Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Norma Bouchard, is currently serving as a chair of Drexel’s coronavirus task force. Along with Megan Weyler, Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer; Alan Greenberger, Department Head of Architecture Design and Urbanism in the Westphal College of Media Arts and Design; Eileen Behr, Chief of Police and Vice President of Public Safety; Vince Amoroso, Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management and many others, Bouchard is actively working to determine Drexel’s best course of action for managing the coronavirus and what fall term will look like for the Drexel community.
This interview was edited for grammar and clarity.
The Triangle: Thank you for speaking with us, Dr. Bouchard. The situation in which we find ourselves is unprecedented. How is Drexel handling it and reaching the community with updates?
Norma Bouchard: Drexel University places the health and safety of the community at the forefront of all its activities. During the initial outbreak, Drexel began sending out communications to faculty, professional staff and students several times per week. Since January 24, some 30 messages have gone out to keep the Drexel community updated. We are now sending out weekly updates but will increase [the frequency] if there is something important and new information to share. In addition, the University established the COVID-19 [page on Drexel’s] website, which provides regular updates as more information becomes available.
TT: Does Drexel’s coronavirus task force, of which you are currently a chair, have a plan for fall term? What are the options? Has Drexel spoken with other colleges?
NB: Over the past month, the Fall 2020 COVID-19 Task Force has been working diligently to develop a series of scenarios in order to find the safest way for the Drexel community to return to campus. The three potential scenarios include:
- Drexel’s fall term would begin and remain on campus as is typical, with recommended social distancing protocols in place.
- Drexel’s fall term would continue to operate solely online, similar to the current spring [and] summer academic calendar, with the University campus remaining closed.
- Drexel’s fall term would run as a hybrid program with varying elements online and in-person.
The task force is made up of over 40 individuals from various units across the University, bringing a deep bench of expertise and knowledge to the table. By creating an interdisciplinary team, the University aims to reach a decision that will benefit the multi-dimensional needs of a university as large and diverse as Drexel.
We are continuing to monitor, collaborate and meet regularly with academic colleagues, government entities and industry partners, as well as experts and researchers in order to ensure that all considerations are taken which are dynamic, innovative and in-line with best practices.
Above all else, our final decision about whether we can reopen campus will be rooted in the safety of our students, faculty and professional staff, while maintaining Drexel’s commitment to educate and serve our community.
TT: Many students argue that their learning has been negatively impacted by virtual classes. How is the coronavirus task force responding to this issue?
NB: Even with only two weeks to pivot to online teaching for the spring term, we have [seen] mostly positive experiences. But we know there are improvements that could be made for the summer term, and we expect to improve the student experience even more for fall. We are reviewing more than 1,200 survey responses we received from students, parents, faculty and professional staff, and are also collecting best practices from the deans and faculty and adapting their ideas of improved methods for course delivery and faculty engagement with students. Video focus groups will [also] be held with students to get more in-depth feedback.
This unprecedented time has not been easy for any of us. That [being] said, if any community can come out of a situation such as this stronger and better, it is the Drexel community. We are sincerely taking the feedback that we are receiving and mapping it back to what is being asked of the University from the local and state authorities to find the best solution for our community.
TT: What does the future for incoming freshmen, specifically, look like? How will their first-year experience be atypical?
NB: We are thrilled to [be welcoming] a very talented freshman class to Drexel University in the fall. While decisions are still being made regarding the mode and composition of what the fall may look like at Drexel, freshmen and all students can rest assured that their health and safety is our top priority, and our goal is to ensure they have a high-quality experience at the University. Now more than ever, we are committed to finding innovative ways in which students can connect with one another to create lasting memories, while also keeping them and other members of our community safe. Final plans for the fall term are still being developed, and we will communicate those to the Drexel community as soon as possible.
TT: Is Drexel equipped at this time to handle bringing members of the community back to campus? What steps are being taken to ensure Drexel can handle it when the time comes?
NB: Yes. Drexel University has a wide range of medical, scientific and technical expertise from our faculty to inform our decision-making. We are proud that three of the seven members of Philadelphia’s Board of Health are on our faculty and that we have a deep bench of talent from the College of Medicine, the Dornsife School of Public Health, the College of Nursing and Health Professions, the College of Engineering, the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Biomedical Engineering and the Westphal College for Media Arts and Design. Because of our collective expertise, we have the critical information necessary to ensure a safe return. We have an in-house system to address the tracing, testing and quarantine needs of our community, for example.
As always, our first priority remains the health and safety of our community. During the upcoming weeks, we will begin rolling out a campus-wide initiative that will start with our essential personnel currently on campus.
To mitigate the risk of spreading [COVID-19], we plan to track, prevent and immediately handle situations that do arise. Drexel’s ability to do so in-house includes producing [personal protective equipment], required training and education, a Drexel health tracking app to evaluate symptoms and provide physician guidance with contract tracing, self-isolation and on-campus testing.
TT: How can members of the Drexel community share their input or suggestions with the coronavirus task force?
NB: A survey was sent out to the entire Drexel community on May 1 requesting input on items that were deemed critical to the Fall 2020 COVID-19 Task Force’s goal of making the best possible decisions for fall term. The survey can [still] be accessed online. The survey has received over 1,200 responses from faculty, staff, students and parents. A summary of the responses to date was provided during the weekly communication on May 15. In addition, anyone interested in sharing their thoughts or feedback for the Fall 2020 COVID-19 Task Force can communicate with Anna Koulas, Vice President of the Drexel Solutions Institute, at [email protected].
TT: Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your insights with us, Dr. Bouchard. All the best to you. Please stay safe and healthy.