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Finding Inspiration in a Year of Pain and Challenges

May 18, 2021
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By Ed Seidel 

It has been a little over a year since I was fortunate enough to be chosen as the University of Wyoming’s 28th president. When I interviewed for the position in late February 2020, no one could have predicted what a crazy, challenging year it would be.

As I take a few moments to reflect on all that has occurred, many emotions come to the fore. But the overriding sentiment is one of appreciation—primarily to our students, who have weathered so much, but also to our faculty, staff and supporters who have helped the university navigate troubled waters. As the COVID-19 pandemic begins to subside and a return to a pre-pandemic campus environment appears very likely for the fall semester, it’s worth noting what we have been through—and what we have learned.

There’s no question that we’ve had more than our share of pain and struggle. The COVID-19 pandemic caused us to change the way we operate at all levels, including movement of courses from in-person to online delivery; requirements for physical distancing, face protection and testing; and restrictions on large gatherings, including athletics and cultural events. These changes resulted in a much different campus experience for our students, and we recognize how difficult it has been for them. We’re anxious for a return to a traditional semester this fall, and we’re on track to make that happen due to widespread vaccine availability, and the advanced testing program we’ve implemented coupled with heroic dedication of our staff, enabling us to keep our infection numbers down (and to collect real data to know what they are!).

The pandemic also exacerbated financial difficulties faced by students, their families and the state of Wyoming. The university is now in the midst of significant budget reductions that are causing us to reassess just about everything we do. As I write this, although we have met our budget reductions for next year, we have not yet determined precisely how we will adjust our long-term academic programs to account for reduced state funds. But this has not deterred us from moving forward with the bold vision for the university that I have spoken about. I plan to write more on this topic in upcoming editions of UWyo Magazine.

There have been other challenges as well. We have lost four of our students to untimely deaths this year, including three in a tragic car accident. A racist attack during a Black History Month virtual event, perpetrated by people outside our community, caused real pain and highlighted difficulties faced by people who are part of minority groups in our community. Combined with the pandemic and divisive conditions across our nation and world, these awful events have taken a real toll on the mental health and well-being of many members of the UW community.

But even as we work to recover from a year full of seeming setbacks, there is so much to point to with positivity.

When it comes to the pandemic, our students, faculty, staff and alumni have made innumerable contributions to battling COVID-19, ranging from producing protective equipment, to developing our testing program, to administering the life-saving vaccines. The response of our community has been nothing short of inspirational, and it has put us in a great position to recover quickly. We’re very confident in saying that students this fall can expect a much more traditional experience than we’ve been able to provide the past three semesters.

Likewise, many people across the university and beyond have contributed to our strategic scenario planning to chart a course for UW’s future. Motivated by love for this institution, our students, faculty, staff and supporters are rising to the occasion, and I’m confident we will emerge from our budget challenges with a strong sense of purpose— and a plan for success that will move UW in new directions to make UW the “best-in-class 21st century land-grant university true to its Wyoming roots.”

The primary focus of our efforts, as always, is the UW student experience. We are dedicated to providing academic and co-curricular opportunities that prepare our students for successful lives and careers. Our support programs aim to help students move through their studies to earn degrees and certificates in timely fashion and at higher rates. The “four pillars” about which I wrote in this space previously—making UW more digital, more entrepreneurial, more interdisciplinary and more inclusive—all are based on creating the most positive impact for our students.

Before I came to UW, I was aware of Wyoming’s history of resilience, of battling through tough times to forge strong communities and create opportunity for future generations. In the past year, I have seen that selflessness, grit and determination firsthand. These characteristics have helped us navigate a pandemic and other challenges and, as a result, I remain resolute in my view that great days are ahead for our university. Stay tuned! 

Ed Seidel is the president of the University of Wyoming.

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