Dear Pitt Graduate and Professional Students,
As most of Western Pennsylvania has transitioned from a red phase to the yellow phase of reopening, I wanted to share my thoughts on what we have experienced over the past two months and provide some updates about steps being taken to develop plans for graduate and professional education at the University of Pittsburgh for the fall semester and beyond.
The yellow phase only permits the University to conduct essential research on campus. The majority of Pitt activities, including all educational activities, must continue to proceed remotely.
Clearly, we are living through highly unusual times and responding to health, economic, and personal challenges that none of us anticipated. I am proud of the Pitt faculty, students, and staff who have responded to this challenge by working on the front lines as health care providers, by supporting our community members, and by researching treatments and vaccines for COVID-19. It is inspiring to be a part of a community that has responded so quickly and productively to this crisis.
Part of Pitt’s response to immediate needs has included the creation of an emergency fund for all students and a separate fund specifically for international students. To consider longer-term challenges for the University, the Chancellor has convened a group of task forces to explore possible options for safely returning to campus and restarting those University operations—such as in-person teaching and most research—that have been halted due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
With Eleanor Feingold from the Graduate School of Public Health, I am co-chairing the working group that is discussing issues related to graduate education and research. Some of the biggest issues we seek to address involve the heterogeneous nature of experiential graduate education; the importance of community and social interaction for graduate students; and basic questions of how graduate students can travel to and live in Pittsburgh safely. Answers to some of these questions will depend on when and how research labs and clinical settings can be reopened so that students can access them. That timeline remains uncertain.
As planning continues to move forward, I’m asking for your help. While students do serve as members of our working group, we are also actively seeking student input through surveys and focus groups. If you have thoughts, concerns, or suggestions, email me, or complete the comment form as soon as possible. You don’t have to provide your name or email to submit the web-based form, but if you choose to remain anonymous, it would be helpful to indicate that you are a graduate student in your comments. While you can comment on any aspect of the work of our task forces, the group thinking about graduate education and research falls under the Reimagining Pitt Education task force. I encourage you to submit ideas, not just about how best to respond to the pandemic, but ideas that contribute to Pitt’s long-term success as well. Times of disruption sometimes inspire creative solutions that have impact well beyond the disruption itself. We should be seeking and encouraging these kinds of solutions.
Everyone wants to know what the fall semester will look like, and the real answer, which is satisfying to no one, is that we don’t know yet. I can tell you that the task forces are to submit their recommendations to the Chancellor at the end of May. Many external factors will play a role in determining how we teach and learn, discover, mentor, and connect. We will keep you updated as decisions are made.
I have no doubt that Pitt will remain an institution dedicated to responding to the needs of our students and society through the creation and teaching of new knowledge. I am certain that together we will find a path through the pandemic to make a stronger University, and I am also certain that Pitt researchers and clinicians will contribute in important ways to overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic and preventing future pandemics. Such accomplishments will make me proud as an alumnus and friend of Pitt.