Georgetown Creates New Course for Students Returning from Study Abroad that Analyzes COVID-19

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Georgetown is one of only a few institutions to create a new academic term specifically for students asked to return home from their study-abroad experience due to COVID-19. Some of them will take a  new course called COVID-19: Theory and Action in a Time of Pandemic that allows the student to study the virus comprehensively in real-time.

Adapting to Change

As the university moved to a virtual learning environment to halt the spread of COVID-19, students were asked to return to their permanent residences, including those 300 students who were studying abroad. 

Amid the rush to return home from locations all over the world, several Georgetown students found that the courses they were enrolled in abroad were canceled or greatly amended by their host institutions. This could have caused them to lose all of the credit they would normally have earned for that semester.

Vice Dean of Georgetown College Sue Lorenson and Vice Provost for Education Randy Bass chose to combat this by creating the Georgetown University Global Campus (GUGC) to provide academic continuity for displaced study-abroad students. 

Students self-registered for this amended semester, selecting their classes from a list of 15 courses after consulting with their dean. Some of these classes fulfilled core requirements, while others were more specialized. COVID-19: Theory and Action in a Time of Pandemic (GUGC-0321) however, was an entirely new course created just for these students.

About the Course

Department of Biology professor Heidi Elmendorf, director of the Regents Science Scholars Program, created the new course.

“In our planning, we conceived of a team-taught, interdisciplinary course that would speak to this moment by focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic through multiple perspectives,” says Lorenson. “Professor Elmendorf pulled together an all-star cast of faculty from a myriad of disciplines and designed a spectacular curriculum for our students.”

Elmendorf assembled 18 different faculty members from nine different areas of study to take turns teaching the students individually or in pairs through modules that cover a variety of different subjects related to COVID-19. 

The modules cover topics such as the science of the virus and our responses to it, public health strategies, the lessons of history, the role of government, cultural perceptions and behaviors of people that produce risk and transmission. The course also looks at the political consequences of delaying action or ignoring public health.

Lemonade From Lemons

Georgetown College Assistant Dean Mike Parker, who leads one of the modules on immunology, said he hopes the course will be “a synthesis of technical knowledge development, acquisition of multi-disciplinary perspective toward international crises, and self-reflection toward coming to terms with ongoing personal and collective pandemic predicaments.”

“Our new course, COVID-19: Theory and Action in a Time of Pandemic, is a prime example of making lemonade from the lemons our students have been given,” Parker says. “Giving these students the knowledge of how pandemics start, how we can resolve the issues that arise during pandemics and what we can do to prevent the next pandemic, should not only help them frame their current experiences within a broader worldview, but also empower them to meet these challenges head on in the future.”

There are currently 12 students enrolled in the course, which takes place every week through virtual Zoom meetings. The students have met with several of the professors in the few weeks since the start of the course and say they can already see the positive impact that it has had.

“I feel like I am being an informed citizen and also learning about something pertinent,” says Ryley Zapien (C’21) who just returned from studying abroad in Australia. “If this happens again, I feel like I could help based off the knowledge I have acquired in this course. I am grateful to Georgetown for giving us these wonderful online classes that have made it is easy to transition in such a chaotic time.”

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