspective to the gun violence prevention discussion. 

Read more about the course here.