• Aditi Nayak

COVID Communications: Coping with COVID19 through Community and Creativity of BCBP400

Updated: May 22

The collection of resources created by BCBP400 to understand COVID19 can be found here

Coronavirus has not only changed the platform of college courses from in-person to online, but has also prompted some courses to modify their material to address our current situation. One such course is Amherst College’s own BCBP400 Molecular and Cellular Biophysics, in which Professor Sheila Jaswal and Professor William Loinaz took this unprecedented circumstance as an opportunity for their students to apply course material to the real world. They tasked their students with the following challenge:

Let’s come up with a module together that lets us investigate the ongoing pandemic using both our human and biophysical lenses. Can we develop an educational process that enables each of us to contribute, that draws on our diverse backgrounds and strengths, while being mindful that these unprecedented circumstances impact our abilities to learn and function at different times in different ways? Let’s create something based on our work during this module that we can share with others we care about.

At first, students of this course were surprised by the task. Chris DaVeiga ‘20 noted that “Up to this point, the class was very quantitative and detail-oriented and the switch to creative expression [was] unexpected but welcome.” Furthermore, as coronavirus invaded every aspect of everyday life, some students like Ava Simoncelli ‘20 worried “that learning about Covid-19 would not be the best thing for me at that moment in time because of all the change and stress it had caused in my life but it turned out to be a positive experience”.

Quickly this surprise and apprehension about the turn in the course changed into excitement to tackle a project relevant to our current situation rather than shy away from it and study a different research topic. First, students applied what they learned about the physics and chemistry of biomolecules to scientific writing about coronavirus in an effort to make sense of the virus. For those like Lauryn Aliwas ‘21, this process “eased some of the emotional burden of the pandemic because I had to think about the virus in more technical and objective terms. A lot of my worries came from not knowing much about the virus, so learning the science of it has made me feel better as well as more immune to the hysteria expressed by loved ones and by the media.” As Hill Yin ‘21 puts it, “We live in a society today that is filled with random media spreading all kinds of news, and as a scientist (kind of) I trust other scientists,” so reading the work of reputable scientists offered students confidence in their understanding of COVID-19. Unfortunately, these trustworthy sources can be inaccessible to some, which led to the second part of this project: make this information accessible.

The flexibility of this prompt led student Kyle Jones ‘21 to wonder “how different people would approach it. [He] always found [himself] coming out of class projects surprised by the different ways people decide to approach them in ways I never would have thought of. As such, I was excited to see the creativity of classmates.” Indeed, these COVID-19 Communication projects were beyond creative. From letters and Zoom events to artwork and poetry, these students employed their unique intersection of talents to share what they learned about coronavirus in a manner accessible to their audience. Now, these students are not only sharing their work with you but also hope that you can use their projects to share this understanding with your loved ones.

Linked here is a database of the students’ projects as well as their intentions, inspirations, and ways you can use their work.

For Nejc Nagelj ‘21, “Presenting [his] work to others really made me appreciate how different peoples' background knowledge was and how important it is, especially during these times, to enable everyone equal access to education.” Not only were these final projects rewarding for the students who procured them, but their work was also met with an overwhelmingly positive response from the loved ones they shared it with. Sharing his letters with his parents, Chris DaVeiga ‘20 noted that “Although n=2, 100% of the people I asked were proud of me and thankful for the information.” We at the Amherst STEM Network are certainly very proud of and impressed by the BCBP400 course’s initiative to tackle our current situation and the COVID Communications projects they created as a result. As we increase n to equal the number of members of the Amherst community, we are positive that 100% of those accessing these resources will learn something about the novel virus that they too can share with their loved ones.

Thank you to Professor Jaswal and Professor Loinaz for not only challenging their students with this task but also inviting our platform to share the incredible work of their students! Thank you to the students of this course for taking the time to answer our questions and for your hard work and creativity with these projects!


©2020 by The Amherst STEM Network. Proudly created with Wix.com