As the son of a historian, I often find it reassuring in turbulent times to look to the past to see how others have navigated challenging circumstances. I find this quote from automaker and entrepreneur Henry Ford particularly apropos: “When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.”
In the past month, it has often felt as though the wind was blowing against us all with storm-worthy force. Yet Central Michigan University continues to move forward.
Daily, we carry out our mission and adhere to our core values. We are strong and resilient. As a community, we opt to bend instead of break, and we continue to adapt to overcome adversity. In short, we choose to take off against the wind.
One of the chief complaints often leveled against higher education is that we are slow to change. I would argue that in the past few weeks, higher education has adapted more quickly — and more successfully — than nearly any other industry. I am immensely proud of how our CMU community has responded.
Faculty who never imagined teaching online have reimagined classes in mere days, learning new tools and technologies quickly so they can continue to offer incredible learning opportunities for our students.
Staff who depended on weekly or daily face-to-face meetings have shifted quickly to video conferences and phone calls to ensure their work continues. They’ve developed creative ways to host virtual meetings, events and activities for students, keeping them engaged with our university community across the miles.
And our students, who are among the most active and social people I have ever encountered, are finding dozens of unique ways to stay connected with their instructors and with one another. I am inspired by the way they continue to pursue their passions from their residence hall rooms, apartments and homes around the country.
These adjustments have not been easy. We’ve all experienced frustrations and hiccups along the way, and there have been more than a few long days and sleepless nights for everyone.
Yet we persevere. We move forward. It has been stressful — and successful. It is often said that hard times don’t build character, they reveal it. We can all be proud of what this challenge has revealed about our university community.
We have always been a community of lifelong learners, and these past few weeks have proven to be a very effective learning lab for many of us — often in surprising ways. I think back to my State of the University address in November: I called for big, bold ideas; innovative and creative thinking; and options to serve students in new ways. What I didn’t know then was that we’d be implementing quite so many changes quite so quickly.
Yet, for all the discomforts this situation has caused, I hope it also gives you an opportunity to reflect on how we operate. This crisis has been an unasked-for experiment for CMU, allowing us to explore new ways of learning, teaching, living and working. We now have proof that we are capable of far more than we previously knew.
I invite all of you to join me in both contemplating what we’ve learned and considering how we apply these lessons as we move forward. Let’s look at what this situation has revealed about our operations and the structures we have in place and think about how we could build upon them to strengthen CMU. Ask: What actions have we taken and what elements have we added, that we could — and should — include in the future? What have we learned about ourselves, about our strengths and weaknesses, that we can leverage or address as we continue to serve our current students and expand into new areas?
I invite you to share your answers with me. You can send them as an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by submitting them through this online feedback form. I look forward to reviewing your ideas and sharing them with our strategic envisioning process working groups.
Let’s emerge from the crisis stronger than ever before.
Uniting across distance
In the weeks ahead, as we navigate uncertainty together, our networks of support will be more important than ever.
It can be hard to feel close to others when we’re maintaining a minimum distance of 6 feet, working in shifts to minimize contact, or completing assignments and work from home to stay healthy. It is in our human nature to be social, and you may feel the pains of isolation after several weeks of separation from classmates, colleagues and friends. You likely already are feeling them.
This is why it’s so important for CMU Chippewas to continue to Take Care of one another. We must look for ways to foster a sense of community and remain socially close even as we are physically distant.
Consider how you can creatively reach out to connect with others. Our Counseling Center has some outstanding suggestions in a recent video shared online, and I’ve received some excellent tips from students, faculty and staff in the past week.
Here are a few of my favorites:
- The Office of Student Activities and Involvement hosts events for students at 2 p.m. every weekday, such as a Super Smash Bros. Ultimate game and discussion groups.
- The Office of LGBTQ Services’ “pen pal” program connects students and uses a daily #CMUCaresinCommunity hashtag on social media.
- Alysa Lucas, from the Department of Communication, uses tools like the Marco Polo app to record short video messages for friends and has been sending letters and cards by mail.
- Alex Kappus, in the Office of Student Success, holds regular video conference calls with his team to check in and continue their important work.
- Kelly Murphy, from the Department of Philosophy and Religion, suggests scheduling video chats with friends and family so you can look forward to seeing familiar faces.
- Jonathan Glenn, from the Sarah R. Opperman Leadership Institute, has been recording inspirational videos to share with students on Twitter.
- Stephanie Hodges, from the Office of Global Engagement, uses Microsoft Teams to stay connected through quick chats and meetings.
You also can find many more support services and resources on our Coronavirus Information Center website.
We’re about a month away from the end of the semester, and I urge everyone to finish strong. By now, hopefully, you’ve developed some routines and processes that help you manage this new normal. Use all the tools available to you to make this a GREAT semester.
Be well, take care and, always, Fire Up Chips!