UA Offering Courses on Coronavirus

ppe masks

Three courses offered this summer to all students at The University of Alabama will allow students to understand issues stemming from the coronavirus pandemic while exploring solutions to a shortage of personal protective equipment.

Two courses focus on understanding and tackling challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, one offered during Interim term on the shortage of PPE and the other during the summer semester on broader societal and organizational challenges. A third, seminar-style course over the summer term will explore the pandemic through guest speakers with diverse expertise.

The three courses are organized and hosted by the College of Engineering, Culverhouse College of Business and Honors College, but offered through partnerships with several other colleges on campus, including the College of Human and Environmental Sciences, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the School of Social Work.

“The mutual goal of the courses is to help students better understand customers’ and society’s needs and impacts of what they do related to big, complex problems like pandemics,” said Dr. Robert Morgan, professor of marketing and also director of the STEM Path to the MBA Program. “We’re hoping to provide them with a set of skills and tools, coupled with a deeper human understanding of problems, that will set them up to be leaders in problem-solving efforts in the future.”

Morgan will collaborate to lead the courses with Dr. Ken Fridley, senior associate dean for administration in the College of Engineering, and Dr. Louis Marino, chair of the management department and the Frank Mason Faculty Fellow in Family Business. They set up the classes as part of an ongoing effort to address complex, far-reaching problems with innovative solutions formulated by students.

The idea came from a PPE project all three have been involved with since the University moved to limited business operations in March. Using the engineering makerspace The Cube, which houses 3D printers and other manufacturing equipment, they along with Cube director Sam Andrus and students are making face shields for health care workers.

The PPE project is successfully delivering about 60 face shields to local and regional health care providers daily, but there are challenges. The two design courses this summer employ customer discovery approaches and design thinking to solve issues not only with PPE, but other issues of the pandemic such as changes in supply chains, education, product innovation and domestic abuse, Marino said.

By involving students from multiple areas of study from the partner colleges, the team hopes students can bring different perspectives to tackle challenges.

“Innovation is most often most successful when it employs diverse teams,” Morgan said. “That diversity can be very broad if you consider the variety of majors UA offers and the demographic characteristics of our students.”

The seminar course will provide students online lectures on topics surrounding the pandemic that range from health care to the economy to the design of public spaces.

“We want to highlight the transdisciplinary nature of how this virus is currently viewed, how it has and will continue to impact our daily lives, and how it may contribute to lasting changes to each of us and the world around us,” Fridley said.

The UA PPE project can be supported through a crowdfunding web site.

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