UGEP 291

Six colleges at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln came together after spring classes became remote to create an interdisciplinary summer course that covers how the coronavirus pandemic has affected the world through the lens of different subjects. 

The course, named UGEP 291 The COVID-19 Pandemic: Effects on Industries, People and Society, is a five-week, online course that begins July 13 and includes more than 30 faculty and staff at UNL, which is the most teaching one course in recent university history, according to the College of Business website. The faculty and staff represent 13 different departments and academic units at UNL in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, College of Architecture, College of Arts and Sciences, College of Business, College of Education and Human Sciences, College of Engineering and UNL Libraries.

Students can learn from faculty across campus about the COVID-19 pandemic, which affects all aspects of the world, according to Erin Burnette, director of the Nebraska Business Honors Academy. 

Burnette said students will be able to learn how different industries and disciplines are being impacted and what short-term and long-term changes may happen in those industries and disciplines. Students will explore the science of viruses and how viruses evolve and spread, as well as brainstorm how the design of cities, like businesses and buildings, could change and how work environments will impact people’s future interactions with each other due to the virus. 

“Ultimately, the course should give students a glimpse into the interdisciplinary nature of large-scale problems and how we must all reach outside our area of expertise and collaborate with others to find innovative solutions to these challenges,” Burnette said in an email.

Qingsheng Li, professor of biological sciences, said his role in the course is to cover the biological aspects of the coronavirus as an infectious disease. Li said the course will primarily look at the COVID-19 pandemic through the different disciplines of biology, humanity, economics and sociology and analyze how each impacts people globally.

Kathy Farrell, dean of the College of Business, said in an email that UNL challenged the colleges to come up with ideas for new opportunities for the summer after campus closed. Farrell said the idea for the course started when Rachel Larson, assistant dean of academic and career development at the College of Business, learned of a broad interdisciplinary course being taught at the University of Connecticut.

Burnette took the lead on developing the course, created a course title, engaged with faculty to identify course content and facilitated the coordination of the course design, according to Farrell. 

Katherine Ankerson, dean of the College of Architecture, said in an email that Farrell brought the idea to the other deans at UNL, and there was an immediate response to participate.

Li said Farrell contacted faculty members across all the colleges to organize the course. Farrell said the original intent was to have every college participate, but she said six colleges joined because there would not have been enough time to organize the course before it started.

Deepak Keshwani, associate professor of biological systems engineering, said the college deans of the six colleges and other campus leadership realized an opportunity to bring together faculty and staff expertise to offer students a way to understand and process the COVID-19 pandemic and its ramifications on the world. 

“This course represents a paradigm shift in how collaborative cross-disciplinary courses can be developed and offered for a broad audience in a very short period of time,” Keshwani said in an email.

Burnette said students can take the course as a zero credit or one credit hour course. If students select the course as zero credit hours, they can take it tuition-free. 

The course will be offered pass/no pass and is open to students of any major with no required prerequisites. Students can enroll in the course through MyRed, according to the College of Business website.

“This is exciting and extremely critical as we know in the current circumstances many students may be experiencing financial challenges that could otherwise limit their participation,” Burnette said in an email. “I’m hopeful that by offering this tuition-free, students can be excited to learn and participate without taking on that additional financial burden.”

Burnette and Farrell said they hope this course will provide the framework for future interdisciplinary courses like it. 

Li said he hopes the students who participate in this course will understand how and why this pandemic originated, what has been learned from it and what will continue to be learned through the fight against the pandemic. 

“The well-being of every person on the earth is interconnected in face of emerging infectious diseases,” Li said in an email. “Therefore, we have to work together, fight together and win together.”