Course Offers Interdisciplinary Approach to COVID-19

August 14, 2020

Nearly 80 members of the Class of 2024 spent the last six weeks looking at the coronavirus pandemic through a multi-faceted, interdisciplinary lens.

A drawing of the coronavirus with arrows pointing to a house, medicine bottle, hands being washed, stethescope, and people six-feet apart.

Led by dozens of faculty members in the School of Arts and Sciences, Fisher Connects: The Age of COVID, was a specially designed, credit-bearing course for first-year students that sought to provide a holistic understanding of a complex global phenomenon that is reshaping how society works, plays, learns, and engages with each other. The course was also open to incoming transfer students.

Faculty members in the arts, biology, history, media and communication, mathematics, philosophy, political science, American studies, psychology, religious studies, and rhetoric and composition provided a variety of perspectives on the pandemic, demonstrating the interdisciplinary approach necessary for fully comprehending the crisis.

“The course was a way to connect with incoming students to really bring the power of the liberal arts to bear when reflecting on the current circumstances of the pandemic,” said Dr. Theresa Westbay, associate professor of biology.

The free course was delivered over Zoom, and each week featured faculty members explaining facets of the pandemic. Then faculty led discussions on those topics. Westbay and several biology and sociology colleagues kicked off the course in early July with a deep dive on viruses, why COVID-19 is dangerous to humans, and why some social groups have been more vulnerable to the virus.

“It was exciting to interact with the students and it makes me excited to have them in class,” said Westbay, who said her team of professors divided students into breakout rooms to foster small group dialogue during their session. “Students are aware of what’s going on in the world, they’re curious, and asked such thoughtful questions.”

Other topics included how policymakers respond to crisis under uncertainty; moral leadership; how the media engages, informs, shames, and scares; the roots of xenophobia in American culture; and how compassion, companionship, and resilience can help people cope in the age of COVID-19.

Andy Tapia, a transfer student majoring in inclusive adolescence education and English with a minor in modern languages, enrolled in the course to get to know the Fisher community. A native of Mexico City, Mexico, Tapia said several of the topics caught her attention.

“I think the politics behind COVID are very interesting and how we as a society and within in our government-not just in the United States, but around the world-are adapting to COVID,” she said. “My favorite lecture was by far the one we talked about creativity and art. I love art, it’s my favorite hobby to learn about and create outside my academic life.”

Like Tapia, first-year student Maeve Hull enrolled in the course to connect with professors and students at Fisher while learning about the virus.

“I thought it was great that Fisher was offering this course to allow students to better understand what is currently happening in the world,” Hull said. “I have been able to share what I have learned with family and friends, as COVID-19 has become such a central factor in our everyday lives.”

As an aspiring teacher, the course also helped Tapia stay sharp over the summer.

“I love school and I think education is a huge part of who I am,” she said. “I missed the interaction I’ve had with professors. It’s always good to keep learning.”

For Hull, a native of Hamburg, New York, the units that covered the science behind the virus and how it spreads were particularly interesting. She was also excited about the session led by philosophy and religion professors, who explored the strong beliefs driving the debate around wearing masks.

“It was very informational and a wonderful experience that I’m glad I was given the opportunity to take part in,” Hull said. “I was able to make connections with other students and learn about many people. I am very glad I was also able to be introduced to professors from all fields of study. I now feel as though I am already a student at Fisher, and I am actually a bit less intimidated to be starting as a freshman.”