New College's resilience inspires

President Don O'Shea
New College President Don O’Shea

New College has faced many challenges in its 60 years, but nothing has reached as far into our extended community or been as disruptive as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
I write to tell you a little about what has transpired on campus, and hope that you, in turn, will stay in touch.
The first COVID-19 cases in Florida were announced nine days after the New College reunion on March 2. One was in neighboring Manatee County.
In what seemed like a super abundance of caution, the provost’s office asked professors to start preparing high-level plans to teach some courses remotely. Nine days later, the State University System (SUS) required that all state universities move to online learning for two weeks, beginning March 23.
Less than a week later, on St. Patrick’s Day, the SUS required that all of us teach the semester online and, to the extent possible, move students out of the residence halls. All May commencements were canceled.
So, in less than a month, with virtually no advance preparation, we have moved our face-to-face instructional program (classes, tutorials, laboratories, theses and baccalaureate exams) online for the spring semester.
Almost all students have vacated the residence halls, and most faculty and staff are working remotely. We had no online courses one month ago: 0%. We are now at 100%. One month ago, we had the highest proportion of students in the SUS in residence, and now we are among the lowest. No other state university has changed so much and so quickly.
I am deeply grateful to the faculty, staff and students who are working very hard under conditions that no one signed up for, and that no one could have imagined three weeks ago. Profound thanks to our board members and to those of you who contributed to the student emergency fund (it has helped, and continues to help, so many students).
What has most inspired me most, however, has been the creativity with which our community has met the pandemic.
March madness canceled? No worries. For those who cared and those who didn’t, Biology and Marine Science Professor Athena Rycyk got students and faculty involved in “March Mammal Madness,” an online tournament of simulated mammal combat competition. As Athena sees it, the restrictions of a socially-distanced curriculum present a unique opportunity. “Whenever you have limits, it also inspires creativity,” she said. “And there are so many biologically-focused ways to explore the world from our computers. We’ll be using those tools in the classroom and finding new ways to learn.”
Too old to learn new tricks? No such thing. As my predecessor, Professor Mike Michalson, who is retiring this year, told his students, “In my 45th year of teaching, I’m so taken with this new style of teaching, that I’m going to pursue it for the rest of my career!”
Intensely curious about epidemics? Over 30 faculty members have engaged in an online discussion of creating an array of (face-to-face) first-year seminars for incoming students, which look at epidemics from at least that many disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives.
Feeling lost, need counseling or looking for a job? The Student Success and Advocacy team is helping our students navigate college via Google hangouts and phone appointments. The Counseling and Wellness Center has launched a telehealth platform and a Therapy Assistance Online program. The Center for Career Engagement and Opportunity (CEO) continues to meet with students online to assist them in their search for full-time employment, summer internships and graduate school opportunities. The CEO just launched what might well be the first-ever virtual reverse career fair.
The resilience in the face of disruption underscores the strength of the College. The platform may change but our mission remains the same. We continue to prepare intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement.
We will do everything to ensure that students can complete the semester successfully; that seniors graduate on time; and that students, staff and faculty members can work safely. To date, we have had no cases of COVID-19 on campus.
And that brings me back to you. You embody a New College education. You matter. The road ahead is hard, but walking that road together will make it a little easier. Please stay in touch. Please be safe. And let me know what my team can do to help.
Good Luck to Us All,
Don O’Shea

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