The accomplishments of the past eight months should not be lost on our Vandal Family. It’s through a heartfelt and dedicated effort of our entire community that University of Idaho students had access to our transformational, in-person learning experience this fall.
Reaching this milestone wasn’t business as usual. It was an incredible challenge – and it comes as no surprise that our faculty, staff and students responded in the Brave and Bold way only Vandals are able. It is a testament to the unshakeable spirit that we head into the well-deserved fall holiday feeling good that we have delivered on the quality instruction expected by an institution ranked among the top 6% of all public colleges and universities in the nation.
Our U of I team built a COVID-19 testing lab in partnership with Gritman Medical Center over the summer that has been instrumental in managing the pandemic both on campus and in the Moscow community – a lab that has become a model for others across the state. Every Vandal who has attended classes in person passed our COVID-19 testing requirement at least twice. Staff and faculty also contributed to our surveillance testing effort. We have maintained isolation spaces to care for students who tested positive as well as made difficult decisions with residence hall advisors and Greek leaders to quarantine on-campus living groups as needed.
Our IT teams deployed new technology throughout the University of Idaho system, tripling the number of Zoom-capable spaces across the state. Classrooms were moved to event halls and larger spaces as academic teams facilitated social distancing and managed the complexities of hybrid and reduced-occupancy classes. Walk-through thermal scanners at our two primary dining areas and wastewater testing supported our efforts to keep our community safe.
Our goal of in-person learning faced many challenges over the spring and summer. Some even said very publicly that it was impossible or beyond our reach.
The results have been better than many expected. After completing more than 20,500 tests since August, we had 2.54% results returned as positive. We have even used excess capacity in the lab to process tests for long-term care facilities, Lewis-Clark State College nursing students and the greater Palouse community. Despite challenges this fall, not one case has been traced to a classroom at the University of Idaho. We have proven we can live and learn together in person.
After a much-deserved break next week, we will transition as planned to online/remote course delivery for the final three weeks of the semester. That doesn’t mean we should let our guard down. I suspect the hardest challenges are yet to come, with COVID-19 cases surging throughout the state and the nation, requiring us all to be more vigilant in our interactions over the holidays. Even though we will test every student before they return to a classroom in January, we will remain vigilant throughout the spring if we are to remain open and delivering the quality of experience to which we are committed.
To everyone who has had a part in keeping the University of Idaho open this fall – thank you. No one has ever impressed me more – not any of my previous teams in the public or private sectors – than the Vandal Family that accomplished what few others were able to this fall. The past eight months have shown that this team can compete with anyone, anytime, anywhere.
Each of you has contributed to a university on the rise, one that creates a transformational learning experience for the students who attend. You are creating a bright future for our university and the entire Gem State. We all have much for which we can be proud.
I wish each of you a healthy, joyous and restful Thanksgiving.