Beginning the Year with a Grateful Heart
It is hard to believe the fall semester is less than a month away and that soon campus will once again be buzzing with activity, albeit with new health and safety protocols in place. Many changes have occurred in a short period of time. The University community has suffered pain and uncertainty, and we all share a sense of deep sorrow for those deeply valued members of our community who have lost their employment. I grieve these difficult but necessary decisions and hope and pray that as the University moves forward from this point it will ground itself in those values that offer both solace and hope for tomorrow — care for one another, generosity, humility, and gratitude.
As our unconventional spring 2020 semester drew to its conclusion, I promised you all that Valparaiso University will be open for business in the fall, with the intention of delivering an in-person living and learning experience. And, as we seek to fulfill our educational mission, I assured you that we would continue to prioritize the health, safety, and well-being of each and every Valpo student, faculty, and staff member.
In the weeks that have followed, you have shown tremendous resiliency through a volatile and uncertain time. I want to commend each member of Valpo’s faculty and staff for your work to prepare campus for a safe reopening. I recognize what an extraordinary and difficult task this has been and will continue to be. Each member of our campus community — and our nation — faced significant professional and personal anxiety and stress as together we experienced an unprecedented global pandemic and its unpredictable ripple effects. Yet, the Valpo community kept its focus squarely on delivering a quality experience for our students and supporting their success.
This work is far from over and the environment continues to evolve, requiring us to continually adjust our response. The many people involved in Valpo’s re-opening will continue to tackle these challenges and adapt our strategies in a thoughtful, measured approach. This will require the community to be creative and flexible as we navigate our way throughout the fall semester, and into the spring. Success also requires us to be generous and patient with one another — to be our best selves.
During our physically distanced Convocation (7:30 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 16, at Brown Field), incoming students will commit themselves to the “Valpo Vow,” a commitment to one another that we will hold ourselves to a higher standard because we know the success of this community depends on a mutual commitment to care for one another especially at this time. A group of Valpo students is currently producing a video of the Valpo Vow and they look forward to sharing it with you in the coming weeks. Their effort will be a reminder to all of us that, at Valparaiso University, we are called together for a common, noble purpose: to educate young women and men who are good people doing great things for the sake of our community and for the world.
Yet, even as we support and celebrate these students, I believe there is an equally important message for this community to hear. Dear colleagues, you, Valpo’s faculty and staff, are the very heart and soul of this unique community of learning. And as we prepare for the start of the 2020–2021 academic year, I am filled with tremendous gratitude for your service to this University.
Each summer, our FOCUS orientation sessions offer a wonderful example of the Valpo community coming together to work diligently and rise to the annual demands of welcoming new students to campus. This year presented a unique set of challenges that required increased flexibility and creativity. Not only did our faculty and staff accomplish the herculean feat of holding in-person orientation sessions that focused on safety, they did so admirably and with the grace and enthusiasm characteristic of our Valpo community. And our students and their families were so grateful for all that you gave them and how you went over and above the expected to put them at ease and make their experience memorable.
Assistant Dean Bonnie Dahlke-Goebbert, our student orientation assistants, and all of Student Life displayed exceptional leadership in this important work that is so essential to enrolling the next class of Valpo students. In addition to the Student Life area, more than 100 colleagues from across campus played important roles during FOCUS. While their contributions are too numerous to detail here, allow me to share just three examples:
Theresa Kark, facility and set-up coordinator in the Harre Union, single-handedly managed event setup in each campus building for FOCUS, ensuring seats were spaced appropriately to accommodate physical distancing and showcasing our facilities in their best light for incoming students and their families.
Jon Hendricks, University photographer and videographer, created a new FOCUS video and was on campus each day during FOCUS to shoot photos. He offered additional coverage and assistance well beyond the typical year.
Stacy Maugans, chair and associate professor of music, demonstrated flexibility and agility in responding to unexpected and challenging situations related to the Center for the Arts and music students. Stacy volunteered to help with anything needed and was ready to assist with advising exploratory students if needed.
Many others have been working to make campus safe and ready for not just summer orientation, but for the quickly approaching fall semester. Valpo’s Facilities Management team, particularly our housekeeping staff, have increased sanitation and cleaning protocols and are rearranging some areas to reinforce physical distancing. Faculty members are working to adjust syllabi and adapt their pedagogy to support multi-modal delivery in the event that courses move fully online at any point this fall. Academic Affairs and the Registrar’s Office modified the academic calendar and the daily class schedule to accommodate longer passing periods. And Wesemann Hall is in the process of being brought back online to support this effort.
These are just a few examples of the exceptional work done by Valpo’s faculty and staff each and every day. There are hundreds upon hundreds more. I remain honored and humbled to serve alongside such dedicated colleagues. Serving as Valparaiso University’s president has been the greatest privilege and blessing of my life.
Plans will continue to evolve and people will continue to lift up questions and concerns. We will try our best to respond and to keep you informed of developments, and the latest information will continue to be housed on the main webpage at valpo.edu/looking-forward. If you have any questions that are not answered at this website, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for all you have done and all you continue to do this day and every day in service to Valparaiso University’s mission and our students.
Mark A. Heckler, Ph.D.