Covid-19 Videos “from Students to Students”—Science for the Common Good Course

June 4, 2020

UCSB students create Covid-19 videos from basic science to false facts to wellness and mental health and student resources 

Erfan Zeyaei Kajbaf (CCS Biology'21)
Erfan Zeyaei Kajbaf (CCS Biology'21)

The Science for the Common Good (SCG) course is like no other. The course began in 2012 and is designed to introduce outstanding undergraduate researchers to their role as citizen-scientists/engineers and leaders in applying scientific approaches to global problems. Established through the UCSB Beckman Scholars program, the course now resides in the UCSB NIH Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) program and has resulted in multiple projects and invited speakers. All students must be conducting research while taking this course, and it is a required course for UCSB MARC Scholars.  

This course was conceived by Professor Kathy Foltz (CCS Biology Faculty and Professor in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology) in collaboration and co-taught with Dr. Arica Lubin (Associate Director, Center for Science and Engineering Partnerships (CSEP), California NanoSystems Institute). Each year, the student cohort identifies and addresses specific challenges or needs in the local community, and creates deliverables that target those challenges and needs. “I have really enjoyed developing this class, and working with both Arica and the students is a joy,” commented Foltz.

In the 2020 Spring Quarter course, Covid-19 is the challenge and the students are releasing one to two videos a week with messages "from students to students" about anything from the basic science of Covid-19 to misinformation, to wellness and mental health and student resources. Celeste Parra Bravo (College of Letters and Science Biochemistry and Molecular Biology ’20, MARC Scholar) Erfan Zeyaei Kajbaf (CCS Biology ’21, Gorman Scholar), and Roy Alejandro Santos Garcia de la Cadena (College of Letters and Science Biochemistry and Molecular Biology ’20, MARC Scholar) are course participants taking the lead in creating the videos with additional assistance from other current students and alumni. The students have relied heavily on Kajbaf for his expertise in making and posting the videos on social media. 

Celeste Parra Bravo (College of Letters and Science Biochemistry and Molecular Biology ’20). Courtesy Photo.
Celeste Parra Bravo (College of Letters and Science Biochemistry and Molecular Biology ’20). Courtesy Photo.

During the academic year, the student cohort worked very hard on projects to promote an increase in diversity and inclusiveness in STEM fields, and in the past Winter Quarter the students had sponsored a forum for undergraduates, Breaking Down Barriers in STEM. “Actually, we were thinking Spring Quarter would be pretty relaxed, and that the main event would be hosting a speaker from off campus to engage with undergraduates on STEM inclusivity and leadership,” said Foltz, but “…when Covid-19 hit, we had a quick, somewhat animated and frustrating discussion about the misinformation and general confusion surrounding the virus and the disease.” Within days, the students had a list of topics they would address via social media platforms and had met with members of the UCSB Covid-19 Task Force, UCSB Public Affairs, and various units in Student Affairs. For Lubin, “The students in the SCG course saw a need to help their peers [UCSB students] become more familiar with the science along with the educational, social, and personal issues around this pandemic, and they put their minds and hands together to address that need in a student-to-student initiative.” 

The “from students to students” videos clearly illustrate the ingenuity of students, given the opportunity. “These students are just so impressive—self-driven, wanting to do something to help, and maintaining a great sense of humor all along the way,” said Foltz who continued, “Once the students outline content, Arica and I help them fact check and source and information, but then they do everything else. It's amazing actually. They are taking full academic loads and keeping their own research going.”

Neda Ziaei Kajbaf (College of Letters and Sciences Cell and Developmental Biology ’19). Courtesy Photo.
Neda Ziaei Kajbaf (College of Letters and Sciences Cell and Developmental Biology ’19). Courtesy Photo.

Kajbaf hopes that “…students watch these videos and realize that they are not alone in these hard situations and we are in this together. Mental health is a huge issue and I honestly hope UCSB students educate themselves and use these tips to help them overcome their challenges.”  With guidance from Foltz and Lubin, Kajbaf collaborated with faculty and students to create educational videos (one of his favorite hobbies; he has his own video channel ErfMed). Kajbaf shared, “Making scientific videos for the general audience is difficult but with the guidance from Dr. Foltz and Dr. Lubin, I have been able to make videos in such a way that is enjoyable and educational to all UCSB students. The skills and connections that I have gained from SCG are very valuable, and while I love in person classes, my experience with remote learning has allowed me to continue to contribute.”  

Kajbaf got a lending hand from his sister, UCSB alumna Neda Ziaei Kajbaf (College of Letters and Sciences Cell and Developmental Biology ’19). She was a SCG course participant in 2018-2019, and wanted to volunteer to help the community in a meaningful way during the Covid-19 pandemic. “Covid-19 is causing uncertainty and while it is normal to feel stress and anxiety, I wanted to play a role in minimizing those gaps, specifically for UCSB students. And…I made a video with my brother, Erfan!” commented Ziaei Kajbaf. She went on to say, “Having the experience of working with Kathy and Arica last year, I should confess I really enjoyed working with them remotely this year as well. We discussed and decided on our future plans while sharing our mindsets, but we also shared our environment with each other—and that added an extra layer of closeness to our team and helped us to be more comfortable in work and conveying our ideas.” 

Part of what I love about this class is that it highlights the amazing ingenuity and altruism of our research scholars and showcases the humanity within science. – Arica Lubin 

Bravo, who is part of the Kosik Lab at the UCSB Neuroscience Institute, emphasized: “I’ve had a wonderful experience collaborating with Kathy and Arica throughout the year. I have found our discussions about science and outreach incredibly valuable, and I’ve enjoyed working with my classmates and see our ideas come to fruition.”  Bravo shared that she expected the Spring Quarter was going to be a little different than previous quarters, however, she did not imagine it would be completely remote but it actually worked out well. In remote discussions about the pandemic with the other students, Bravo commented “During the first few weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic, my classmates and I realized there was a spread of misinformation occurring and, in general, a lack of effective communication to students. After speaking with faculty from the MCDB department, we determined that peers [students] making videos for peers [students] that addressed various topics of our current pandemic situation may be useful for students, emphasizing the importance of staying at home.” Bravo’s hope is that “…with these videos, students are more conscious of their role in the spread of the virus.”

Roy Alejandro Santos Garcia de la Cadena (College of Letters and Science Biochemistry and Molecular Biology ’20). Courtesy Photo.
Roy Alejandro Santos Garcia de la Cadena (College of Letters and Science Biochemistry and Molecular Biology ’20). Courtesy Photo.

Garcia was interested in the science behind Covid-19 beyond the goal of the class to inform and update the student community about the coronavirus. “My video project was focused on tackling the science behind SARS-CoV2 with intentions of covering important concepts from the morphology to the pathogenesis of the virus. This has been a challenge as the science behind the virus seems to update every other day, so I have been constantly making edits!” commented Garcia. Similar to the other students in the course, Garcia believes the course has been a unique and powerful experience, and is grateful for it. Garcia shared, “Each quarter, I have been able to pursue a passion from advocating/supporting underrepresented students in science to informing and giving back to our community in this time of hardship.” He continued, “I have often heard that the worst can bring out the best in people and it is great to see that in play in this course and our collaboration around this pandemic. In a sense, our community has united like never before and I truly hope we all retain this sense of togetherness and collaboration even after this pandemic fades into history.” 

Stay safe everyone. Take care of yourselves and take care of those around you; this is an important time for humanity – Roy Garcia 

In SCG during Winter Quarter, Bravo and Garcia created “Breaking Down Barriers,” the outreach event aimed to bridge the gap between underrepresented students in STEM and accomplished scientists. Bravo seeks to continue her work with STEM and disadvantaged students: “There was a lot of success with this event [“Breaking Down Barriers”] and when things in the world aren’t as hectic, I may return to the importance of outreach to make disadvantaged students feel like they are heard, seen, and helped.” 

In addition, SCG students collaborated with their peers in the College of Creative Studies Spring Quarter course, “Civics in the Time of a Pandemic.” Both these courses illustrate the student tenacity for research and creativity to solve complex issues. 

Bravo and Garcia will enter Ph.D. programs in Fall 2020, and Kajbaf will continue his research as a fourth-year biologist in Max Wilson’s lab that combines tools from biology, engineering, and physics to understand a cell’s perceptual field. 

Covid-19 Videos “from Students to Students"

Debunking 6 Coronavirus Myths

Currently it is hard to distinguish fact from fiction with all the discussion around Coronavirus that is circulating in our social media; so this video focuses on debunking 6 Coronavirus myths that are actually going around UCSB campus. This video was meant to be solely for UCSB students, but anyone can really watch this video and get informed. 

7 Tips to Protect Your Mental Health During Covid-19

In the face of uncertainty, managing stress while also staying prepared and informed can be difficult. So what can you do to protect your mental health during the Covid-19 Pandemic? In this video, UCSB students suggest 7 important ways to protect your mental health during this coronavirus crisis. Need assistance? Contact UCSB Counseling and Psychological Services

10 Ways to Stay Healthy & active During Covid-19 Pandemic

This video highlights 10 ways to stay healthy and active during Covid-19 pandemic. It is important to mention that this video was filmed and is based off of information gathered from the CDC and World Health Organization websites.

The SCG course is supported through the UCSB NIH Maximizing Access to Research Careers—Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research (MARC U*STAR) Program, the Center for Science and Engineering Partnerships, and the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology.