The Ohio State University Alumni Association

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Registered nurse Jennifer Ogden communicates through the doorway of a negative airflow room that helps contain viral droplets during care and procedures.

Logan Wallace

Positioned for a hopeful future

Faced with adversity, we tap our innermost values for answers. As a global pandemic moved closer to The Ohio State University — our campuses, our students, our communities — the university responded with clarity, science, service, reassurance. We don’t yet know all the answers about the future, and that can be scary. But we are proud of how far we’ve come and how we are facing this challenge. And we can be confident that our alma mater will emerge strong and ready for what’s next.

We were 59 days into spring semester when a distant news story turned local: On March 5, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine ordered the coming weekend’s Arnold Sports Classic closed to spectators, who typically number more than 200,000 and travel to Columbus from around the world. Students and faculty were anticipating the following week’s spring break, and coronavirus cases were being reported around the country, although not yet in Ohio.

The news was changing by the day, often by the hour. The state’s first confirmed cases and an announcement by President Michael V. Drake that the university would move all courses online came on March 9. Within days, spring break was extended to two weeks to give faculty time to transition classes to virtual formats and students time to move out of residence halls, which closed to all but about 1,000 students without alternate housing options.

That’s an inadequate sketch of the opening days of this pandemic at The Ohio State University, which as we know exceeds the size and complexity of many cities. It doesn’t begin to tell the story of all the ways Buckeyes prepared for and responded to this global crisis. You would be proud of the coming together, the creative thinking, the determination, the consideration and the paying forward. Always, the paying forward.

With health and travel conditions changing rapidly around the world, staff worked quickly to assist the nearly 500 students who were studying abroad during spring semester and spring break. While some students chose to remain in their host countries, and one student faced difficulty returning to the United States, all others returned safely within days. Processes were put in place to help with government mandates, accommodations and other needs for the almost 7,000 international students who chose Ohio State for their U.S. studies. One staffer described the effort as a well-oiled machine operating in a sea of chaos, with concern for students’ health and safety the one constant.

The minds of students — more than 68,000 at all levels — were on the minds of faculty, and here the watchwords were innovation, flexibility, collaboration, resilience. Groups formed to help faculty members adapt to the challenges, such as teaching lab classes online, testing students in large course sections and sustaining dynamic discussions via tools such as Zoom. The university worked with students who had internet access issues and tailored solutions to their hurdles. Across the Columbus and five regional campuses, faculty turned to abundant university resources and one another to adapt and forge ahead.

A challenge that often accompanies college studies is stress, something all of us have felt as this pandemic unfolded and stretched on. Some students are in more precarious situations, though, and the university community has worked diligently to embrace them with care and support. Whether the need is mental health services or assistance with housing, food and other expenses, the arms of Buckeyes have extended wide and far. Sometimes even a friendly voice helps, so volunteers across the university reached out to some 18,000 first-year and graduating students via “kindness calls” in April. The intent was to see how they were faring, find answers if they had questions and raise awareness of resources. By early May, five other universities had asked Ohio State for advice so they could consider their own campaigns, proving kindness keeps giving.

For student-athletes and fans, March brought a cascade of disappointing news. The cancellation of Big Ten conference and non-conference competition ended the seasons of 26 spring sports. NCAA officials gave spring athletes an extra year of eligibility, but winter sports athletes whose seasons were still in progress were not included in the decision. The national pastime of March Madness and Ohio State’s spring football game were canceled, and recruiting ground to a halt. On March 24, the Olympic Games in Tokyo were postponed until 2021, delaying the dreams of four Buckeye rowers who had already qualified and nearly 50 other athletes who were still seeking to compete. When this issue went to print on June 1, decisions on fall sports seasons were still pending.

Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers awaits a video producer’s signal to begin the first virtual commencement

Inside an empty Ohio Stadium, Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers awaits a video producer’s signal to begin the first virtual commencement in university history.

The Ohio State family showered those on opposite ends of the student experience — preparing for freshman year and concluding their studies here — with information, advice and well wishes throughout the spring months, much of it via their digital devices. Campus visits and events for all prospective and admitted students as well as orientation for those beginning classes in the fall have transitioned to virtual experiences for the time being.

On May 3, as members of the largest-ever graduating class celebrated in small gatherings of friends and family, about two dozen people distanced themselves from one another in Ohio Stadium to conduct and document a one-hour virtual commencement ceremony.

Among the speakers were Drake, participating in his final commencement ceremony as Ohio State’s president after six years in the role, and Apple CEO Tim Cook, joining from home in Palo Alto, California, in an Ohio State polo and with a Buckeye football and bookends on the shelves behind him.

That virtual ceremony recognized grads’ hours and years of toil, focus and dedication. Those very same attributes are constantly evident in the actions of clinicians and researchers who commit themselves day in and day out to crucial roles in our hospital rooms and science laboratories. Intensive care unit nurses have become family to critically ill patients, providing comfort and compassion, allaying fears, holding patients’ hands and even singing to those who pass, unable to have loved ones by their sides.

Perhaps more than ever, researchers are reaching across disciplines to collaborate, investigate and innovate, looking for small wins and large victories that advance testing, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of a disease that ravages bodies, economies and our very sense of safety, security and serenity. As departments across Ohio State were implementing austerity measures to gird for inevitable challenges to come, dollars were quickly identified and deployed for research that addresses our communities’ needs for education and gauges of human behavior right along with scientific solutions to the latest, most pressing coronavirus.

We have learned so much these past few months — about the world, about ourselves. About our capacity for compassion. About our spirit. About our will to find a way, no matter how rocky the road. About the iron-clad strength of our aspirations as Buckeyes. About our patience. We have come to believe, to know, that we will trek our university’s well-worn paths again. It is hard, in this moment, to know when. It will be when we can do so and be well.

Students who serve as university ambassadors held a “social-distancing social” on the Oval in early April.

Students who serve as university ambassadors held a “social-distancing social” on the Oval in early April. 

Jo McCulty

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