By: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read April 2020 — As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold across the United States, educational institutions suddenly were faced with the need to move online. Drexel University President John Fry outlines his school’s experience, expectations for commencement ceremonies and how Drexel is helping medical professionals and the public to fight the outbreak.
How have you seen the faculty and student body handle the transition to all online classes and education?
The hallmark of the spring quarter and semester at Drexel University has been the shift to online instruction for undergraduate, graduate and professional students, with an option to choose pass / no pass over traditional grading. Given mere weeks to prepare, our faculty and instructional technology team have done transformative work — enabling professors to conduct more than 3,200 course sessions that, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, would have been taught face-to-face in a classroom or lab setting. We saw a remarkably smooth virtual classroom experience for thousands new to this form of instruction, with positive feedback from students and faculty; and more than 100 laptops loaned out by the Drexel information technology department to students, faculty and professional staff to support their studies, teaching, research and administration while away from the campuses. In addition, our faculty have offered help and best practices to their colleagues while working on their own courses.
What efforts and initiatives are coming from Drexel University in regard to aiding medical professionals and the public in the fight against COVID-19?
Drexel’s Rapid Response Research and Development Fund was created to support urgent action, launching more than a dozen projects focused on health-related research and development. The work supported by this fund runs the gamut, from producing new medical masks and face shields, to creating a new app to track infections, to vaccine-related research and chronicling the mental health impacts of the pandemic. In addition, we have offered rooms in two of our residence halls for doctors, nurses and other health-care personnel working in the Philadelphia area who wish to remain close to their hospitals.
How will the university handle graduation this year for those students who are slated to graduate at the end of the spring semester?
We certainly are not going to let the pandemic prevent us from celebrating achievement. A university-wide commencement, along with one for the Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law, will likely be held in the fall. Our College of Medicine isn’t waiting: Its virtual graduation ceremony will take place Friday, May 29, with planning help from student representatives from the MD program and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Professional Studies. Our College of Medicine Commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient will be Katherine A. High, MD, co-founder, president and chief scientific officer of Spark Therapeutics.
What is your message for the university’s student population and faculty who are sheltering in place and waiting for a return to normalcy?
The devastating and sweeping impact of the coronavirus pandemic has left no one untouched. At the same time, I am confident that the Drexel community is navigating the challenges and opportunities presented by the pandemic with increasing success. In that spirit, I want to encourage our students and faculty to focus as much as possible on all that is positive about our response to this extraordinary period in our history.
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