Health Economics Takes on Executive Summaries

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic led to massive changes all around the world. For many Ursinus faculty members, that meant altering their coursework accordingly.

As mid-March continued on and the previously unplanned second week of spring break took form, Heather O’Neill, a professor of business and economics, began redesigning her Health Economics course. She went through, eliminating some material from the original syllabus and creating a new way for her students to think and learn about the unprecedented public health crisis that the world was now facing. With the abundance of news popping up across all forms of media about the COVID-19 virus, she found that it could quickly become overwhelming.

“I knew my students would be equally anxious about absorbing and trying to digest the news,” O’Neill explained, “To make things more manageable, I wanted each student to become a subject-matter expert by focusing on one lens of the crisis.”

She formatted the course to have each student represent the head of one of the US federal government departments, such as the Secretary of Health and Human Services or the Secretary of Labor.

With O’Neill serving as the president in search of non-opinionated, credible data and information, she tasked her students with providing executive summaries every 8-10 days. These were comprised of reputable research with a distinct focus on avoiding misinformation. The summaries were placed in discussion threads on Canvas and open to comments. This allowed the students to learn about other angles from their classmates’ departments.

O’Neill weighed in on how a liberal arts education allows Ursinus students to solve problems in times of crisis.

“UC students learn to ask questions. Finding answers leads to more questions. They know how to dig deeply for data that creates information and hopefully leads to greater wisdom. Being able to sift through the misinformation peddled by those who have the incentives to promote it helps our students become better world citizens. Of course we want students to form opinions and advocate for change, yet I believe they need to read, write, and think critically to form their opinions.”—By Mary Lobo ’15