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UD leaders held four town hall meetings during the week of Nov. 9-13 to discuss key issues with students, faculty, family members and researchers

Town halls update campus on COVID-19 response

Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

Efforts underway to support a successful spring

During a global pandemic, communication is key. Since the onset of the coronavirus (COVID-19), to share facts and nurture the spirit of community that is a hallmark at the University of Delaware, University officials have regularly hosted virtual town halls on multiple campus topics for a variety of audiences including Blue Hen students, families, faculty and staff.

During the week of Nov. 9-13, nearly 2,000 members of the UD community tuned in to four such events for updates on everything from health and safety protocols to academics to campus life.

The takeaway: In the face of unprecedented national challenges, UD will continue to persevere — and so will the Blue Hen spirit.

“Clearly there are health challenges, there are socio-economic challenges and there is unrest, which has been accentuated by the pandemic,” said President Dennis Assanis. “But there is also hope that there will be bright days ahead of us.”

On Nov. 11, at a Student Body Town Hall created for students by students, Kasiyah Tatem, vice president of the Student Government Association, served as moderator. The purpose of the evening, she said, was to “help build transparency between UD administrators and our students.”

Assanis thanked the Blue Hen community for remaining vigilant and following health guidelines that have allowed for a safe campus environment. He also outlined how these protocols will evolve for a more robust in-person experience in the spring — ramping up of testing will allow for more face-to-face instruction, an increased residential capacity and greater extracurricular offerings. Students should also expect a greater focus on social justice efforts because “our plurality, our diversity is our strength,” Assanis said. 

Dr. Tim Dowling, medical director of UD Student Health Services, highlighted how well the University has emerged from the fall semester, statistically speaking, compared to similar institutions with a much higher positivity rate. José-Luis Riera, vice president for student life, outlined ways UD is working to restore “those treasured rhythms of University life” with more hybrid and in-person involvement opportunities. And Provost Robin Morgan applauded the students for wearing masks and adhering to safety guidelines, and she welcomed the opportunity to speak directly to them.

During the second half of the session, student attendees asked questions of the panel. These ranged from the plan for spring tuition (it will remain frozen) to the process for determining spring plans (input was solicited from students and faculty, as well as public health officials). 

On Nov. 12, UD’s Division of Student Life hosted a UD Parent and Family Connect event that reiterated a commitment to health and safety as well as academic continuity. According to Meaghan Davidson, assistant dean of students for parent and family engagement, this commitment is possible only with the collaboration and partnership of Blue Hen families. 

Once again, attendees had an opportunity to ask questions of a panel of experts from a variety of departments, and more than 300 queries were submitted in advance or posed during the webinar. Common themes emerged around housing, and it was explained that Blue Hens can choose to live on campus even if all of their classes are online. Many other questions centered on how students, particularly those in their first year, can partake in community building. To combat isolation, the Spring 1743 Welcome Days lineup of programming will offer both virtual and in-person opportunities for safe social interaction.  

On Nov. 9, UD hosted its 27th Research Town Hall since the series began in March to update the UD research community on operations related specifically to this work on campus. For now, UD remains in Phase 3, with about 70% of researchers back in their campus laboratories, at partner facilities or doing field work. Due to the diligence of these scientists, labs have not been a place of virus transmission. In other good news, research funding programs are continuing — internal funding opportunities were announced for University of Delaware Research Foundation (UDRF) and General University Research (GUR) seed grant programs. 

According to Charles G. Riordan, vice president for research, scholarship and innovation, as long as virus transmission remains low, the campus community can also expect a ramping up of undergraduate research in the spring, a continuation of research-related travel, and the careful and limited welcoming of visitors — including prospective students — into research labs. 

Finally, at an Academic Affairs Town Hall for faculty and staff held on Nov. 13, Deputy Provost Lynn Okagaki thanked attendees for doing their part to support the “true community effort” that has defined the fall semester. She also reviewed strategies for setting students up for success in the spring: “One suggestion is for faculty teaching asynchronous classes to make sure there are multiple ways in which students can interact with you and feel your presence in the course,” she said. 

Adam Cantley, dean of students, offered an update on student life, including the good work Blue Hens have done to hold one another responsible — a majority of referrals that come into the Office of Student Conduct related to COVID-19 come from students. This peer-to-peer accountability is part of the reason there have been “no documented signs of COVID-19 community spread in our residential facilities,” Cantley said. “Our residential students are being serious about having the opportunity to live on campus." 

With optimism for a vibrant spring semester ahead, Assanis confidently told Blue Hens, “There is a lot of momentum to provide you with the best education possible.”

Top 5 Insights for Spring 2021

1. Building Momentum: Blue Hen spirit inspired the University of Delaware community to pull together for a successful fall semester, and progress will continue as the University plans for spring.

2. Safety First: Working hand-in-glove with campus experts and public health officials, University administrators have updated health and safety guidelines to safeguard the Blue Hen community for spring 2021. These include a Protect the Flock campaign for encouraging responsible behavior; the distribution of personal protective equipment to students, faculty and staff; and a ramping up of on-site testing to 6,000 per week.

3. Back to the Coop: UD residence halls — which have not been a point of COVID-19 community spread — will increase capacity this spring to approximately 60%.

4. Live, in Person: Blue Hens can expect a more robust in-person experience on campus next semester. More face-to-face instruction — along with an increase in virtual, hybrid and face-to-face involvement opportunities for fun, service and safe socialization — will allow for a restoration of treasured campus rhythms.

5. Igniting Innovation: Approximately 70% of UD researchers are already back in their campus laboratories, at partner facilities or doing field work. This spring, these labs plan to welcome back eager undergraduate researchers.

Note: Plans for spring semester 2021 will follow state and federal regulations regarding public health.

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