2020 will be a year long-remembered by all NC State faculty, staff and students. Through everything that has happened, you’ve continued to make the university and our greater community proud through your teaching, research, engagement and innovation.
Here, we’re sharing the most important lessons you’ve learned this year, and your plans for 2021.
Dean, College of Humanities and Social Sciences
The most important lesson I learned in 2020 was a better understanding of my relationship with race and racism. The events following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others caused me to examine two things: Racism and white privilege in my personal life, and the role of our college in eradicating—and sustaining—racism.
With respect to white privilege, I had always realized I had it. I understood—as a person and as a psychologist—that I had benefited from being white. My parents were college-educated; I went to good public schools; I never wanted for nutrition or health care; I enjoyed the freedom of scrutiny that whites (and now, an old white male) enjoy in public spaces (e.g., nobody follows me around the store to see if I’m going to steal something). I understood that in an intellectual sense—but the events of 2020 caused me to more honestly examine the role of white privilege in my professional success. For the first time in my life, I understood that acknowledging that I benefited from white privilege did not diminish my accomplishments. Great athletes have gifts I do not… but it doesn’t mean they didn’t work hard to achieve their success. Likewise, my white privilege was a gift others don’t enjoy—but acknowledging that doesn’t mean I didn’t work hard to earn my successes. To put it another way, I realized that with privilege comes responsibility: I was given those gifts of educated parents, schools, and more. I didn’t earn them—but because they were given to me, I have the responsibility to use the success they enabled to make success and opportunity more available to others.
That brings me to the second lesson learned from 2020: Higher education can be a tool for social justice and opportunity, or it can be a cudgel to confer and reify privilege. Because I enjoy the privilege of a leadership position as dean of humanities and social sciences at NC State, I have a responsibility to critically examine the ways in which my college acts in ways to dismantle—or unwittingly sustain—racism. I asked each of our college’s departments to critically examine the ways in which their units (and our college and campus) sustain or confer racial privilege. Whether it is in student admissions, hiring, teaching, the way we work with our staff and faculty, policies, etc., I asked them to join with me in identifying how we promote or inhibit social justice—and to propose actions to make us better. This spring, we will commit to concrete actions to reduce or eliminate racism and increase our ability to provide opportunity and increase social justice. I’ve already committed to and begun one clear action: To let our alumni and donors know that I want to raise $1M by June 30, 2021 to help us provide high impact, life-changing experiences (e.g., study abroad, internships, undergraduate research) to all our students—especially those from under-represented groups. Too often, those opportunities are unavailable to those who most need them… and I can (and will) do something about that.
I know we need to do much, much more—and that our progress will take time. However, I want our faculty, staff, alumni, and most of all, our students to know that we are committed to making our college an instrument for increasing social justice and dismantling racism. We will all have roles to play, and we won’t solve a problem that has existed for centuries before I return to faculty this summer. There was a lot about 2020 I would have happily skipped—but it did help me clarify my role in understanding and dismantling racism, and gave me the sense of urgency I needed to act.
Assistant Director, The Engineering Place
College of Engineering
The most important lesson I’ve learned this year is how resilient we are as a community. I continually am impressed by my colleagues and university engineering students in their determination to help one another not only survive this pandemic but to continue doing excellent work. I have learned to embrace the unknown and to give both myself and others grace during this time. Together, both through individual and collective work, The Engineering Place continued to provide K-12 STEM Engineering programming through our summer camp programs and Family STEM nights this fall. I have been impressed with how everyone has worked together, through all the changes, challenges, and unknowns to continue sharing our love of engineering with teachers and K-12 students across North Carolina, other states, and Puerto Rico. I have also learned how every single one of us must educate ourselves about systemic racism and how we must work to be allies for our colleagues and students of color. My plans for 2021 is to not take anything for granted, make sure those around me know how much they are appreciated and loved, and continue to provide exciting engineering education opportunities for the K-20 community. I am so proud to be part of the Wolfpack Family!
Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, College of Design
During the fall semester, Professor Gene Bressler and I taught the LAR 501: Introduction Design Studio to 26 students. One of the most important lessons we learned in 2020 was to get outside more and take advantage of all the wonderful Outdoor Learning Environments (OLEs) on campus. Students were encouraged to sketch, measure, and reflect on all the great spaces at NC State.
Photo credit: Carla Delcambre
Director of Global Programs
College of Engineering
As an administrator concerned with global programming and charged with facilitating international mobility and fostering cross-border institutional partnerships, I found myself greatly impacted when the world closed up almost overnight. However, thanks to previous experience with distance collaborative work and online teaching across the world, I trusted that with adequate resource mobilization we could adapt. I saw a chance to do things differently, reinvent my work, and shift my mindset to looking at what the infinite virtual world afforded us, rather than solely what it took away. All international educators can surely attest to these uncertain opportunities and seemingly unpromising leads that turn out to generate valuable programs.
The conflation of the world necessarily closing up on itself because of the pandemic and the killing of George Floyd in the U.S. that triggered a global discussion on racism, discrimination, inclusiveness, and equality made for a moment where on the one hand people became inaccessible to each other, while on the other hand they came closer together worldwide in a global solidarity movement around key human and societal values. This made it very real that a retrenchment within national borders, limits on mobility, and a deficit in the practice of justice and democratic ideals all lead to a broken and unlivable world. These lessons of 2020 are also those I hope students, faculty, and staff learn when they participate in international activities and why it is so vital to plough on in this field.
Director of Library Environments
NC State University Libraries
The pandemic sent me home and I began to research indoor air quality for buildings. I discussed current options with mechanical engineers and lighting engineers. I attended more than 15 webinars to understand the potential spread of COVID. After many discussions and understanding the cost of revamping the entire HVAC system, I researched mobile air purifier units. There were many, now there are hundreds! After my research, I recommended The Aerus Beyond. Aerus ActivePure Technology LLC, announced that their air purifying system inactivates over 99.9% of the airborne SARS-CoV-2 and they are seeking FDA approval.
My next step was to understand a virus or disease that we could encounter in the future. I audited an NC State class, Global Public Health with Dr. Julie Casani. Great professor! Her class taught me an understanding of epidemiology and applications for designing healthy building environments. The socio-economic factor was staggering. Indoor air quality was a prominent discussion and safety precautions with masking, social distancing and hygiene, hygiene, hygiene!
I have taken this time to learn and implement ideas for healthy library interiors. And for 2021 I will be auditing PS 201 – American Politics and Government. I want to understand how our government works to protect our ‘Pack.
For more than three decades, The Engineering Place at NC State has provided summer engineering experiences for K-12 girls and boys. With the emergence of COVID-19 in 2020, the staff of The Engineering Place made the decision to alter the way we provide engineering camp experiences from an in-person setting to an online, virtual environment. In mid-March, with little more than 2 months to make this shift, our staff learned how to use the Zoom conferencing software, we created five days of K-8 programming across five different engineering themes, scheduled and advertised five weeklong camps, purchased camp materials and supplies for campers, packed and shipped 446 kits to 579 campers, and hired 33 NC teachers and staff to help us deliver our engineering camps. Finally, we developed a website called The Engineering Place Back Porch to inform parents and their campers about our virtual engineering camps.
In addition, we collaborated and partnered with other College of Engineering departments, namely Biomedical, Electrical and Computer, Industrial and Systems, and Materials Science Engineering and Computer Science, to offer tailor-made camps with specific engineering foci.
The lessons we have learned by providing virtual engineering camps have informed the way we live in our personal lives as well. We use these same tools as we work to safely and protectively visit with friends and family, attend church, meet with our doctors, help others in need, shop, and stay up to date on local and world events. Since March 2020, I believe it’s safe to say that the way we’ve learned to work, play and conduct business has changed forever and this is a positive product of the pandemic.
We have learned that even in the midst of COVID-12, we can provide fun, meaningful and successful camp experiences to K-12 students from anywhere in the US including Puerto Rico – location no longer matters. We learned that Zoom is an excellent resource for connecting with others and that this communication tool will surely continue to help us connect, collaborate, and communicate with others. Finally, we learned that with a Think and Do mindset, we can do anything if fueled by compassion, determination, persistence, and perseverance which is powerful knowledge to have about yourself and your colleagues.
Our plans for 2021 and future summer engineering camps and programs will be to continue to use a virtual environment to connect with students nationwide and globally and to engage with them using engineering.
Michael Bustle, GTI Director
Associate Vice Provost for Global Initiatives and Education
Looking back, 2020 was a watershed year for the Global Training Initiative where we were able to transform student programs into virtual reincarnations, develop new online programs and expand our reach to new partners and countries in ways we could not have imagined. Our popular Global Education, Academics and Research Skills (GEARS) program enrolled 111 participants in 2020 in its summer and spring virtual iterations, largely because faculty from NC State and new partner universities in North Carolina, as well as the students from various overseas and local universities, adapted and dared to do something new, despite working from different time zones.
We also learned to embrace the silver lining in having to shift our other student programs to online format. This past year we had 385 students from over 30 countries who participated in our Developing Cultural Competence (DCC) Student Certificate program, many of them came from partner institutions in countries that we previously were unable to reach with our in-person programs. We also discovered that the online version of DCC can be highly interactive and allow students in all cultures to engage in meaningful cross-cultural experiences from their homes.
Moving forward, the GTI will continue to develop and provide even larger-scale virtual programs for NC State students and overseas participants with a goal of reaching more than 1,500 students on-campus and online. Our team continues to lead the way in innovating and finding creative ways to engage our campus community, state, and friends around the globe in expanding their perspectives, equipping them to improve society, and promoting global competency in a post-COVID world.
Roger Manley, Gregg Museum Director
One of the biggest lessons we learned at the Gregg was, “When audiences can’t come to the arts, you have to take the arts to them.” Luckily, by the time COVID-19 forced the closure of the university last March, we were already well along in making our exhibitions available online through the latest in 360 degree photography, image-stitching software, and virtual reality camera gear. Several of our recent exhibitions had already been made available on the Gregg website, with the idea that this not only helped perpetuate the displays long after the installations got dismantled to make way for new shows, but also enabled people with internet access anywhere in the world to visit the museum virtually. Suddenly, though, the pandemic made virtual visits the only way people could keep enjoying the Gregg.
When word spread to other regional museums that the Gregg was still “open” in a digital way, we quickly found ourselves fielding questions and offering advice about how they could do it, too—but we were also feeling proud that NC State’s museum had helped pioneer this approach. With the addition of Zoom technology, we soon developed hybrid live/virtual tours to take the place our more traditional guided visits. This made it possible for participants all over the world not only to see the objects on display, but hear about them from a knowledgeable instructor (or the artist whose work was on display), ask questions in real time, and engage in discussions about the art and artifacts they encountered. Virtual visits promise to become a permanent addition to the Gregg’s repertoire of program offerings.
Another important takeaway was the importance of maintaining staff morale by ramping up significant communication, not only to do with the ongoing tasks involved in running a major arts institution like the Gregg, but with each other as colleagues facing an extremely unusual set of circumstances. Meetings (via Zoom) were scheduled more frequently but always included a playful component like a funny question-of-the-day that everyone had to answer, or a breakout session to solve a quirky problem. These didn’t happen at the expense of the more serious work, and often resulted in insights that helped bond the staff into more of a team. This in turn helped us take on projects that might normally have been put off during the day-to-day operation of the museum in a more ordinary year. Among the truly valuable outcomes was a new mission statement and a 25-page set of strategic priorities that should help streamline our working relationships and make our productivity even more efficient for years to come, long after COVID is only a memory.
Image is from the virtual visit of the Gregg Museum exhibition All that Glitters, which remained in the galleries January 23, 2020 – September 11, 2020, although “live” visits ended on March 17. It will continue to be open to the online public for many years to come.
NC 4-H Camping Specialist
NC State Extension
The most important lessons I’ve learned in 2020 are the importance of family, health, and home. The pandemic really put things in perspective, reinforced my priorities in life, and helped me to appreciate the little things. It also helped me to take it one day at a time and to enjoy the journey of life. As an outdoor professional, the importance and value of outdoor spaces and parks was highlighted by the pandemic, and it was my family’s trips to our local parks on the weekends and daily walks in our neighborhood that helped get us through 2020.
My plans for 2021 are to help as many people as possible, personally and professionally. My word for 2021 is legacy. I hope to create a legacy through everything I do and every interaction with others. I enjoyed volunteering in our local community in 2020 and look forward to continuing volunteering in 2021. This life is short, so I plan to live every day to the fullest and make every moment count.
Director, Dance Program
Arts NC State/University College
This year I realized how much the arts matter. I have always known this, considering I have devoted a lifetime to artmaking and arts education. But this year, as we know, was different. The students’ bodies were heavy with the burdens of our world. Burdens they were not prepared to carry, none of us were. When they started moving, dancing, creating…they both expressed and released the weight, even if it was just for a short time. They breathed. They laughed. They healed.
I was honored to witness firsthand the transformative powers of the arts, and I am thrilled that there are so many opportunities on our campus for students to engage with them. They are truly lifesaving and life growing. In this new year we will keep dancing. On screens, masked face to face, six feet apart, outside, and in the studio. We will dance our pain, concern, joy, frustration…our opinions, our stories, our humanity. And once again we will turn to the arts to heal.
The pandemic has brought huge challenges to the entire performing arts field, but we at NC State LIVE have also seen many opportunities to build a better future together with the communities we serve. We have maintained a strong connection to our international touring artists through very personal, student-led digital events (like a recent digital conversation and concert with Grammy award-winning Afro-Jazz composer Arturo O’Farrill, moderated by a student and recent alumna). We’ve also used the time to build and renew connections with local artists dedicated to social justice: cellist Shana Tucker and choreographers and Culture Mill co-founders Murielle Elizéon and Tommy Noonan who are working with students and community members throughout the year to fuse the arts with restorative justice practices.
One highlight from last fall was a collaboration with our partners on Centennial Campus to adapt our LIVE@Lake Raleigh concerts to a drive-in concert format, kicked off with a concert by leading Black country artist Rissi Palmer in October. Students, staff, and community members can expect more joyful experimentation to come in 2021. From pop-up performances in locations across campus, to interactive digital events with leading performing artists across the world, to (fingers crossed) in-person arts events where we can safely gather and heal as a community. Our artists help us to understand the critical issues of our time and bring us together to create meaningful dialogue across differences. You can read more about what we’ve got planned on our website and stay updated about future events by joining NC State LIVE’s mailing list.
Anna Martin, Program Coordinator, North Carolina Sea Grant and WRRI
The 2020 WRRI Annual Conference was only one week from realization when the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown began on March 13, 2020. With over 350 registered guests planning to attend to hear the latest water resources research, our team knew that a quick pivot toward virtual sessions was necessary in order to get this information out to our key audiences. Thankfully, as the pending conference was so close at hand, many speakers had final presentations — and were able to adapt easily to online sessions. WRRI successfully provided a series of 3 virtual conference sessions in April, May and June of 2020, averaging more than 200 attendees for each session. The topics for these webinars included wastewater treatment along the N.C.coast, wetlands research, and water education in our state. Conference sponsors agreed to using their funding toward closed captioning of the archive links for each webinar to increase accessibility of the end products. These can viewed on the WRRI Annual Conference page.
Photo: Roger Winstead. Two attendees study the program booklet during the 2019 WRRI Annual Conference.
Director, The Crafts Center and C:LAB
So many pivotal and unprecedented events have occurred regarding health, environment, ethics, safety, values, leadership, and integrity. As global citizens, we have seen our worlds turned upside down. Not only are we quarantined, we have collectively experienced our local buildings being looted and burned, mask-wearing becoming a political statement, the ravages of racial injustice that brought about terrifying acts of violence, and recently, our nation’s capitol ransacked and desecrated by domestic terrorists. With such monumental events happening almost daily, I began to have questions such as: Are my family and friends safe? Will our nation see another civil war in my lifetime? Will I get this virus and have long-term health problems as a result? Will I lose my job? The fragility of life hangs in the balance for all of us. Our collective baselines for living have changed, perhaps forever.
Our students are traumatized by these same issues and more. They are growing up in a time of chaos and uncertainty. Last spring as I moved my classes online, I saw firsthand how the sudden shift to remote learning affected the students’ energy, focus, mental health and productivity. I learned to be more personable and “human” in my classes. I started and ended each session with an open dialogue, providing a safe place for each student to share their experiences. I realized that by being open and authentic with my students, I received the same from them. I began to apply this practice with my staff. They, too, have been greatly affected. Our work at the Crafts Center is completely “hands on” instruction. Within a matter of weeks, my staff and I transitioned a good deal of our programming to a virtual environment. The constant threat of being shut down pulled us together in our determination to move forward and persevere. We are a stronger, more effective organization as a result and I am extremely proud of what we’ve accomplished.
When we experience a world event such as the Oklahoma bombing or 9/11, a certain innocence leaves us. We are forever marked by those events, which informs our outlook on the world. This past year has brought on an onslaught of horrifying events. Yet for every bit of struggle, uncertainty, challenge, disorientation and trepidation, we continue moving forward. We are working and we are creating, planning and providing value to our students. This gives me renewed hope in the power of humanity and the creative spirit and I remain ever more grateful for my NC State community.
Associate Vice Provost for Inclusive Excellence and Strategic Practice
Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity
The most important and critical message that I learned navigating this exceptional year is to remain hopeful and trust no matter how dark life, situations and circumstances may appear. Witnessing death daily from COVID, coupled with the civil unrest as we witnessed the murders of black and brown bodies was overwhelming. This photo was captured in late September when I went farther than my neighborhood grocery store to see if anything regarding what I knew prior to the pandemic remained. As I traveled across the Surf City bridge, I saw the ocean. I wept tears of joy. If the ocean, which has withstood the test of time remained, so can we. So must we.
As I consider 2021, I intend to carry hope and trust with me in the lessons I’ve learned, wisdom I’ve been afforded to receive and contentment in stillness. While I don’t desire for the sickness nor injustice to prevail, I don’t ever want to take for granted a family reunion, a live concert, an embrace, a walk while holding hands, sharing a meal with a friend or a cup of coffee. I remain hopeful and trusting for those opportunities to avail again.
Director, University Theatre
The art of theatre brings hundreds of people together, in the same room, to share in an experience. Live performance is a fast-paced industry, driven by dedicated and passionate individuals who, all too often, focus only on opening the show. This fall University Theatre was reminded that coming together means more than being in the same room on opening night. We were reminded that the art of theatre also brings together countless technicians, artists and performers to create that experience. We learned that being together, in any form, is now more important than ever.
The events of 2020 have reminded us of the importance of the journey and the relationships we make along the way. Our programming has shifted from product to process, from production to person. We found gaps in our offerings, lessons and activities that students and the public wanted, and we have begun to fill them. We found many of our offerings were not placing people of color and underrepresented stories center stage and we have begun to spotlight and celebrate them. And we have been reminded why we began working in the arts in the first place: to creatively bring people together.
University Theatre looks forward to returning to the stage soon. Until then we will continue to share our programming both virtually and in-person, implementing all the lessons and reminders we have gained in 2020.
Ph.D. candidate in Biology: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Burford Reiskind Lab, College of Sciences
I am a biology graduate student in the final year of my program. In Fall 2020, I TA’d for two Biology 181 lab sections; my first time teaching this class. Our labs were fully online, and I took away two important lessons from this experience. The first is how my personal teaching philosophy and pedagogical approach has evolved because of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests. I incorporated information about the legacy of racism in biology, and strove to highlight racially-diverse scientists in the fields we studied. I also did my best to focus on personal and community growth in the lab to create a more empathetic and accepting space for learning. The second lesson was about the resiliency and dedication of NC State’s undergraduate student body. I was constantly impressed and in admiration of the students I taught, most of whom were freshman, who excelled in my lab despite the many obstacles of starting college during a global pandemic. I think it is easy for graduate students and faculty to forget about the many skills we ask our students to quickly acquire, such as time management, organization and scheduling for assignments, etc. Teaching this course led me to recognize the intense amount of work our students are expected to do outside of learning the material, and I was deeply in awe of how well they rose to the occasion. It also made me more aware of the importance of teaching self-care and mental health in the classroom, for both our students and the instructors!
In Spring 2021, I will be TAing another course, and hope to bring these lessons with me as I also finish my dissertation and prepare to defend.
Manager of Arts Outreach and Engagement
Arts NC State
In 2020, I learned that a pandemic could not cancel the arts. In the span of 3 weeks, with the help of our flexible and passionate students, we turned an in-person student art sale into a virtual one. I had to create a sales system that would work and our students had to learn to be online arts entrepreneurs and we did it. We put over $10,000 into the pockets of our student artists in April 2020, a time when it was sorely needed. You can read more about it here.
I also learned that the arts are vehicles for connecting, inspiring and healing. As our opportunities to see live performance or gather in a museum dwindled, we saw art emerging through the cracks- with concerts from your couch, virtual plays, drive-in concerts, virtual museum tours, family craft activities, virtual reality concerts, and electronic STEAM zines blooming even in our darkest hours.
In 2021, we will continue to deliver safe arts opportunities that connect, heal and inspire to all members of our NC State community. We’ll hold the virtual Student Art Sale on April 16 and this time, we want to double the sales number by spreading the word about our talented NC State student artists. On a personal note, I’ve never been so honored to work in the arts in my life. And I don’t plan on giving up any time soon.
Photo: 2020 Arts NC State Visual Artist Award winners (L-R): “Der Fall” by Jornell Bacon, ribbed vase by Jake Goodnight, “Farm Kid” by Grayson Morrow
Mariculture Extension Associate
North Carolina Sea Grant
One lesson I have taken away from 2020 is the importance of remaining flexible while planning. While this year presented many challenges, we were able to launch the inaugural class of the NC Shellfish Farming Academy by remaining flexible and changing our plans in order to move forward during this trying year. After delaying the start of the class, the venue of the class had to be changed, activities and tours were canceled or planned differently, class sizes were limited, and virtual class sessions were more heavily relied upon than we had initially intended. While the uncertainty that early spring brought presented challenges for starting this training program, remaining flexible allowed us to not only launch the NC Shellfish Farming Academy in June, but deliver a second offering of the course in the fall to meet the growing interest as well.
Several students that completed the program are already actively operating shellfish farms or are in the process of starting them, and interest in the NC Shellfish Farming Academy continues to grow. The third offering of the training program is scheduled to start in mid-March and students are already being registered. No matter what 2021 brings, we will continue to adapt in order to meet the needs of those interested in starting shellfish farms in the state.
Department of Chemistry, College of Sciences
I have always wondered if I would enjoy teaching a distance education course. I have been equally curious whether students would prefer the comfort and convenience of not having to commute to a classroom or lab. While the experience of suddenly adapting to teach chemistry at a distance does not directly compare to a carefully designed distance education course, the pandemic has given me a window into what it is like. I thought students would gravitate more to the online experience, but I have discovered that many students long for face-to-face interactions. Even outside of academia, the pandemic has underscored the degree to which we are social creatures who long for community (more than ever).
As for plans for 2021? Aside from needing flexibility in them, I wish to focus on ways to engage meaningfully with students and colleagues to better cultivate community.