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Feb. 28, 2012

New zombie course helps students learn about survival behavior

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Coming soon, zombies will be invading Michigan State University.

The School of Social Work is offering a one-of-a-kind online course called "Surviving the Coming Zombie Apocalypse – Catastrophes and Human Behavior" that will do a lot more than teach students how to fend off the undead.

Starting May 14 – the first session of the summer 2012 semester – students enrolled in the seven-week course will learn how human behavior and nature change after catastrophic incidences – from the historical to the hypothetical – through a blend of traditional coursework, online forums and a catastrophic event simulation, which will be in the form of a theoretical zombie pandemic.

Aspects of anthropology, sociology and geology, among other disciplines, will be woven into the two-credit course, which will be scored on a traditional 4.0 scale.

"We are using the idea of a zombie apocalypse to attract attention to the important research and science on the topic of 'Catastrophes and Human Behavior,'" said Glenn Stutzky, social work instructor and creator of the course. "Students will learn about the nature, scope and impact of catastrophic events on individuals, families, societies, civilizations and the Earth itself."

During the simulation, which is the focus of the first week of class, students will be placed in survivor groups and tasked to work with each other to develop ways to survive the zombie pandemic. As the course continues, so will the simulation, but students also will learn about catastrophes like the Black Death and meteor strikes, and the impact these events had on the planet. During the final days of the course, students in their survivor groups will use what they learned and will face the conclusion of the simulation event.

"Though the topic is serious and worthy of academic study, the challenges presented in surviving a hypothetical zombie pandemic have real-world applications," Stutzky said. "After all, zombies make everything more interesting."

Stutzky and a team from Virtual University Design and Technology are using social media to promote the course, including the use of a YouTube channel, Facebook and Twitter.

The course is part of a new venture called Summer Online Electives Initiative in Social Work. It is made up of nine courses meant to appeal to a broader pool of students, as well as provide more accessibility to social work courses for both current MSU students, guest students from other universities and members of the general public.


Michigan State University has been working to advance the common good in uncommon ways for more than 150 years. One of the top research universities in the world, MSU focuses its vast resources on creating solutions to some of the world's most pressing challenges, while providing life-changing opportunities to a diverse and inclusive academic community through more than 200 programs of study in 17 degree-granting colleges.