UC Clermont students are preparing for the zombie apocalypse -- and getting college credits for it

Popular class explores the biology behind the myth
We never had zombie classes when I was in school
We never had zombie classes when I was in school
We never had zombie classes when I was in school
Posted at 6:00 AM, Oct 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-08 06:00:17-04

BATAVIA, Ohio -- Worried about a zombie apocalypse?

University of Cincinnati's Clermont College has you covered.

Its new "Preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse" course launched this semester and has students delving into the science behind a zombie uprising.

If your mind is conjuring images of decaying, walking corpses with a taste for human flesh, you're on the right track. The new course explores the biology behind zombies, which have made a big comeback in popular culture in recent years through literature, hit television series like AMC's "The Walking Dead," and even major motion pictures like "World War Z."

UC Clermont biology professor Chris Green's zombie course is, he says, a pretty typical college course with a rigorous curriculum, and a series of graded assignments and exams.

UC Clermont biology professor Chris Green created the new course and teaches it this semester on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Fundamentally, he said, it's a pretty typical college course with a rigorous curriculum, and a series of graded assignments and exams. It even satisfies a general studies requirement in natural science for non-science majors.

"It's a bit tongue-in-cheek," said Green, of Crestview Hills. "We're definitely covering zombies, but the students are also learning the basics of biology and environmental science."

Despite their prevalence in popular culture, Green concedes that zombies are rather uncommon in academia. His topic is so atypical, in fact, he had to write the book on it -- literally.

While there are a dozen or more colleges and universities offering zombie courses, Green said very few are biology-based. So when he decided to create the course at UC Clermont, he reached out to Stephanie Fischer, a lecturer at the University of Texas at Tyler who he discovered was teaching a similar biology-based zombie course. The pair collaborated and wrote a textbook that was published in August.

"I found that most of the (zombie) courses being offered are elective classes in areas like literature and philosophy," he said. "Hers was the only course I found that taught biology and the study of diseases."

Green's idea for the new course was born from lectures he has hosted on the topic over the past few years, both at UC Clermont and local high schools in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

"The seminars always went really well," he said. "When you can keep an auditorium full of students fully engaged in a talk about science, you know it's a great topic."

The cover of a textbook co-written by University of Cincinnati Clermont College biology professor Christopher Green.

Before joining UC Clermont as an associate professor, Green served as a research assistant professor at UC's College of Engineering, where he specialized in bioaerosols, UV radiation and environmental microbiology. He has a bachelor's degree in biology, a master's degree in environmental science and a Ph.D. in environmental engineering.

So what led the self-professed science geek to base an entire college course on a mythical creature?

As a microbiologist, Green answers that question with talk of zombie lore and its connection to real science (think typical causal factors in zombie fiction like radiation and viruses). He even gives examples of real-life conditions that cause "zombie-like" characteristics, including rabies and a parasitic disease called toxoplasmosis.

But Green is also a fan of all things zombie and considers them to be the "last truly scary Hollywood monster." He's an accomplished artist and even paints them. If fact, he did some of the artwork in his textbook and used some of his work on flyers he posted around campus to announce the new course.

He said the main reason he created the class is because he knows there are hoards of other zombie fans like him out there, and he decided to capitalize on that.

"I love teaching non-majors. Most of them don't care much about science, and my goal is to turn that around," he said. "When you can connect science to something students are interested in -- like zombies -- it gets them asking questions and keeps them engaged."

Baili Kleinmann is one of those non-science majors at UC Clermont. She's studying Spanish but still needed to take a natural science course this semester to fulfill the general studies requirement. Before registering for classes, she said, she saw a flyer on campus about Green's new zombie course and immediately signed up.

"I was dreading taking a biology class," she admits. "This class is so much better, because we're learning about biology, but it's connected to zombies in popular culture."

Kleinmann said she and her family are huge fans of the "Walking Dead" series.

"We're all obsessed with zombies," she said.

Classmate Zach Fluehr also signed up for the course because of his love of zombie fiction.

"I think everyone who is a fan questions whether it could happen in real life," he said. "It's fun to explore that."

Both Kleinmann and Fluehr concede that a zombie apocalypse is highly unlikely. But both agree that's no reason to stop exploring the science behind it, especially when they're learning a little real-life science along the way.

"If it does happen, I'll definitely be ready for them," Kleinmann joked. "I've been taking notes."