University faces challenges of pandemic with spirit of care, dedication, creativity
March 2021 – One year ago, on March 16, 2020, Drew University went virtual amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Weeks before, the world turned its attention to COVID-19, and life began to fundamentally change. Work-from-home became the rule rather than the exception, grocery store shelves sat empty, rush-hour traffic was no more. At Drew, health and travel warnings were issued, while some spring break shortTRECs were cancelled, and on March 10, Drew announced it would move to virtual instruction and primarily remote business operations. The next day, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global pandemic.
The Drew community worked together to adapt to the new virtual learning environment, and to establish and carry out newly-developed health and wellness protocols. Faculty adapted their courses, staff provided support for not only instruction but also for students in need and colleagues adjusting to working from home.
The spring semester ended with rites of passage carried out in nontraditional ways. Study abroad and summer programs were cancelled. Despite plans to the contrary, the fall 2020 semester was experienced online as well, with the vast majority of students studying from home once again.
The decision to return to a hybrid, on-campus spring 2021 semester was made with great caution, care, and planning. With campus health and safety standards set, a Community Pledge of behaviors agreed on, and testing protocols and procedures in place, students were given the green light to return to their home away from home, albeit with a “new normal” caveat and pre-arrival and arrival testing protocols to adhere to, among other guidelines.
It was with great trust and belief in the Drew community that the University reopened its doors this semester, and we have not been disappointed.
Statistics from our weekly surveillance testing—available on the COVID-19 Dashboard—show the virus continues but has mostly been kept at bay within The Forest thus far. Thousands of tests have been administered, with an overall positivity rate hovering around 1 percent. Staff and students have worked collaboratively to contact trace so that we are able to isolate or quarantine impacted students and employees, limiting spread to our campus community.
Observing health and safety guidelines and prioritizing the wellbeing of the entire Drew family has taken us far. It is also appropriate to take a look back at how we got here, and reflect on what our community has endured.
Students from each of the three schools have learned in a completely new way all while missing cherished connections with friends and mentors on campus. They have embraced an MLK Day of Service; completed senior projects; aided the local community; put on virtual plays; and created educational resources for high schoolers and engaged with local middle school students. They have earned impressive finishes at prestigious competitions; presented papers and sat on scholar panels; helped tackle food insecurity through projects and local food drives; started their careers well-prepared for the digital learning environment; and focused on the positive side of a hard year. Athletics teams have come roaring back this spring after seeing seasons and games postponed, rescheduled, and cancelled during the previous two semesters. The Drew Theological School welcomed its largest incoming class in decades and saw its Religion and Global Health Forum launch the Never Stop Breathing campaign for health and social justice, while the Caspersen School of Graduate Studies’ Master of Science in Finance program bolstered its offerings via an academic partnership with an industry leader.
The Class of 2020, who landed jobs at Amazon, the American Museum of Natural History, and Bloomberg, among others, and entered scores of grad school programs, including at Brown, Columbia, and Rutgers Law School, marked their graduation with a virtual Commencement—though they’ll get their chance at an in-person celebration this May. The first-year CLA Class of 2024 was introduced to college life with a remote orientation and opening of school ceremony, virtual guest speakers, seniors lending a hand, and seminars playing an even more vital role than normal.
Faculty quickly adjusted their classes to mesh with and take advantage of new technological teaching tools in order to maintain the academic excellence Drew is known for. They also kept the Drew community expertly informed as the world came to grips with new realities and uncertainties brought on by the pandemic. Many have been featured as go-to sources of insight and information in their fields, and others have had success, recognition, and appointments in their own right.
Throughout, staff focused on supporting Drew’s academic and campus operations, and played a key role in reimagining the student experience by remodeling student activities, career development, and counseling, and organizing the myriad facets to reopening campus amid a pandemic. Some even selflessly headed to the front lines of the fight against COVID-19. During the entirety of this global pandemic, Drew has remained steadfast in its support of our students who need a place to live and eat.
Despite the challenges of the last year, the Drew spirit of care for one another and dedication to our work and creativity has enriched us all. We look forward with hope to emerging into the light from this dark tunnel, and to even more of us passing one another on The Forest paths in the weeks and months to come.