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USM faculty offer public course on COVID-19, pandemic history

Wed, 09/23/2020 - 08:00am | By: Margaret Ann Macloud

A free, online course that assists in understanding COVID-19 and related pandemic topics is now available to the public, thanks to the work of faculty and staff at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM).

“Understanding the Pandemic: A COVID-19 Public Service Short Course” is available at this link. It contains six modules: the history of pandemics; social and economic impact of pandemics; coronavirus and epidemiology; spread, prevention, and treatment; vaccines; and personal health and wellness in a pandemic. Each module is presented in a video presentation format by a USM faculty member whose expertise and academic focus is on the given topic. The public service course is the brainchild of Dr. Douglas Masterson, Senior Associate Provost for Institutional Effectiveness and Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at USM. As COVID-19 spread, he quickly realized there was misinformation and misunderstanding among the public—not only about the novel coronavirus’ immediate impact but about the history of pandemics in general. This concern led to a conversation with Dr. Karen Coats, Dean of USM’s Graduate School and Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology, and they got to work on recruiting fellow faculty to create this course.

“Our mission as a public institution is to serve the public,” Dr. Masterson said. “As professors, we conduct research in our areas and publish that research in journals that are read largely by other academics. The opportunity to put our scholarly work into a context related to current events highlights the importance of what we do in academia and fulfills the mission of serving the public good.”

The course takes about three hours to complete, but it does not have to be done in one sitting. The course can be taken by anyone and is presented in a way that all can understand, whether a student, business manager, or academic. The goal, Dr. Masterson noted, is not to become an expert on COVID-19 but to become equipped with facts from subject-matter experts about infectious diseases in order to minimize one’s risk, both to self and others.

“You’re not going to take this course and become a COVID-19 expert, but when you take this course you will have a better foundation for what this pandemic may mean for you. It’s going to help you navigate the things you’re hearing on the news,” Dr. Masterson said.

The following faculty, staff, and community medical professionals participated in the creation of the COVID-19 course:

· Dr. Fengwei Bai, Associate Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology

· Dr. Karen S. Coats, Dean of Graduate School, Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology

· Susan Dobson, Lecturer of Public Health in the School of Health Professions

· Dr. Janet Donaldson, Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology

· Dr. Mohamed Elasri, Director of USM’s Center for Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology

· Steven Farrell, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Forrest General Hospital

· John Fitzpatrick, MD, President, Hattiesburg Clinic

· Stacie Frey, Instructor in the School of Child and Family Sciences

· Dr. Tom Hutchinson, Director of USM’s Office of Online Learning

· Dr. Jennifer Lemacks, Associate Professor of Nutrition and Food Systems

· Dr. Stephanie M. McCoy, Assistant Professor of Kinesiology

· Dr. Kristy McRaney, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychology

· Dr. Stephanie K. Parks, Assistant Professor of Leadership and Advanced Nursing Practice

· Dr. Scotty Piland, Professor of Kinesiology

· Dr. Edward Sayre, Professor of Economics and International Development

· Dr. Douglas Masterson, Senior Associate Provost for Institutional Effectiveness and Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry

“Education will play an important role in mitigating this pandemic. That’s what this course is all about,” Dean Coats said. “It brings together a group of faculty with diverse areas of expertise to inform the public about pandemics throughout history, the biology, epidemiology, and control of the coronavirus, and the impact of COVID-19 on personal and societal health and well-being. Each module is valuable as a stand-alone, but it is our hope that the complete course will provide a level of understanding of COVID-19 that equips us to discern fact from fiction. Ultimately, it will prepare us to make better decisions about protecting ourselves and others from infection.”

“These faculty members who came together to do this truly did this across disciplinary lines, across schools, and I think that shows that we have expertise in a variety of locations on campus that can address issues like this,” Dr. Masterson said. “The faculty’s willingness to come together to do this, to put this together while they’re also learning how to adjust to this new normal, both personally and professionally, shows our commitment to the health and well-being of our fellow residents of the state and beyond.”

The public service course can be taken by following this link.