Last year, in the depths of the pandemic, my office was frequently a Zoom screen—an ever-shifting digital grid of colleagues finding new ways to work. Staff members set up desks in their guest bedrooms. Faculty taught from their dining room tables, often with their own children next to them, logged on to elementary-school Zooms and Kahoots.
One of the things we learned—other than how cats love to walk on laptops—is that the Behrend community is resilient.
We had an advantage: Many of our faculty members have long taught online, through Penn State World Campus. We leveraged that expertise, moving nearly 3,800 classes and labs into remote or hybrid formats without missing a single day of scheduled instruction. At every step, our faculty, staff, and students rose to the challenge. Our IT team drove networking equipment to employees’ homes. The Residence Life staff assembled care packages for students in quarantine. A crossfunctional team developed Belonging@Behrend to engage first-year students, whether they were on campus or learning remotely.
Our faculty members found creative ways to keep students engaged, both in class and at home on camera: Dr. Lynne Beaty, assistant professor of biology, mounted her phone to a headband to film her hands during lab experiments. Emily Cassano, assistant teaching professor of music, theatre, and visual arts, staged the spring play in a parking lot, with the cast beneath a tent.
Our students wanted to be back on campus, and they did what we asked in order for that to happen. They wore masks, kept a safe distance from one another, and agreed to random testing for COVID. That commitment, more than any other, kept the college open.
We ended the academic year with an outdoor, in-person commencement ceremony. That was especially meaningful to me, and, I think, to a great many others: Commencement is a milestone not only for our graduates and their families, but also for those at the college who helped guide them to this point in their lives. That’s worth celebrating, even when there is extra space between our seats.
The year ahead should be better. Vaccines are proving to be effective. We’re about to begin a fully in-person fall semester, with hands-on learning and research, the return of athletics, and the residence hall, club, and social experiences that lead to lifelong friendships.
If you find yourself on campus, please stop in at Glenhill Farmhouse. We’re here, and my door is always open.
Chancellor Ralph Ford