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Message From the President

Turning a Corner. Steering to the Next.

by President Michael Driscoll

President Driscoll videoconferencing at his desk

From his Sutton Hall office, President Michael Driscoll connected with more than 300 employees through videoconferencing technology during a town hall in May. Photo:Brian Henry

Unprecedented. Fluid. A course set for parts unknown.

Those are things we’ve all said about COVID-19, which slammed into our world early in the spring semester, causing us to delay resuming classes at the close of spring break. Shortly after, it led us to move all classes online for the balance of the spring semester.

Of course, we are concerned about the future, but I have placed my confidence in all that I know about IUP’s people—how determined a bunch we are, how strong and flexible, and how much we care about what we do to make the world a better place through our students.

While we’ve adapted quickly to the pandemic, we are considering what comes next—planning for a future in which we prepare tomorrow’s best humans and do so with a possible resurgence of coronavirus. I’ll get to that in a moment, but I first want to say a few words in praise of our faculty and staff’s fortitude and hard work in the face of a fast-developing situation.

Our academic community mobilized with efficiency in response to the global pandemic—all with an unwavering focus on serving students. Within a week and in a mad dash, our professors had all classes ready for remote delivery.

Our student services areas, in partnership with facilities, custodial services, and the police, safely moved our students out of on-campus housing and then made counseling and tutoring available online, as well as activities that students find vital to a sense of community. Over the course of that time, we arranged to issue appropriate refunds, and the Student Affairs Division established the Student Support and Engagement Team to maintain connections with students.

Our admissions area kept the next class of IUP students engaged through online visitation events, while the University Advancement Division launched the Emergency Response Fund—led by a gift from Terry Serafini ’61 of $50,000, matched by Tim Cejka ’73 and Deb Phillips Cejka ’73, and bolstered by an additional $15,000 from the IUP Alumni Association—to assist students who have been affected financially. The division also developed a web page that provided support, advice, and other resources from alumni and other members of the IUP community to help people through the pandemic.

Through a survey, our students told us they want a face-to-face education, which fits with what we know works best for them. Right now, we are planning for the next academic year with caution.

Read President Michael Driscoll’s 2019 report, Making an Impact in Changing Times

I am writing this a few weeks before the start of the fall semester. With an uptick in the number of COVID-19 cases in western Pennsylvania, we changed our plans for an in-person experience and have opted to bring to campus those who most need to be here to succeed academically—first-year students, undergraduates whose coursework requires significant face-to-face experiences, and some graduate students. With around 3,000 students on campus, we should be able to manage keeping all who are present safe through distancing and other safety measures. The balance of the student body will be encouraged to learn remotely, although we are prepared to make exceptions when needed and may switch that for the balance of the year. We also are prepared to go fully online if we experience an unmanageable outbreak.

Student activities will work the same way—a mix of both in person and remote. Our staff is looking for more ways to engage students online and to reduce large gatherings. Most students who live in residence halls will have single rooms within suites, so they’ll have some distance but won’t be isolated, and no more than two students will share a bathroom. We also are working to ensure that dining halls are not crowded and that students will have plenty of space while queued in lines. Thanks to a partnership with Indiana Regional Medical Center, our students will have access to COVID-19 testing.

Many of our faculty and staff members attended Summer Academy, a learning experience that helped them take the excellent work that occurs in a face-to-face setting and to polish and perfect it, minus the rush, for a longer span online, if needed. They honed their skills in technology-assisted education, activities planning, counseling, and other services to better apply them online—whether that’s full-time or as a supplement to their work in a face-to-face environment.

A course set for parts unknown, I wrote in my first line. That’s true for us—somewhat.

Before COVID-19, we were in a mode of thoughtful change to meet our students’ needs. IUP has a great formula for shaping new leaders. We know that our students are changing, and we must change some of our own practices to meet them where they are. You can read more about that in my 2019 report, Making an Impact in Changing Times.

While we’ve had to be nimble to tackle circumstances presented by the pandemic, I know that doing so will make IUP a stronger university. This crisis has taught us that we can change even faster, with more confidence and purpose than we thought possible.

As we have closed the door on our last strategic plan, which prepared us to tackle the tough issues ahead, it’s now time to implement a new one. You will see us pruning and reshaping our academic offerings to create a superior educational experience. You will see us modifying our processes and procedures to erase red tape. You will see us providing students with better services, like assigning each new freshman student a staff guide to serve as a resource and mentor. You will see us reaching out to different types of students, such as displaced workers who can carve out new careers with new credentials, as well as traditional students who need the same foundational, eye-opening experience presented through a mixed palette of in-person and online tools.

We are creating a community in which every student can find a sense of belonging, will learn without barriers, and will come to understand the world they’ll face after they graduate.

At the end of 2019, we were turning a corner to reach IUP NextGen. And, through the pandemic, we are steering our way to the next corner.