Our NYU: October 9, 2020
A Note from President Hamilton
After a busy summer of planning and preparing, it was a welcome sight to see a contingent of our NYU community return to campus this fall. We miss those of you who aren’t at Washington Square or Brooklyn, though in many ways it feels like we are more connected than ever after these months of navigating virtual study and work together. I hope that wherever this note finds you, you’ve settled into a semblance of routine as we progress through the academic year.
For universities across the country, opening doors to students has not been without its challenges, and we, too, have had our moments. But with some luck and a lot of planning, the semester has gotten off to a pretty good start — though we are mindful that circumstances can change. Thousands of our students are studying remotely from locations around the world, or at Abu Dhabi, Shanghai, and at our global sites through our Go Local program. We have approximately 22,300 students on campus in New York — who are in large part adhering admirably to the necessary safety and health protocols.
Things are certainly not normal, but what has carried over even into this unusual year is the energy and vibrancy that so distinguishes NYU. Be assured that COVID-19 has not stopped our academic life, but it has reshaped it — in rich and varied ways. I want to take a moment to talk about how COVID-19 has affected our studies (and next time, I plan to elaborate in greater detail on how our research and intellectual work continues, coronavirus notwithstanding).
A new MBA course taught by professors Richard Berner and Viral Acharya, for example, examines the financial impact, policy responses, and global issues brought on by COVID-19. Tisch film students will sharpen their skills, beginning limited production under strict safety precautions in line with protocols set by NYU and the film and television industry — and subject, of course, to New York State’s reopening guidelines. In remote courses, participants from around the world are exploring their local flora in a Liberal Studies Life Science course. Over the spring and summer, Steinhardt graduate students took part in a mental health practicum held by the New York State Office of Mental Health’s Pandemic Stress Response, which specialized in providing psychological support via a phone hotline for first responders.
And our researchers and medical practitioners continue to confront COVID-19 head-on. Many NYU labs and hundreds of researchers work on projects related to the virus in a variety of disciplines studying its effects on health and society, and how it will shape academic inquiry. Over the summer, a vaccine trial at Langone received federal funding with the aim of producing a coronavirus vaccine as soon as possible.
I am moved by our faculty, staff, and students, who at every turn underscore our commitment to our academic mission. While we don’t know when the COVID-19 pandemic will end, I am certain of the unwavering resilience and dedication of our community — which I have seen demonstrated these past months — as we progress through this most unusual year ahead.
I’d also like to take a moment to thank many in the NYU community for their help in the Ideascale initiative (in partnership with the Administrative Management Council) that we launched over the summer and in which we solicited ideas about this academic year. More than 1,000 people contributed to our NYU Returns efforts by posting, commenting, and voting on ideas. We’ve begun putting these ideas to use and exploring how best to implement them, including expanding offerings to the caregivers in our community.
I know that for many of you, this time continues to be a challenge, whether you are caring for loved ones, struggling with separation from friends and family, or juggling childcare and virtual school for your children. Please know that Jennie and I are thinking of you all during this remarkable period, and that the University is working hard to support you. You have our deep gratitude and admiration for your fortitude and commitment as we weather these uncertain times.
I am happy to see a portion of students back on campus, who, in addition to the demands of their classes, have been careful about staying safe and are participating in our rigorous testing program. We have a number of new processes in place, including a cohort of student Public Health Ambassadors who have been helping inform the community about safety and health routines on campus.
School is back in session at NYU Shanghai (top) and NYU Abu Dhabi (above). This semester, they’ve invited additional students to their campuses as part of the Go Local program, where they, along with our global sites, are hosts to nearly 2,800 undergraduate students who may not have been able to travel to their home campus due to the coronavirus. NYU Shanghai students are studying remotely and in person, while many Abu Dhabi students are living on campus and taking remote classes — both in accordance with public health and safety protocols.
It’s wonderful to see that dance courses are safely and gracefully underway again — with modifications to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In ballet and contemporary technique classes at Tisch, students remain physically distanced, classes are limited to eight students, heavily aerobic “across the floor” exercises are avoided, and, of course, everybody wears masks. Photo credit: Kate Lord.
One of our faculty’s biggest challenges this semester has been how to conduct effective and engaging remote learning across different time zones. Promethee Spathis, an NYU Shanghai visiting professor of computer science, who created a home studio with more than a dozen devices to facilitate his teaching, leverages what he calls his “Zoom Swiss Army knife” to teach remotely.
Here’s something I wish they had back in my undergraduate days: NYU professors Trace Jordan of CAS and Craig Kapp of Courant have collaborated to create an augmented reality tool that takes 2D representations of molecules and displays them as 3D structures. Knowing the 3D structure of a molecule is essential to understanding its function, but we’re often limited to whiteboards — and now Zoom screens — when teaching. In Prof. Jordan's Molecules of Life course this fall — a Core Curriculum course for non-science majors — students can use their phones to visualize dynamic 3D structures like this penicillin molecule.
Journalism professor Sylvan Solloway typically takes students outdoors several times a semester for her Multimedia Reporting class, and this term for one of the course’s assignments, students practiced photography in front of the NYU Journalism building on Cooper Square. While trying different compositions and techniques, the students worked in small groups taking headshots of each other for their online portfolios. Future plans include shooting cell phone video with microphones on selfie sticks and other accessories.
Electronic health records have never been more important than during this pandemic, allowing health systems to quickly analyze records, track cases and trends, and communicate virtually with patients. NYU Meyers’ Clinical Simulation Learning Center recently launched a new simulated version of Epic, the most widely used electronic health record in hospitals, to train nursing students. Working with NYU Langone, the faculty, administrators, and staff created and built the environment — making NYU Meyers among the first nursing schools in the country to do so.
I was impressed by the way Liberal Studies professor Erin Morrison created a teachable moment that brought students together through a common point: local flora. Students in her Life Science course introduced themselves on the first day of class by displaying photos of their favorite plants — capturing species from around the world while expanding the classroom experience to include students’ different locales, from California redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) in San Francisco to green bristlegrass (Setaria viridis) in Seoul, South Korea. Photo credit: Kate Lord.