How COVID-19 is reshaping opportunities for UVU students

Students walk across campus between classes at Utah Valley University in Orem on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 201., | Steve Griffin, Deseret News

President Astrid S. Tuminez discusses Utah Valley University’s adjustments to COVID-19 and the path forward.

It was mid-March and the 2020 Western Athletic Conference basketball tournament in Las Vegas had started. The UVU women’s team played against Seattle University and lost, 61-48. I was disappointed, then baffled when I heard all other games that evening had been called off. The next day, the WAC board discussed the accelerating COVID-19 crisis and canceled the rest of the tournament. The pandemic was upon us.

How could minuscule viral particles lead to such immense consequences? In a matter of days, I went through five stages of pandemic grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. As reality sunk in, I realized that my team and I had to step up to a new level of leadership. What have we learned?

Agility and iteration. In two weeks, UVU moved over 4,000 course sections to a remote format. This required using digital resources on an unprecedented scale. Faculty and administration worked together closely to offer high-quality education while meeting health recommendations. We established a central system for feedback, received hundreds of complaints at the beginning, iterated, improved and, ultimately, helped most of our students complete the semester. United around the common purpose of teaching and learning, we became more agile and flexible in new uses of technology.

Communication. COVID-19 created doubt, fear and anxiety. Students, staff and faculty had to learn new ways of working. Unhelpful chatter sometimes occurred. We learned that frequent, clear, and caring communication was essential. We implemented a disciplined flow chart for drafters, editors, subject matter experts and decision-makers. Starting in mid-March, my cabinet met daily, and then every other day from June. We used email, websites, social media, texts and virtual town halls to communicate. Sometimes we communicated top-down; other times we mostly listened and discussed. We read snarky questions verbatim in town halls, allowing people to vent while still addressing their underlying concerns respectfully.

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Community and belonging. A pandemic never affects everyone equally. From March to May, we chose to pay employees who could not do their work remotely or on campus, giving them time to adjust to new economic realities. We expanded our CARE Initiative (food pantry, emergency cash assistance) as students lost jobs (81% of UVU students work). In April, 3,700 students responded to a survey on their learning experience, with 1,500 adding qualitative comments. Students named 873 faculty and staff who helped them finish the semester with confidence. We sent 873 thank-you notes and small gift cards to these individuals. Even as we deployed more “machines,” we learned that human empathy and exceptional care remained the keys to student success. There is no substitute for community and belonging.

Government assistance. The pandemic left millions unemployed, including UVU students and their families. The state legislature withdrew new funding approved in the last legislative session, while asking us …read more

Source:: Deseret News – Utah News


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