It continues to be a very unusual and challenging time but as we start this new semester I maintain an optimistic view of the coming year. The online teaching that we implemented in the Fall will continue through this Spring and I’m hopeful that for the Fall 2021 semester we will be able to start to include in person classes again. The University has managed the pandemic well so far, and the shared responsibility of students, faculty and staff enabled us to continue to function well, albeit remotely. The Department was awarded a number of small grants from Campus last summer for our teachers to improve their on-line class delivery and by most accounts it’s been going well.
We have noticed an increased level of stress amongst our graduate students and especially our recent cohort that has yet to meet faculty in person and our international students, several of whom are isolated in small apartments and were unable to travel home for the holidays. At the end of last semester we were granted permission by the College to increase our graduate student stipends mid-year, which will help alleviate some of the financial stress and we are increasing faculty communication with our grad students and holding virtual social events.
Our researchers continue to be very successful in obtaining external grants, including funding for COVID-related research and the number of proposal submissions remains high. Our faculty continue to receive awards and media attention for their research, which we highlight on our Department Web Site. The perceived need by managers for increased attention to communication while we are working remotely, has led to an large increase in virtual meetings and zoom fatigue has set in. I am also to blame as we have instituted additional faculty meetings so we can exchange notes and keep abreast of Campus developments. It will be interesting to see whether in-person team meetings, panel reviews, conferences and international travel return once the pandemic is under control.
At the end of the year, we completed the first phase of our move into new office space in River Road, which is located along from the College Park Metro, east of Route 1. I’d like to thank the College and Campus and particularly Ginny Schuelke from the Office of Real Estate for negotiating this space for us. This phase has involved our departure from the Hartwick Building, which will be demolished as part of the new development along Hartwick Road. Many thanks to Vivre Bell and our IT Team for their dedication in making the move happen under COVID. Although the new building will provide more of our faculty and graduate students with improved space, the Department will remain fragmented, with our Human Dimensions group, our teaching group and administration remaining in LeFrak Hall. We will be working hard to keep everyone connected but look forward to a time in the future when we can finally be united in one building.
This semester we will be undergoing an External Review of our Department, which will provide advice on how to improve and strengthen the program. I will also be stepping down as Chair, at the end of this semester, providing the opportunity for new leadership to bring new energy and ideas. The timing of the review will be useful in providing the new Chair with some external advice on how to take the Department to the next level of excellence.