The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic sent the world spinning. The University of Wisconsin-Superior was not spared from the wave of sudden and widespread change that followed. Daily routines were disrupted; people started focusing on meeting basic needs and attending to their families; and in-person, on-campus interactions all but vanished, with students and employees trying to find their way amid this crisis.
There are roller coasters of emotions as the journey continues. Sometimes there is an overwhelming sense of grief and loss. Sometimes there are nice, unexpected surprises.
A reflection on the rapid journey to get the campus in a place of safety, for me, is inspiring — that something so terrible brought about the best in people. I often say we are a small but mighty university, and perhaps never has it been demonstrated more clearly than now. I have been incredibly impressed and grateful for how our faculty and staff have responded, with dedication, flexibility, and small and large acts of kindness.
Three principles — commitment to safety, communication, and continuity for employees and students — has guided our actions. A team of UWS administrators, staffers, and faculty members immediately went into action at the first signs of danger. Our emergency response team consulted with local, state, and national agencies; checked in frequently with our community partners; monitored updates and breaking news; and swiftly made numerous moves to help safeguard the campus community. With a huge number of changes and vast amounts of information to communicate, the university created a COVID-19 website, and it is updated multiple times daily to provide up-to-date information and resources.
Faculty and staff have gone above and beyond to do whatever is needed to ensure our students are safe and supported and continue to receive the quality education they’ve come to expect from UW-Superior.
A top priority was transitioning hundreds of on-campus spring-semester courses online — in two weeks — a significant task but thankfully one which drew on our expertise. Our world-class instructors quickly adapted, teaching classes from their dining room tables, basements, and even a greenhouse.
It was of great importance to make on-campus resources available online to offer to students no matter where they were. The Jim Dan Hill Library, tutoring, and career services, among many other services, quickly transitioned to alternate delivery modes.
Contact was made with each and every student and with our community partners. In the end, in just a matter of days, UW-Superior’s physical campus went from a hub of bustling student activity to one of disconcerting quiet.
Confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to rise. We don’t know how long this new normal will continue. However, one thing I know beyond a doubt is that UW-Superior will remain committed to helping our students attain their education and career goals and to caring for one another. Perhaps nothing says it better than the new messages we’ve put up in the Twin Ports that say, “We stand together (even with social distancing).”
We are proud to be part of this community and so grateful for the overwhelming support. We will continue to be here for our students, campus, and community members throughout this pandemic and afterward. We stand together with each of you and will continue to do everything we can to be a source of hope, stability, and opportunity through this time of change.
Renée Wachter is chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.