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Dear Colleagues:

I am happy to write a letter of recommendation for Mary Smith in support of her application to the Department of Maternal and Child Health MPH program. Ms. Smith took the classroom version of Principles of Epidemiology for Public Health (EPID 160) this past fall. Based on her performance in the course, I feel she would be a good candidate for the MPH program.

Grading in EPID 160 is based on a combination of “objective” and “subjective” evaluations. The objective components are two open-book, take-home examinations (35% of the overall grade) and a paper (25%), each based on an article. Each teaching assistant grades several exam questions across the entire class (this year we combined the 101 classroom and 64 Internet students). Thus, exam scores provide a good basis for comparison. The papers are also graded anonymously, but in spite of attempts to standardize the grading there are undoubtedly differences across graders.

The more subjective components are TA (20% of the overall grade) and peer (20%) evaluations of participation in small group discussions about case studies based mostly on articles. Although I try to adjust the results for differences in grading styles across TAs and across small groups, these scores are less comparable across the class as a whole.

Ms. Smith's overall grade of 85 fell right in the center of the distribution. Her score of 79 on each exam was just below the median on the first exam (quartiles were 75, 80, and 85) and just above the median on the second exam (quartiles 70, 78, 88; the median for students in the classroom edition was 80). Her grade on the paper was somewhat disappointing (78, just below the first quartile for the class as a whole and for all papers graded by the same grader).

On the more subjective evaluation components, Ms. Smith's ratings were very good. Scores on these evaluations tend to run high, but Ms. Smith was one of 14 students supervised by Amy Green to receive the maximum score. The average of the peer ratings that Ms. Smith received from the other students in her small group fell right at the median of her group. Amy Green, an advanced Epidemiology doctoral student who met with and observed 33 students in the weekly labs, writes of Ms. Smith:

“Mary was one of the most dedicated of my students. She always came prepared to lab, asked good questions, and frequently volunteered to present her work. Many epidemiologic concepts are not straightforward, and it was evident that Mary put a great deal of effort and time into learning the material. She was one of the hardest working students and would often email me with questions. Her lab group benefited immensely from her inquisitive style. She also made a concerted effort to synthesize information outside of class. On a number of occasions she brought additional material to the attention of the instructor and students, and shared relevant and interesting ways to incorporate epidemiologic thinking into public health. She would make an intelligent, energetic and hard-working addition to any public health program”

Ms. Smith's performance on the EPID 160 exams demonstrates that she is competitive with graduate students in public health degree programs in her ability to learn epidemiology, and her successful lab participation demonstrates that she works well with her peers and contributes at least her share. Although her score on the article critique was lower than those for most of the class, the grading for these is less precise than for the examinations.

Please feel free to call (966-7436) or write (vjs@unc.edu) if I can be helpful.

  Yours sincerely,

Victor J. Schoenbach, PhD
Associate Professor


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