The COVID-19 pandemic may well be the mightiest challenge most of us have faced in our lifetimes. And yet, amid all the uncertainty and difficult choices we have been facing, I have a great sense of optimism about the future. Every day, I am inspired by the creative work that is happening at Georgia Tech and other universities across the world, the positive attitude of our students, faculty and staff, the willingness of everyone to do whatever it takes to move forward and get the job done, and the sense of compassion and responsibility across the Institute and our broader community.
Our first priority has been and will continue to be the safety of our community. That required that we move students away from campus and switch to online instruction. Today, March 30, is a historic day for Georgia Tech. For the first time in our near 136-year history, we are not hosting in-person classes. I shared a video message today to the Georgia Tech campus thanking our faculty, students and staff on our first day of 100% online learning.
If you had asked me three months ago whether we could shift all our instruction to an online format in two weeks, I would said “no.” And that’s exactly what our faculty has done. They have done it through the collaborative, creative work of all instructors, the support of an incredible staff, and the expertise we have built through our successful online master’s and other professional education programs. To be fair, there will be glitches and issues along the way, but with the commitment of our faculty, staff, and students, learning will continue, and academic progression will not slow down.
I’ve also been inspired by many of our faculty who didn’t hesitate to start thinking of creative ways to help us fight this fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Georgia Tech biologists are rapidly developing new drugs. Physicists are modeling and predicting patterns of contagion. Our computer scientists are developing new analytic tools. The news and social media have covered how our engineers are rapidly designing new personal protective equipment to keep our doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals safe. The New York Times just published a short video that highlights some of our work.
As we have been working on crafting a new vision for Georgia Tech, one of the conclusions we have drawn is that our purpose is to develop leaders who advance technology and improve the human condition. The current circumstances highlight how crucial that mission is and how much we mean it. At the end of The New York Times video, Saad Bhamla, assistant professor in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, speaks from the hospital where his son, Eli, was just born, and explains why he didn’t hesitate to jump into this rapid creative effort. He says, “What will we tell him when he grows up about what we did when society needed us?” I have no doubt Eli will be very proud to know his dad, and the School where he worked, did everything they could.
We are very grateful to Georgia Tech staff for all they are doing. On the business side, we have also had to work tirelessly to retool processes and operations so that most of us can work from home. To make things even more challenging, the crisis coincided with the rollout of a new human resources system, OneUSG Connect.
For students who cannot leave campus, Dining Services is offering boxed, take-out meals. Our custodians are taking additional measures to disinfect our facilities. Georgia Tech Police are operating at full capacity to keep our campus safe, and protect the work and property of our students, faculty, and staff. Stamps Health Services remains open and available for students in need of medical care. The Counseling Center and Center for Assessment, Referral, and Education (CARE) continue to be staffed with counselors who are available remotely to support the mental well-being of our students. Resource Centers and organizations within the Division of Student Life are also exploring virtual opportunities for students to gather. The Monitoring Coronavirus site has been prepared as an ongoing resource for the entire Georgia Tech community.
Our alumni wasted no time either in thinking creatively of ways to support our students during these difficult times. They started the #SwarmStrenGTh social media campaign to encourage students and connect them with alumni who can help. In very little time, Yellow Jackets all over the world have swarmed every social media channel with beautiful, heartfelt messages of inspiration that are all on display at gtalumni.org.
The Alumni Association has also teamed up with Student Life to direct unrestricted Roll Call and Parents Fund donations toward immediate financial assistance for students in need. Elsewhere online, we’ve heard reports of alumni reaching out on their own to provide students assistance with lodging and travel expenses.
With a spirit of profound generosity and courage, groups and units throughout the Institute have banded together, going above and beyond to create innovative solutions so we can confront this formidable challenge together. I’ve never been more convinced of the character, integrity, creativity, and grit of our students, alumni, faculty, and staff. We are stronger together.