Thriving in Turbulent Times

I am preparing this welcome message in the last days of March 2020 in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are two weeks into graduate students, staff, and faculty working remotely, and Purdue is now teaching all of its classes online.

desk with computer, phone, notebookNews reports are scary; we all have new respect for first responders, health care workers, medical scientists, and those engaged in the food supply chain; social distancing is a phrase that has entered our lexicon.

Turbulent times. It would be very easy for this message to focus on the on-going COVID-19 challenge and talk about the fragility of the world we live in, and the analogy of today's crisis with other environmental challenges facing us in the years ahead. And, it would be just as easy to suggest that our current circumstance is a "new normal" that we just need to adapt to and carry on with business as usual. Instead I want to use this opportunity to talk about the amazing people within Environmental and Ecological Engineering, and how they are responding during this ongoing outbreak.

Our students are incredible. Spring break ended a week ago, and most undergraduates did not return to West Lafayette; rather, they are staying at their permanent residences. In many cases, this means a student is sharing a computer with parents working remotely and siblings also taking classes remotely. The undergraduates are still collaborating with one another on projects and completing assignments on time. All the EEE graduate students have been asked to work from home, and they are getting their research done and interacting with their advisors using technology (e.g., Webex). Just this past week I participated in three PhD prelim exams via Webex, and the students did great. Our undergraduate and graduate students’ response in the face of the current situation once again demonstrates their grit. And the EEE staff and faculty have been unbelievable.  The staff are managing operations remotely, student advising/mentoring meetings continue, student recruiting is continuing, and university paperwork continues to get processed (even a pandemic does not seem to abate paperwork). The faculty have moved mountains to get their courses online (often having to forego their usual respite during spring break). After one week of classes, I have heard of no teaching disasters – remarkable! Proposals and papers continue to get written and submitted. To summarize, the degree to which the EEE community is managing is simply unbelievable!

I don’t want to let this message get too long because there are many great things to read inside this EEE newsletter. While it is certainly too early to draw any meaningful conclusions from the ongoing pandemic, I do want to share a few thoughts from others. When Prof. MacKay of Ohio State spoke at this past week’s research seminar, she suggested that we should all “be patient, be flexible, be kind.” Dan Sullivan (Strategic Coach) encourages us to focus on others and our relationships, focus on today and our progress, and focus on what’s available and look for opportunities. To adapt the old adage of Warren Buffet, when others are overcome with fear, we should look for opportunities to make a difference in our lives and the lives of others.

So, in these turbulent and scary times, I hope that all alumni, friends, and partners are healthy and stay that way. Stay safe!