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Life’s Curve Balls

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We have been through a lot in the last six months.

In late March, Utah State University students, faculty, and staff transitioned from in person classes to fully remote courses for the remainder of the year with grace. I am proud to be leading Utah State during this challenging time.

President Cockett wears a mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the USU community. Photo by Levi Sim.

The COVID-19 pandemic requires quick thinking and logical, data-based decisions—research-based decisions. This is Aggie territory. I have found that I am using the same approaches from my own research program to lead during this pandemic because when you are truly on the cusp of discovery you are in uncharted waters. You must use data and best practices to determine the best way forward. It’s the same with COVID-19. Of course, the implications are much broader and serious, but I am energized by a new horizon of where we are going.

And I am proud of the strategies we will be employing this semester to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission on Utah State campuses. Classes will be delivered in traditional face-to-face means or using interactive video conferencing, online, or blends of these formats. Utah State has been a leader in online education for over 25 years. We can do this well.

There is the saying “Get the right people on the bus” and that is true here. With COVID-19, we don’t have time to spin our wheels. Our team at Utah State meets daily, sometimes twice a day, to review risks and solutions. For months I have held weekly phone meetings with the other Utah university presidents so that we can share ideas and move forward together.

President Cockett and her grand puppy Duke. He moved in with her family this summer when COVID-19 affected her son’s work.

Personally, COVID-19 has forced me to slow down. With the cancellation of university events, I have taken advantage of not having to commute. My garden, always a place of refuge and rejuvenation for me, was planted earlier and with additional beds. This summer when work circumstances changed for my son, my husband John and I took in a 10-month old Doberman Pinscher puppy. Duke is the first dog I’ve been around other than the ranch dogs we had growing up. Aside from losing a shoe to his teething, it’s been a positive experience. I have relished the role of grandma. I am super indulgent. I never make him sit. I am always slipping him treats.

But navigating the landscape of COVID-19 has been difficult. I am a smiler and a hugger. I feel like I have lost that personal connection with people, especially when I wear a mask in public or walking around outside my office. It feels like half of my personality is gone because you can’t see me smile. But I wear a mask because I care about other people. And wearing a mask is the only way Utah State campuses remain open this fall.

We have about 28,000 students and I am sure about 28,000 different opinions about the changes during this school year. I assure you that we have been methodical about bringing students back to campus. We have worked to mitigate risks wherever possible. We expect staff members to act responsibly. But our students play a role in keeping campuses safe, too. Everybody must do their part.

A few years ago, we launched the Aggies Think, Care, Act, a campus-wide initiative that fosters a caring learning community. I hope our students embrace this moment to show that Aggies care about each other and respect human dignity.

There is a chance the incoming class will be a tighter cohort than we ever have experienced, because they will need to be versatile and work together. The upperclassmen will likely be disappointed because it will not feel the same. It cannot. There will be restrictions. There will be less activity than they are used to. I am proud of them for rising to the challenge.

And I have incredible hope that this will be a success. These are uncertain times. But I can still laugh. I still make jokes. This is life. Life throws curve balls at you and you catch them and deal with them. I know we will.

Noelle Cockett
USU President
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