It’s been a year since I formally began my role as President at Bay Path University, and it has been a year filled with opportunities and challenges. As we embark upon the beginning of what looks to be the end of the pandemic, we are all emerging from the past 17 months, wearier perhaps, but definitely wiser.
Stepping into my role a year ago, there were multiple priorities…First, how to best serve our students who were navigating the pandemic, second, how to continue to build and preserve our community spirit and ethos and third, to develop a vision for the future that positions Bay Path for success and longevity. Keeping students, and employees safe, while building and reinforcing the connections we all have to our work and our goals, became critical. As our internal and external community adapted to new norms, created new routines and maneuvered through the uncertainty, life unfolded and lessons emerged.
Zoom enabled more of us to gather, and these virtual meetings brought together employees from different areas of the University who might not otherwise cross paths. Friendships formed and deepened. Conversations meandered. Humor, supplied by intrusive pets and tech glitches, gave us much needed levity.
Throughout this past year, I certainly learned a lot about myself, my colleagues and the amazing community I am part of at Bay Path, and as we prepare for a fully operational return in August, I find inspiration and optimism in all that has occurred and how our staff, faculty, and our students have risen to the challenge. Among the many takeaways the past year has provided, these are what I’m holding on to as we move forward:
Transparency is an anchor. As our students and staff worked from home, along with their own family members who were in similar situations, I know how challenging it was to compartmentalize the different parts of our days. For me especially, as a new member of this community, it became absolutely paramount to share thoughts, processes, progress, challenges and my own perspective as a means of not only introducing myself and my leadership style, but also to maintain a strong bond between this institution and the people who have invested their time, talent and passion in its mission. Yes, transparency, and, also, relentless communication.
The importance of building connection. As a society, we've traditionally depended upon location to provide familiarity. We lean on the routine that comes from being in the same place as co-workers and classmates, and we’ve been reluctant to let go of this tradition. But we know from our many online students, staff and faculty, that when we intentionally create other opportunities for meaningful connections, they do happen. And they can be just as meaningful, powerful and productive as our in-person interactions. We saw this in our own zoom-designed meetings, but this principle extends to supporting students by helping them to connect to each other—and to us. Having offered online courses since 2010, we know the value of remote learning and we will continue to use technology and pursue innovative ways to initiate and nurture connections and strengthen learning and connections everywhere.
We are all part of a larger community. One of the guiding tenets of our Path Forward was the expectation that we would be each other’s keeper….that sacrifices and adjustments were necessary in order to keep ourselves and our communities safe. We masked, social distanced, monitored our symptoms, showed up for routine covid testing, and received our vaccinations. My hope is that the underlying motivation that encourages us all to look out for each other will remain as we continue to forge ahead as One Bay Path.
Working mothers are still undervalued. It has never been easy to be a working mother, but the pandemic emphasized just how unaccommodating workplaces—and many educational institutions—are to the complexities of parenthood. Women are too often forced to choose between their goals and their parental responsibilities, and the impossibility of this choice inhibits the potential, earnings, physical and mental health, and the futures of all children. We must confront this long ingrained notion that childcare is an afterthought and that individual women are responsible for it. Employers, policy makers and institutions must be supportive partners in the pursuit of both childcare solutions and work and school arrangements that fosters growth and economic fulfillment for women and their families.
Black lives matter. The entire world witnessed the murder of George Floyd, and the collective, ongoing struggle of Black Americans could no longer linger on the nation’s proverbial back burner. We are all reckoning with a difficult, unjust history and the lasting influence that history has wrought. We are truly committed to change and equity, and we must constantly engage with this legacy and continually challenge ourselves to create systems, policies and opportunities that extend the promise of this country to all citizens.
One size does not fit all. For some, the pivot to remote learning, teaching or working was awkward and unrewarding. For others, the opportunity to arrange their own schedules, forgo a long commute and collaborate via technology led to unprecedented productivity and enhanced work-life balance. We’re at a moment where we must acknowledge the different preferences in working, learning and teaching styles and develop options that support our students, our employees and our institution.
We are resilient. Through an elaborate, highly coordinated choreography of technology, public health guidelines and employee dedication, we held two virtual commencement ceremonies, and 649 women persevered and obtained their bachelors degrees, and 830 graduate students earned their advanced degrees. Congratulations to the faculty and staff who supported our students and made these goals possible.
We will continue to thrive and grow! We look forward to welcoming students both on ground and online and will continue to enhance our student learning experience based on what we’ve learned over the past 16 months. Importantly, collectively, we developed our Strategic Directions, the vision for Bay Path’s future; a future that is bright, bold and filled with the possibility and passion of this incredible community. Here we go!