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U introduces two new courses focused on COVID-19

Courses explore communication challenges and mathematical modeling of the pandemic.

As students return to the University of Utah campus in the fall after a five-month hiatus, they will find new courses focused on the COVID-19 pandemic. Much about the world has changed in these few short months and both the Department of Communication and the Department of Math are providing students an opportunity to grapple with the deeper issues raised by the global crisis.

graphic of flyer describing the new COMM 3580 course

COMM 3580 flyer

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In the Department of Communication, Jakob Jensen, professor of communication, created a new course on how brands respond to a pandemic—COMM 3580: Strategic Communication & Pandemics. Taught online and open to all students, the course will explore the unique challenges and opportunities presented by a crisis in a changing environment. Students will study the communication strategy of public health organizations—including the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state departments of health—and examine how commercial brands have responded to COVID-19.

“This is a key transition for brands and one that will likely determine the rise and fall of many companies,” said Jensen. “Those same companies will be looking for employees who learned from this moment and are prepared to help them navigate the difficult terrain that lies ahead.”

Jensen became interested in pandemics during the H1N1 outbreak when he noticed the communication challenges that were arising. Jensen and a group of five students spent six months conducting surveys and experimental message studies to understand the H1N1 outbreak and now, he and a new group of students are conducting research on COVID-19. They have been collecting data since mid-March with the goal of quantifying how perceptions of COVID-19 messaging has shifted across time.

“I’ve thought about a course on strategic communication and pandemics for years and this seemed like an ideal time to launch it,” said Jensen. “Many of my courses are grounded in established knowledge and practices. I want this course to venture beyond that and delve into the uncertainty of the moment.”

Jensen noted that COMM 3580 fulfills degree requirements for a major or minor in strategic communication and it can be used to pursue a soon-to-be-launched certificate in public outreach communication.

Another U professor is also interested in quantitatively understanding COVID. Fred Adler, professor of mathematics, will be teaching a course on mathematical modeling of the pandemic—MATH 5740: Mathematical modeling: The COVID-19 Pandemic.

“The pandemic has brought mathematical modeling unprecedented prominence and critical attention,” said Adler. “Predicting the spread of the virus received the most attention, but modeling goes well beyond that initial goal. Mathematics plays a key role in understanding many other processes, including the physics of virus movement and survival, the operations management of the flow of patients through hospitals and of drugs and equipment and the cascading economic effects of control measurements.”

MATH 5740 will occur in-person and the prerequisites include MATH 2250 or MATH 2270, and MATH 2280.

In this time of uncertainty and global change, these two new courses give students a tangible and new way to engage in the pandemic. For more information about the courses, visit the general catalog here.