The End of the Beginning

Kent State University

March 25, 2020

Dear Members of the Kent State University Community,

9,279. This is a number I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. 9,279 is a number that defines Kent State and our Flashes Take Care of Flashes culture. If this were an episode of the quiz show "Jeopardy!" 9,279 would be the answer. The question would be, "What is the number of face-to-face classes Kent State moved to remote learning platforms in just three working days?"

Think about it. Professors who had never taught remotely before got up and running in three working days when other institutions took two full weeks or more to do so. Has the switch to remote learning been perfect? No. Is everyone satisfied? No. Do all students enjoy remotely delivered courses as much as they do in-person learning? No. But what we can say is this: Our Academic Affairs leaders, our faculty leaders, our faculty, and our IT and Distance Education experts moved mountains so that we could continue the semester in the midst of a pandemic the world has not seen in over 100 years. Students scheduled to graduate in May are on track to graduate. Students at all levels have the opportunity to progress toward earning their degrees. Professors, professionals, indeed all of us are making this happen, and we are thankful for everyone’s work and dedication.

There is more to do, of course. We will seek legislative relief, as has been done recently in other states, to reduce clinical requirements for state licensure so that our graduating nurses and allied health graduates can begin working at a time when they are needed the most. Our arts faculty continue to improve their instruction by using social media platforms in courses that are rarely taught remotely. And when we hear of students lacking access to the internet, we hustle to deliver remote hot spots to them. The work continues.

Individual stories of dedication and effective work abound. Dr. Darwin Boyd, assistant professor in the College of Aeronautics and Engineering, constructed take-home kits so that students in his Programmable Logic Controller course can conduct lab exercises remotely. Our IT professionals, sensing a need before the rest of us did, purchased extra laptops and remote hot spots from area vendors so that faculty and students could complete the switch to remote operations. Faculty members engaged in funded research continue at full speed to prepare their grant applications even while tasked with moving their courses online at the same time. And our wonderful student journalists continue to report remotely via www.kentwired.com.  These students are providing a valuable service, as measured by the doubling of interactions with the KentWired website in March compared to February.

Students First. Our dedicated staff members in the One Stop for Student Services continue to answer questions and address student needs remotely. Our University Health Services team provides physical and mental health services online, and our great Enrollment Management team continues to recruit and admit next year’s class of freshmen and transfer students. And yes, tutoring continues, led by dedicated professionals in our University College and conducted in large part by some 50 current student tutors who continue their work online.

And even while we take care of ourselves, members of our Golden Flashes community take care of others. Nursing and Allied Health programs on our Kent and Regional Campuses have donated lab supplies to area hospitals. Dr. Chris Woolverton and the College of Public Health donated gloves, masks and gowns to local hospitals, and soon we are likely to ramp up the 3D manufacturing of surgical masks, even while some of our employees are doing so already in informal sewing circles. The volunteer staff of our food pantry distributed over 800 pounds of food to our neighbors earlier this week.

There is so much more. Our LGBTQ+ Center staff members continue to reach out to our students and engage them in virtual exercises and activities. James Raber led much of the effort to provide and extend IT support as we moved to remote learning, and he defended his dissertation in Kent State’s Educational Psychology program! Our Human Resources leaders and staff hustled to develop telecommuting procedures virtually overnight, and our librarians scanned reams of material so that professors could use them in their online courses. Dr. Wendy Tietz, professor of accounting, developed and led webinars for the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business to help accounting professors nationwide as they moved to online instruction.

I will conclude with two final examples of how Flashes Take Care of Flashes. Two examples of the best of Kent State’s response to an unprecedented pandemic. Two examples of our great people working under pressure, and under difficult circumstances, even while they have their own family responsibilities and concerns to tend to during the crisis.

It seems unbelievable that just four weeks ago, I received the first word of coronavirus cases in Italy, communicated to me by the outstanding director of our Florence program, Dr. Fabrizio Ricciardelli. Six short days later, we resolved to bring our nearly 240 students in Florence, South Korea and Japan back home, as advised by Interim Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Julie Volcheck and Dr. Lisa Dannemiller of University Health Services, whose advice and guidance continue to be invaluable. Particularly in Florence, Dr. Ricciardelli, staff and professors worked nonstop to move courses online, to meet with and calm our students, and to organize their return flights home. That our Florence employees did so even while the crisis in Italy grew around them, and that they did so even while looking after their loved ones in a period of extreme stress, speaks volumes about Kent State’s commitment to student well-being and learning.

I began with the number 9,279, and I will end with the number 67, which is the number of students who remain housed in our residence halls because they have nowhere else to go, and thus we will take care of them. Dedicated dining and residence hall staff members provide for them. These Kent State employees are among the handful of workers still operating on campus, and they do so even though they no doubt have their own worries about, and responsibilities to, the care of their loved ones. These same employees, Interim Vice President for Student Affairs Lamar Hylton and our housing leaders helped some 6,000 students move off campus in just a few short days.

I’ll end by channeling the inner historian in me and quote from a Winston Churchill speech after an important Allied victory in 1942: Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

We will get through this crisis. We will do so because of our people, and because we are driven by our core values of students first, and kindness and respect in all we do.

Take care of yourselves, take care of each other, and please know that each and every day I marvel in all that is happening at Kent State University.

Sincerely,

Todd Diacon
President