2020 Year in Review
It’s been a year like no other in living memory. When the Widener community rang in 2020, and returned to campus for spring semester in January, few could have predicted that in just two short months, a global pandemic would force the campus to move to a virtual format.
COVID-19 has certainly shaped 2020. But it’s not the only noteworthy event from this past year. Despite the pandemic (and in some cases because of it), the Widener community – through grit, determination, and agility – has accomplished some amazing feats, took on weighty social issues, marked significant milestones, and worked to improve the lives of others.
Before we welcome 2021, we’re taking a look back at this extraordinary year, and the remarkable role Widener played in it.
Adapting to COVID Challenges
When COVID hit in early spring, the Widener community was able to adapt seemingly overnight. From virtual classes and simulated clinical experiences to at-home research kits, faculty and staff demonstrated their agility and commitment to our students.
- Widener’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) created a webinar series to help small businesses across the region navigate the economic challenges of the pandemic.
- Research projects not only adjusted to a virtual setting, but a number of topics shifted to advance our understanding of COVID-19.
- The Student Emergency Fund raised more than $100,000 to help students experiencing financial hardships during the pandemic.
Building a More Diverse, Equitable & Inclusive Campus
Efforts to advance a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive community at Widener have been ongoing. But the events beginning in spring 2020 – the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black individuals, and the proliferation of Black Lives Matter protests – have accelerated some initiatives. Under the ethos of We’re All Widener, the campus is coming together to hold difficult conversations, develop plans, and take action to propel the university forward.
- Campus-wide dialogues and programs were held, including DiversiTEAs around topics of systemic racism, LGBTQ allyship, and interfaith dialogue.
- 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge for faculty and staff.
- New and revised committees to promote DE&I efforts, including the reorganized Diversity Leadership and Inclusion Council (DLIC); new DLIC Student Advocates Task Force; and new standing DE&I committee of Faculty Council.
- Evolving approach to student recruitment and hiring practices to attract a more diverse community of people.
- Revitalization of African & African American Studies minor.
- Social media efforts, programs, and other initiatives to commemorate LGBTQ Pride Month and LGBTQ History Month.
In the Middle of the Political Action
Presidential election years are always a whirlwind, but perhaps none quite like 2020. And Widener students and faculty were in the center of it all.
- In February, communication studies and political science students and professors experienced the New Hampshire primary firsthand.
- From course syllabi to couch parties, students worked to engage their classmates in the political process and encourage voting.
- Ahead of the election, faculty shared their expertise through discussions, debate watch parties, and more.
Celebrating the Class of 2020
The 2020 graduates had so much to celebrate in May. Widener honored their academic milestones, their perseverance and the grace they demonstrated during an unexpected and challenging conclusion to the school year.
- A dedicated commencement hub kicked off a virtual celebration for graduates and their families and friends with special messages from classmates, alumni, and the university.
- We took a look back at the undergraduate and graduate students’ journeys and all of their hard work on the path to earning their degrees.
Welcoming a New Class
Expectations of what that first semester of college would look like were temporarily changed by COVID, as most new students spent fall semester learning remotely. Though a disappointing way to kick off their college careers, these students – and their families – are proving a resilient bunch, and the university has been taking extra steps to support them in this unusual transition.
- Before the semester began, Chester and Melrose visited new student homes to deliver “Welcome to the Pride” lawn signs and share greetings from a safe distance.
- Over the summer, the Office of Student Engagement held a slate of programs to help incoming students get connected to Widener and each other.
- New students created a slice of Widener in their homes with some creating “dorm” rooms, Pride cafes and lounges, and lots of blue and gold to go around.
- Introduction of Personal Student Success Teams to offer individualized support and connections for new students to help them navigate Widener.
Despite limitations caused by COVID, students and faculty across campus continued to pursue high-level research projects that led to advancements in their fields.
- Associate Professor of Biology Janice Krumm was awarded a National Science Foundation RAPID grant to develop online research experiences for undergraduate students during the pandemic.
- A faculty-student research team in mechanical engineering was awarded $50,000 in state funding to develop innovative solutions to a leading problem in 3D printing and manufacturing.
- A chemistry research team launched a partnership with Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research, Inc. to determine which detergents are most effective at cleaning oil from the feathers of affected wildlife.
- Chemical Engineering Professor Sachin Patil partnered with students and alumni to adapt his cancer immunotherapy research to advance findings in potential COVID-19 treatments.
New Academic Programs
Widener launched or approved multiple new academic programs during 2020 that demonstrated the university’s commitment to preparing students for successful careers in growing and evolving industries.
- Sport & Event Management is a popular study concentration where business, sports and event management converge to maximize Widener’s connections with industry insiders.
- Speech Language Pathology teaches students how to prevent, diagnose and treat speech and language disorders.
- International Engineering pairs mechanical engineering and French, and includes the ability to experience a paid internship in Quebec, Canada.
- A new MBA track offers a host of flexible options where students can study full time, part time, in person, online or a mix of pace and format that works for them.
- Green Chemistry puts students at the innovative crossroads of science and sustainability.
Impacting the Community
Even in 2020 Widener was able to maintain its commitment to the community. Whether in person, or virtually, the university found many ways to give back.
- Widener honored the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. with multiple community events that included a Common Ground discussion, service projects at the MJ Freed Theatre in Chester, physical and occupational therapy student-hosted mobility clinics at 12 community sites, and much more.
- Partnered with Habitat for Humanity at five Alternative Spring Break locations around the country, where 60 Widener students helped build houses – including one senior student who carried forward his family’s commitment to the program.
- At a time of tremendous uncertainty Widener’s Community Nursing Clinic, hosted in partnership with City Team Chester, pivoted to offer telemedicine appointments so patients could continue to access care in the pandemic.
Honors, Accolades & Milestones
Our commitment to excellence stood out this year in the programs we presented, major awards we won and the history we made. This dynamic community leads by example.
- Duncan Wardle, the former head of innovation and creativity at the Walt Disney Co. inspired us during his visit as the 2020 Beideman Visiting Scholar.
- The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) awarded Widener’s Breathe Campaign, involving a valuable mental health resources tool, a Circle of Excellence bronze award for communications.
- Investment portfolios managed by students and faculty advisors in the School of Business Administration crossed the $1 million mark.
- The Chronicle of Higher Education honored us as a Great College to Work For in four areas: confidence in senior leadership, teaching environment, tenure clarity & process, and collaborative governance.
- Wolfgram Memorial Library marked its 50th birthday, anchoring the university in academic scholarship and advancing Widener’s intellectual experience.
As Widener looks ahead to 2021 we are excited more students will be living and studying on campus in the new year. Big changes are coming to dining outlets in the University Center – including a new Starbucks – and Widener will mark its bicentennial.
As we move into the next 200 years, we will celebrate our history, renew our relentless commitment to an excellent student experience, and continue to lead through innovation.
Bring on 2021!