June 2022 CIC Webinar Recap

Editor's note:

The June 2022 COVID Information Commons (CIC) webinar took place on June 10th, 2022. In this forum, leading COVID-19 scientists funded by NSF presented their current research on the global pandemic. 

Event moderators included Florence Hudson, Executive Director of the Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub at Columbia University and COVID Information Commons Principal Investigator (PI), Lauren Close, Operations & Communications Manager, and Emily Rothenberg, NSDC Program Coordinator. 

The researchers presented a wide variety of topics, each touching on broader themes related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Each presentation spoke to the pandemic’s impact on social and behavioral sciences. All four projects are funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).


The session began with a presentation from Jennifer Hamilton, of NORC at the University of Chicago. Along with her colleague, Debbie Kim, Dr. Hamilton’s research focused on student education and learning loss during the pandemic. Her research, Pandemic Learning Loss in U.S. High Schools: A National Examination of Student Experiences, studied the impact of virtual study on high school students in spring 2020. 

Dr. Hamilton’s study focused on how the pandemic impacted low-income and high-income student groups differently. It was shown that there was a proportional drop in the number of low-income high school students who enrolled in STEM discipline AP courses after the transition to remote learning in 2020. Low-income students noted that they experienced far more educational and access barriers than their high-income peers, which included: not having adequate equipment or systems to participate in virtual classes, parental job insecurities, and environmental distractions. Of the students from the lower income bracket who had enrolled in STEM and AP classes before the pandemic, 72% did not take their examinations that year. Dr. Hamilton’s study considered potential improvements that can be made by the school authorities and the policymakers to ease the impact of virtual education on high school students. 

A video of Jennifer and Debbie’s presentation can be found on the CIC website.


Next, we heard from Branden Johnson of the Decision Research Institute. Dr. Johnson presented his research, Protective Action Decision Model – Risk Perception Variation across Time through the Pandemic.

Dr. Johnson’s presentation concerned risk perception throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. They compared individuals' risk perception and behavioral patterns to people who experienced other recent disease outbreaks, like Ebola. Dr. Johnson’s work focused on the relationship between perceived risk and local outbreak clusters, noting how both fluctuated over time. Theyconcluded that a high protective behavior at a given time resulted in a lower risk perception at a future time. Similarly, higher protective behaviors predicted that an individual would perceive greater risks in the future. A possible reason for this is that individuals may perceive that their protective behaviors are insufficient for avoiding infection. The research measured personal, affective, and collective risk patterns.

A video of Branden’s video presentation can be found on the CIC website.


The following presentation came from Amit Sheth, University of South Carolina, and Valerie Shalin, Wright State University, who discussed their research, Semantic Analysis of Social Media and New Big Data to Understand Covid-19’s impact on Mental Health.

Dr. Sheth and Dr. Shalin’s study provided a social media analysis generated from Twitter and Reddit posts made during the COVID-19 pandemic. The aim of the study was to create a framework which could inform and develop public policy, focusing on the mental well-being of a regional populace. Their language modeling and analysis led to the development of what they call a Social Quality Index (SQI). The SQI allowed the researchers to map correlations between waves of the pandemic and fluctuations in substance abuse or addiction, depression and anxiety, and economic insecurity. The resulting project is an adaptable and rapid analytical tool which can provide policymakers with separable measures of mental health that are not feasible in survey metrics.

A video of Amit and Valerie’s video presentation can be found on the CIC website.


The webinar ended with a presentation from Natalie Shook, University of Connecticut, who talked about her research, Psychological well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Shook’s presentation focused on understanding what factors impacted the mental health of individuals from all age groups during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to her study, about 33% of Americans reported higher levels of anxiety and depression during the height of the pandemic in spring 2020.  Dr. Shook concluded that, perhaps counterintuitively, COVID-related stressors had a stronger effect on the mental well-being of younger individuals than older individuals. Several prominent factors contributed to this increase in generalized stress, depression, and anxiety, including concerns over contracting the disease, social isolation (which often has a negative impact on individuals’ mental health), job security concerns, and a barrage of news coverage about the pandemic. Dr. Shook stated that they hoped this research could be used in the future to tailor mental health counseling and content to individuals based on their demographics and economic concerns. 

A video of Natalie’s session can be found on the CIC website.


Following the presentations, Florence Hudson, Lauren Close, and Emily Rothenburg hosted a Q&A session where the audience engaged in a rich discussion with the researchers. These talks offered great insights about the impact of COVID-19 on U.S. social policy and research.

A recording of this event is available on the Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub’s YouTube Channel and the COVID Information Commons website. The COVID Information Commons is an NSF-funded project brought to you by the Big Data Innovation Hubs, led by the Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub at Columbia University. 

We look forward to welcoming you to our next webinar. Stay tuned!

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Email us at [email protected] and let us know what you’re interested in hearing about next!

June 24, 2022