Pandemic prompts new six-college collaborative course

The most collaborative, interdisciplinary class in Nebraska's history was launched in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The most collaborative, interdisciplinary class in Nebraska's history was launched in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln has launched a six-college interdisciplinary course exploring the world’s current circumstances due to COVID-19 through different disciplines and perspectives. Offered as a five-week, online class beginning July 13, it includes more than 30 faculty and staff — the most involved in teaching one course in recent university history.

“The COVID-19 Pandemic: Effects on Industries, People and Society” (UGEP 291) will help students process the coronavirus pandemic and analyze its effects on their own lives and others’. The faculty and staff providing their expertise in topic-driven modules represent 13 departments and academic units 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 University Libraries.

“Creating this course is an academic answer to these unusual times,” said Kathy Farrell, James Jr. and Susan Stuart Endowed Dean of the College of Business. “Major issues like this global pandemic can only be managed by a collaborative approach between different disciplines, governments and communities. This course enables us to tap into the expertise and ingenuity of our university so we can create a better future together.”

Open to students of any major, the pass/no pass course runs July 13-Aug. 13. When enrolling in MyRED, students can choose to take it for one credit hour or no credit. No tuition is charged if taken for no credit. No prerequisites are required.

“We’re hopeful this will provide a unique opportunity for students throughout the university to learn about the pandemic through a variety of lenses,” said Erin Burnette, director of the Nebraska Business Honors Academy, who coordinated the course and is an instructor. “We also want them to experience new ideas and faculty outside of their primary major, minor or college.”

Through short, recorded lectures, brief readings and online discussions via the Canvas learning platform, students will examine topics such as the science of viruses like COVID-19, economic and financial implications, global and domestic political challenges, the food supply chain, impact on the educational system and ways to engineer a solution.

Nebraska virologist Qingsheng Li, professor of biological sciences, plans to leverage his research on fighting emerging infectious diseases in the module about the science of viruses. As part of the Nebraska Center for Virology, Li and other Nebraska faculty combine their expertise to study important viral diseases of humans, including influenza, HIV-1, Ebola, Zika and COVID-19.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped human life and taught us that the well-being of humans as a species depends on the well-being of animals and the environment,” Li said. “In this course, I will explain how SARS-CoV-2, the tiny causative viral agent of COVID-19 disease, wreaks havoc globally and what may be the biological solution to end this pandemic.”

Some faculty plan to host live Zoom forums where they can expand further on their topic, include guest speakers and answer questions for students beyond the scope of their short module. These forums will be optional and recorded for students to watch later.

The course culminates with all students submitting a reflective paper or video about a current challenge in their area of interest and their proposed interdisciplinary solution.

“This class can serve as a model for future interdisciplinary courses offered by the university,” Burnette said. “The world’s big challenges require us all to work together to come up with creative and necessary solutions.”

The College of Business has developed three additional online summer courses exploring the pandemic’s effect on the supply chain and the future of work, as well as strengths-based leadership. More than 100 additional classes are being offered this summer as part of an initiative by the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs to keep students engaged with the university. Nebraska plans to return to on-campus classes in the fall, taking public-health guidance, safety and social distancing into account.

Students interested in “The COVID-19 Pandemic” course (UGEP 291) should enroll now in MyRED. To learn more about the course's modules and faculty, visit: