Reflecting on Our Pandemic Year

Over the past 12 months, we all—students, staff, and faculty—have shared an extraordinary experience. Looking back, I am in awe of how our community responded to the unprecedented situation in which we found ourselves. Through the pandemic, we have persevered. Yes, we have been, by turns, uncertain, scared, frustrated and disheartened. But we were also, always, determined and focused; if circumstances threw us off-track, we all worked hard to pursuing the goals that are the reason we are members of the Jefferson community.

Our students have adapted to new ways of learning and of gaining experience in their chosen professions. You’ve demonstrated an ability to learn in an evolving context and to apply new ways of interacting with professors and fellow students. It is exactly how we designed our academic programs―to empower students to learn, adapt and lead during college and in the work world And, you’ve done this beautifully during a very trying time. Thus, the pandemic has been a “stress test” (in many senses of the phrase) for Jefferson’s pedagogical principles, and we’ve passed the test. I feel that fact intuitively, but numbers confirm it as well. For example, our retention rate for first-year undergraduates returning in fall 2020 was 84 percent, identical to the prior year’s record high—and roughly two points higher than peer universities. The Fall 2020 retention rate for upperclassmen was similarly strong. Moreover, on two key measures, we maintained excellent results: As of August 2020, the University’s six-year graduation rate was 70 percent—a record high for Jefferson and three points higher than peer institutions. And, based on current information, our 2020 graduates had a 96 percent success rate in beginning a job or being admitted to graduate school—an amazing feat given the nationwide recession.

Our faculty had to accomplished great things in shifting to all online teaching. Nevertheless, you put roughly 2700 courses and sections online in a few weeks, and did so with energy, creativity, and commitment. It has been exciting to see how frequently and well you created innovative ways to overcome practical problems and to address needs we’d never previously had to consider. For me, this past year has reaffirmed that innovation and flexibility are in our faculty’s professional DNA and (excuse the pun) you expressed those genes superbly.

It’s the nature of an academic institution that the contributions of staff often fly under the radar. That has often been the case over the past year. But you—my staff colleagues across Jefferson— have been the backbone without which the organization could not have met the challenges we faced. Beyond doing your core jobs superbly under trying circumstances, you have often stepped up to take on broader responsibilities and to make unacknowledged contributions. Thank you!

The coming academic year will, we all hope, be easier; the balance shifting much more toward joy and vitality than sorrow and fatigue. We’ve proven what we can accomplish together in tough times and I have every reason for optimism about the amazing things we can achieve in the years ahead. Let’s take all that we’ve learned from the past 12 months and apply them forward—collectively deciding for ourselves what’s next.