Pandemic inspires creative summer course offerings at CMU-Q
During the spring semester at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, a Qatar Foundation partner university, as the broader impact of the pandemic was becoming apparent, many students reported that their summer plans were being uprooted. Students often use the summer break to gain valuable practical experience through internships, research projects, or study abroad. The sudden social distancing restrictions left many students without practical summer learning opportunities.
The CMU-Q academic leadership team decided to take a novel approach, and develop a suite of online courses that offered unique, and topical, learning opportunities.
“It’s important that students have practical challenges where they can apply their knowledge and creativity,” said Hope Rodefer, director of educational initiatives. “We selected courses that each took a unique look at the pandemic, and provided an opportunity to broaden research skills and collaborate with peers across different years and majors.”
Deepa Nair, assistant teaching professor of history, taught a course on the history of epidemics, pandemics, and infectious disease: “Epidemics have had an impact on history that is equal to that of revolutions, wars and economic crises. By offering an interdisciplinary course that combined history, public health, social and behavioral sciences, politics, law, ethics, communication and media, I hoped that students would gain a historical and a human context for understanding the world of pandemics.”
Andrew Edward, a rising senior in the Information Systems Program, took the course on data analysis for social commerce platforms in the Gulf during COVID-19. “Project-based courses challenge you and pull you out of your comfort zone. You are pushed to learn new things on your own, even more than what is usually expected.” For his project, Edward and his partner, biological sciences student Abdullah Shaar, used social media posts to explore the impact of COVID-19 on the operations of shipping companies in the Gulf region.
A third course challenged students to design, process, and craft a preliminary digital exhibit of the COVID-19 pandemic in Qatar. Rounding out the suite of courses was “Islamic finance on the blockchain,” where students developed a strategy paper for using smart contracts for sukuk transactions. Sukuks are Islamic financial certificates that are similar to bonds in Western banking, and the pandemic crisis has attracted increased borrower interest in raising financing through such Islamic instruments.
“We had a great response from the students,” said Rodefer. “Each course was interdisciplinary, challenging, and I think the students really appreciated taking a unique look at how the world is responding to the pandemic.”