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With Penn students scattered across the globe, common educational experiences have been in short supply this spring semester. But a sizable number—close to 2,000—signed up to share in an online course examining the impacts of the novel coronavirus pandemic and other major disruptions from a variety of perspectives.

Offered through the Wharton School but open to undergraduate and graduate students from across the University, “Epidemics, Natural Disasters, and Geopolitics: Managing Global Business and Financial Uncertainty” was developed by management professor Mauro Guillen and incorporated presentations by many leading scholars at Wharton and other schools. The half-credit course was scheduled to run for six weeks from March 25 until April 29 (after this issue of the Gazette went to press).

“We are proud to launch this course as it draws directly from the current geopolitical climate and will offer students insights into this crisis and all types of high-risk events,” Guillen said in a Wharton announcement. “I’m thrilled to take part in this course, which was developed very quickly and through the generous support of professors and staff who understand the urgency.”

In an interview with the Sirius satellite radio program Wharton Business Daily, Guillen explained that he had put together the course at the request of the dean’s office, modeled on a similar effort he spearheaded in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. He said the course would attempt to give students a “360-degree view, from the macro to the micro, and then across different levels, exploring all the different ramifications of an emergency situation such as this.”

Guillen said that each of the six sessions would feature two faculty presentations. Among the scheduled speakers were vice provost for global initiatives and chair of the department of medical ethics and health policy Ezekiel Emanuel on the nature and spread of the virus, finance professor Jeremy Siegel on the response of financial markets, and outgoing Wharton dean Geoffrey Garrett on leadership in emergencies.

Other planned presentations focused on issues including supply chain disruptions, teleworking and telecommuting, “emotional contagion” in a public health crisis, incentives for promoting risk-avoidant behavior, crisis management, potential changes in international relations and borders, and possible adaptations from climate law with regard to legal and insurance issues arising from the pandemic.

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