August 19, 2020: Community Conversations Transcript

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Joseph Helble:

Welcome everyone to the 11th community conversation, addressing planning, response, and operations in the time of COVID-19. I’m Joe Helble, the provost at Dartmouth College, and I’m joining you from the Star Instructional Studio in Berry Library on this Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 19. As always, I’m joined by my colleague, Justin Anderson, the vice president for communications from another studio on campus. And today we’re joined once again by three colleagues, three members of the faculty, Kathryn Lively, the dean of the College and a professor of sociology who is back with us for a second visit to Community Conversations.

And we’re also joined by Alexis Abramson, a professor of engineering and the dean of the Thayer School of Engineering, and Scott Pauls, the director of the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning, known locally as DCAL, and (a) professor and former chair of our Department of Mathematics. Each of them is joining us from their homes this afternoon. Following our normal format, we’ll begin with the campus update, have live Q&A moderated by Justin, and then in the second half, turn to our conversation with campus leaders.

Today, I’d like to provide updates on summer operations in fall term planning with more details to be shared in conversation with my colleagues in the second part of our conversation this afternoon. But first, I’d like to start by commenting on the experience of other campuses that have begun reopening these past few weeks as I know that that’s on the minds of many based on my conversations with colleagues and with faculty and staff over the course of the past week. Back in March, when we begin communicating about our decisions in plans first to curtail in person operations through spring and summer, and then to plan for a fall resumption of residential operations at the undergraduate level, President Hanlon and I have repeatedly said that we would be thoughtful and deliberate in our decision making.

And an important part of that would be learning from the experience of other institutions in their steps to meet relevant federal state and local public health guidelines. We’ve said often that we would be informed by, but not bound by the decisions of others, that we would be data-driven and that we would take advantage of the fact that our academic calendar at Dartmouth, quarters rather than semesters, and our comparatively late mid-September opening would provide us with the opportunity to watch and learn from the experiences of our peers to collect data and to adjust our plans, if needed.

Over the past two weeks, we’ve seen some of our peer institutions change course and announce that they would move to fall semester remote-only operations. In many of those cases, there are very specific circumstances, generally state or local requirements, or in a few cases, high local levels of community transmission in the area immediately adjacent to the campus that led the university and the university leadership to make their decision to pivot to highly or fully remote undergraduate learning for the fall.

These are certainly informative for us, but the specific local or regional circumstances were very different. Other institutions that have already brought students back to campus and that have extensive testing protocols in place, including pre-matriculation and arrival testing, both of which are currently part of Dartmouth plans are more relevant. What we’ve seen thus far at these institutions is that the incidence of positive tests in a broad student population on arrival at many of these peer institutions, testing done either through pre-arrival testing or upon arrival testing on campus, has ranged from approximately 0.07 percent to 0.28 percent of the student population.

Now to put that in context, at Dartmouth, our plan calls for the return of approximately 2,300 undergraduate students this fall. If those rates of positive tests hold, if we also see somewhere between .07 to .28 percent positive testing, that would mean in a population of 2,300 students that we would see between two and six students total testing positive with some of those students, perhaps many of those students, being screened by pre-arrival testing and therefore remaining at home to recover before venturing to campus. That means low- to mid-single digit numbers of positive test cases.

Locally, to provide some additional context, what many of the campus may not know is that this summer Dartmouth has in fact been testing graduate and professional students arriving on campus, a total of 750 students thus far. And to date, we have had a total of zero positive tests, zero positive tests in a sample size of 750. Now these numbers help make the point that headlines recently that have raised anxiety about large numbers of already infected students potentially returning to campuses these coming weeks are simply not born out by the data on other campuses.

This is particularly important to note given the relatively small size of the Dartmouth student body. Having said this, we are nonetheless watching very closely to see whether the levels of infection increase on those campuses that have returned students and resumed classes in the past one or two weeks. In at least one case so far, we have seen infection levels rise, and this is data that we need to, and will track on that and other campuses before we confirm our plan to bring undergraduate students back to Hanover this fall.

Given this, we’ve made the decision to hold off on announcing student arrival dates in room assignments until next week to give us some additional time to monitor the progression of positive cases at a few peer institutions who have had students back on campus for a period of one to two weeks. Dean Lively will therefore not be sending those room assignments out this week. Now I know this is disappointing to those students who were looking forward to their arrival information coming in the next day or two and looking to make travel plans.

But it’s essential that we observe the experience of others and be, as I said, data-driven, thorough and thoughtful enough in our final decision makings. We absolutely must continue to advance the public good and the health and safety of our community over any individual preference. And so, I appreciate your understanding of the need to pause until next week and look forward to sharing more information with you at that time. Now, let me turn now to addressing questions about the remainder of the summer and about fall term operations, both remote and residential for students who were present on campus in several different areas.

First, I’ll start with the library. As those of you on campus may have seen in the Vox announcement this morning, the Dartmouth Library is extending its on campus services beyond access to its research collections and is now welcoming faculty, students and staff who were permitted to be on campus to also study in Berry Library and the Baker Library stacks from Monday to Friday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. And in fact, that 4 p.m. closing will result in a chime at 4 p.m. in the middle of this broadcast today so you will know what it is when you hear the sound that will be the closure of the stacks.

Access remains via the Novak Cafe entrance and requires a current Dartmouth ID. Now the requirements in the library require individuals to wear a face covering and maintain six feet of distance and will be enforced in all library spaces and indeed campus wide per Dartmouth policies. In order to ensure the health and safety of our community, I want to stress that we do in fact need everyone to adhere to the outlined safety policies and protocols that are on our website as otherwise we will not be able to continue to offer study access to the library for our students or access to indoor spaces for all of our other buildings.

I will stress this again and again this afternoon, we are all in this together and to make this work requires a commitment of our community to look out for one another, and that means adhering to these very practical and important and shown to be effective public health and safety guidelines. In the area of research, we are beginning the next phase of our research ramp up starting next Monday, Aug. 24. We will interface 2C as part of our continued gradual restoration of on campus laboratory-based research activities.

This upcoming enhancement outlines the health and safety requirements for researchers to work less than 6 feet apart for brief periods of time, such as for equipment training or for multi-person experiments, emphasizing that the time in close proximity to one another must be held to the absolute minimum and that all safety protocols must be strictly observed to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Phase 2C also outlines provisions for the resumption of a limited number of human studies subjects again with careful review of health and safety precautions by the appropriate mechanisms within Dartmouth.

Finally, phase 2C will enable our facility staff to identify a small handful of areas in research buildings where students and employees, faculty and staff can safely eat indoors. Seating will be arranged to ensure maintenance of physical distancing and floor markings and signage will remind users of the importance and in fact essential nature of good hygiene practices. Importantly, except when actually eating, all users must wear cloth face coverings, for example, even when preparing food or disinfecting surfaces before or after use.

Full details on this policy will be distributed next week. And what we hope here is while this is a small step, it is a small step towards the return of some of the collegial interaction that can take place in face to face conversation on campus that’s so important for enhancing learning and enhancing research, creativity and problem solving, but done in a way that recognizes the importance of following safety protocols like masking and physical distancing at all times. Let me now turn to the question of campus access and as the task force co-chairs, Dr. Lisa Adams and Josh Keniston, announced in an email late last week, as a campus, we are moving from the operation level defined as highly limited access to the middle level we define as limited access, and that will take effect tomorrow morning.

The details of each level are available through Dartmouth’s COVID-19 website, but very briefly to remind everyone, operation level highly limited access allowed essential operations only to continue onsite limited activities that cannot be performed remotely and are critical to Dartmouth’s mission to operate onsite with approval. And it called for all courses to be delivered via remote format, such as they have been this summer. The more flexible limited access condition that will begin tomorrow morning allows for activities that cannot effectively be performed at home to operate onsite with prior approval, calls for most courses, to be delivered via remote format and still encourages all those who can effectively work from home to continue to work remotely.

All offices and departments will need divisional approval and to follow a reopening checklist, which is available through found on the Dartmouth service portal to move in the direction towards on-campus operation. Unless your department receive preapproval, you should connect with your divisional leadership before beginning to complete the reopening checklist. As part of moving to limited access, we are introducing a telehealth service called Axiom that will be available to all faculty and staff starting tomorrow.

The service will be integrated into the daily temperature self-assessment, or TSA, and will provide a medical screening to those who exhibit symptoms or who have potentially been exposed to COVID-19. And depending upon an individual’s answers to the TSA, you’ll be instructed to call Axiom who will then help you determine next steps. In addition, we’ll be performing an initial test for any student facing faculty or staff employee. Human resources is currently working with each division to collect the names of the faculty and staff to be included in that individual test and you will be informed shortly as that process comes to closure.

Next, I’d like to take a few minutes before closing to speak about undergraduate research this year because we’ve gotten many questions from students and also from parents on this subject. Over the past several weeks, Dean Kathryn Lively and her colleagues in student affairs have been asked about support for undergraduate research projects focusing on the fall, and these have come particularly from seniors who have questions, not just about research access, but about senior theses. To put this latter question in context, last year for the graduating class of 2019, approximately 180 members conducted senior honors theses.

More than 60 percent of these were in non-laboratory disciplines and we’re hopeful that most or even all of those such projects will be able to transition to a primarily remote format. Students who are interested in pursuing research or a senior thesis that can be completed without requiring laboratory access should therefore continue to work with their faculty advisor and as appropriate with UGAR, the Office of Undergraduate Research, as they would in a normal residential term. For those students who are conducting laboratory-based research, during your approved residential terms, you may request access to the research facilities depending upon the status and operating density of each particular laboratory.

Dartmouth continues to operate in a de-densified mode, and we will continue to do so throughout the fall term and likely through the winter term as well. What this means is that the number of individuals in any one place is restricted for reasons of public and community health.

What this also means is that the number of researchers, including students in any one laboratory continues to be restricted at this time. Geisel and Tuck research groups will initially be operating with undergraduates only in remote format. However, any student approved for residential education in the fall term who wishes to conduct laboratory research in arts and sciences, or Thayer should contact their faculty research advisor upon their return to campus to discuss whether that will be possible. To work in the lab on campus, students must receive the approval of a faculty sponsor.

Faculty members in turn will need to check whether their labs can meet institutional requirements for hosting the student, including requirements for minimizing density in the laboratory. They’ll also be in charge of monitoring student compliance with the health screening requirements that are in place for everyone who accesses laboratory facilities. Adherence to these rules will be an important part of the community expectations document that we are asking all of our students to sign. Again, a measure designed to signify that we are all in this together and looking out for one another to promote and support the public health of the community. Additional details on this will be forthcoming as the policy is finalized over the coming week or so.

Finally, let me end with a few comments on a new testing development. In addition to the testing of students and student facing employees, I’m pleased to report the Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine will begin testing wastewater for the virus associated with COVID-19. Using optimized, quantitative reverse transcriptase PCR, the Dartmouth-Hitchcock team will provide testing data and reporting to the Dartmouth College team, which will be under the direction of Dr. Lisa Adams an epidemiologist and the co-chair of our COVID-19 task force.

All testing will be performed through the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine located on the DHMC Lebanon research campus. Dartmouth College will deliver the samples to the testing laboratory, and we anticipate providing wastewater samples from approximately eight sewer catchment areas on campus during the period of performance beginning this week and running through Nov. 30. This above testing is a complement to our current testing plan, which calls for pre-arrival testing, repeated testing during the first week of residency, and then random surveillance testing throughout the term.

Now, as we move closer to the start of the fall term, and particularly as I mentioned, some of the requirements for testing and for helping students get oriented, that we are putting in place and asking our community to help support. I, in fact, have a favor to ask the Dartmouth community, faculty and staff alike. And that is for your help as volunteers to help direct students to the various screening locations as we start the term. A call for volunteers will be going out shortly, likely either later today or tomorrow. And we put this in place, acknowledging the importance of having all physical distancing, masking and other health guidelines to be followed. Details will be provided in the call for volunteers that you’ll see very shortly. And I’m hoping you can join me and join many of us in providing that welcome to students in that helpful orientation that says things like, “Go here next.” That help provide a human connection to our students as they returned to campus in what is anything but a normal fall. The kind of Dartmouth touch that this community is known for.

Now on a final note, I’d like to address a very general question that’s come our way and understandable question about what the fall term will look like and whether and how we’ll take advantage of our outdoor setting. I understand the question and related questions, and as an engineer, I truly wish I could answer them with specificity. But as with so many things in this time of pandemic, the situation one or two months from now is likely to be so different. And any projection I can make today is nothing more than speculation. Having said that, I assure you that we absolutely will encourage the use of outdoor spaces in accordance with public health guidelines, including those related to social distancing and masking. We will be encouraging our community to utilize outdoor space as much as possible. We’ll be putting tents up outside and around campus to encourage the use of the spaces socially distant and masked.

They will be used by student affairs for their programming, by our faculty who might want to hold office hours outside for small groups, by our center and institute directors who are working hard on creative ways to engage small groups of students in programming that’s academic and creatively focused and outside of the core curriculum. And I should note that these center and institute directors are also fully committed to developing experiences that will engage those students who are studying online.

What will that programming be? Ideas are coming together. I’m getting updates on a weekly basis. How many students can we gather? Small gatherings consistent with public health guidance at all levels and campus rules at the time when students return. And let me end finally, on that note. The importance of following public health guidelines, if we are going to make this work as a community, all of us, every one of us, students, faculty, and staff, we are all members of this community and our ability to navigate this fall successfully depends on each and every one of us.

This has been, and clearly for all of us continues to be, an extraordinarily challenging year. In the face of the pandemic, we’re tired of working from home, tired of being isolated. And for many of us, tired of endless meetings on Zoom. With this understandable exhaustion and uncertainty, sometimes comes impatience. I’ve seen it in some of my meetings. I’ve experienced it myself, and I’ve certainly demonstrated it myself from time to time. I mention this because I know that there are going to be times, as our campus grows in numbers this fall, that we are going to see things like people walking around or sitting in a public space without wearing a mask. If you are that person and someone asks you to please mask up, don’t take it as a critique of your personal character. Take it as a friendly reminder that we’re all in this together.

If you see someone you need to remind, I ask you to be patient. Don’t assume they’re doing anything out of disregard for others. Assume that they simply forgot and ask them to please mask up. Let’s assume the best of one another. And let’s remember truly, that we are all in this together in true Dartmouth spirit and fashion, as we enter the fall of an extraordinarily challenging year. So, with that, thank you for listening in today. Thank you for the questions I am sure to come. Justin, let me turn it to you for some discussion before we turn to our guests.

Justin Anderson:

Thank you very much, Joe. It is nice to see you despite the fact that it is over Zoom. And as you said, I certainly am among the group that can get sick and tired of constant Zoom meetings. But I understand it is sort of the way of the world right now. I do look forward to a time when we can move beyond Zoom as the norm.

I’m going to dive right in with a question about our plan once the fall term begins. And it’s based on something that you said in your introduction. You said, “What we have seen thus far is the incidence of positive tests in a broad student population on arrival at many of our peer institutions, either through pre-arrival testing or upon arrival testing has ranged from approximately 0.07 to 0.28 percent of the student population.” That’s obviously a very low number. I think the concern though, is more ... Certainly that’s a concern of the rate when students arrive, but of equal, if not greater concern, is the rates a week in or two weeks in as students start to comingle. So, the question is, what is the plan? What is Dartmouth’s plan when cases rise in the community? And is there a number at which point Dartmouth would say, OK, we have to pivot, and we have to make changes perhaps going all remote or more remote?


Right. So, let me answer the first question first, and then I’ll come to the pivot question. And those are both very good questions. So, as we’ve mentioned in pieces, in different contexts, we have a fairly extensive testing plan. And the plan itself gives me great confidence. We are testing every student, every domestic student pre-arrival. So, they will receive a kit in the mail and be asked to complete it and the results will be submitted to us. And those students who test positive will be told to remain at home for the appropriate two-week period until their symptoms have cleared and they’ve been deemed healthy by medical officials to travel to campus.

When students arrive, regardless of the results of their pre-matriculation tests, they are going to be asked to undergo tests immediately upon arrival day zero on campus. We also plan to test them in that first week on day three and on day seven. In a way, we have designed this testing protocol to give us absolutely the best chance possible to come through that week with any symptomatic or positive testing individuals in isolation and any immediate contacts in quarantine, so we can navigate through this initial period with a minimum impact or a small number of cases on the campus.

We’re not stopping there. Throughout the term, as I mentioned, we are going to be doing surveillance testing, and that is going to be with a random sampling of large numbers of students on a weekly basis. So, every student can be expected to be tested multiple times throughout the course of the term. And we are going to be doing wastewater testing, as I mentioned earlier today, as a compliment to help identify whether or not there are any particular increases in certain residential clusters or parts of campus. With all of this executed properly, we are fairly confident that we have a good plan to identify increase in incidents of disease quickly and take steps to get appropriate students, either into isolation or get their contacts in quarantine.

None of that is a guarantee that we or anyone will navigate the term successfully all the way through. It is a good plan. It is a plan designed to give us the maximum best possible chance to do so, but it is not a guarantee. And so, I’m often asked, as you just asked, is there an absolute number by which we would have to pivot and change course? If the number of cases exceeds X, is that an automatic signal for shutting down? And as an engineer, I have to answer honestly, Justin, that the answer is no. There are two parts of this. Large numbers, of course are more concerning than small numbers, but the absolute number in itself, isn’t a determinant. What’s the absolute number, in what context, what are the rates in the community look like? How many contacts did those individuals have? How many individuals do we need to put in quarantine and isolation? Do we have the capacity to manage it?

So, in many ways it’s not just an equilibrium or a level or a number problem, it’s also a kinetics or a rate problem. Are the cases growing so quickly that we feel as if we can’t manage them or are they incrementing slowly so that we feel as if with our existing capacity in quarantine and isolation space, we can manage our way through it? And so that’s a long way of saying what a professor often says, it depends. But I think that that context and subtlety and information is important because it’s not a single number. It depends upon so many other things, all of which we’ll be measuring and monitoring throughout the term.


Speaking of numbers and measuring and monitoring. We have a question here about the testing supplies and does Dartmouth feel that it has adequate supplies to do the testing necessary for students, faculty, and staff, and then relatedly, when will this testing begin? We know that it will begin for students when they arrive, but what about for faculty and staff? And then a number of people have just written in to ask when the test will be mailed to students for their pre-arrival testing?


So very briefly testing for employees, faculty, and staff details on that will be rolled out shortly. We want that to begin in earnest before students return to campus. Testing for graduate students is in fact already underway. And as I said, we’ve tested more than 750 students over the course of roughly the past month as they’ve returned to campus, slightly longer than the past month, with zero positive test cases. And so that testing is already going forward and will continue as new graduate and professional students return to campus. Testing for new students begins when they arrive.

And I’m sorry, Justin, what was the other testing question in there that you asked?


I’m sorry, when will students receive tests in the mail?

All right. So that information will be provided as soon as we provide them information on their housing assignments and return dates to campus. We want to give them sufficient time to get tested and then receive the results and if needed, be able to remain home in isolation prior to traveling to campus before the start of the term. So that’ll be happening very soon, given that the start of the term is Sept. 14.


Joe, I’ll ask you just one more question and then we can transition to our guests. And this last question for you is one that I’ll probably also want to hear from Kathryn, if not, from Scott and Alexis as well, but the question is, what is Dartmouth’s-

[PA SYSTEM: The library is now closed. Be advised, the gates in the back will be dropped in the next few minutes. So please exit in the library promptly. Thank you.]


What is Dartmouth’s vision for the fall term? And by that I think the questioner is referring to how do we imagine the term unfolding for students on campus beyond quarantine or even while they’re in quarantine?


That’s a great question. And of course, an extraordinarily difficult question to answer. And so, I would encourage putting that question to Scott and Alexis and Kathryn as well. For me, Justin, when I think about this campus, and I think about the incredible outdoor environment that Dartmouth provides, the opportunity that the open spaces provide to be socially distant, the conversations I’ve had with faculty who are eager to have some interaction with students done in a safe, socially distant and masked way, I can imagine everything from student faculty holding office hours under the tents that I mentioned, to a walk around Occom Pond socially distanced to discuss an idea, to getting groups of students together, small groups in large rooms to address a particular point that came up in the course of a conversation in classroom, to students engaging with center and institute directors. And this is from the Hop to the Hood Museum of Art, to the Irving Institute for Energy and Society to the Rassias Center, to think about creative ways to engage students in language or watching language films outdoors.

Thinking about all the different ways our groups on campus bring students together, I tell you the center and institute directors have been fabulous in embracing this idea. The Rockefeller center talking about the opportunity that the presidential election provides in the fall and thinking about, and asking whether there are ways to have socially distant, outdoor focused watch parties just to have socially distant, outdoor focused watch parties with members of the faculty or staff president to help engage in conversation with the students. And also, students who are here getting laboratory access, as we discussed, in ways that have to be managed carefully, but to provide them with some of that laboratory access. And then, on top of that, just for the students themselves to have the opportunity to interact with one another, to learn from one another, to talk to one another, to challenge one another. Will it be different? Absolutely, it will be different, but I can tell you that a conversation I had just a couple of days ago with a provost at a peer university that also sits in a residential setting. I asked her what the return to campus was like, and she said, “You see the freshmen and they’re wearing their masks and they’re standing 6 feet apart. And you walk past the conversations and you hear them talking about what they’re interested in, where they came from, what they like to do and why they chose university X.” And she finished by saying, “Except for the masks and the social distancing, it was really inspiring because it was just like a normal group of students interacting the normal way they do at the beginning of the term.”

I am so hoping and expecting that that’s what we will see for the student experience for those who are here back on campus this Fall. So, thank you, Justin. And thanks to those who wrote in with the questions. I’d like now in the balance of our time to, as promised, turn to my three faculty colleagues who are with us this afternoon. We have Kathryn Lively, a professor of sociology and for the past two years the dean of the College overseeing Student Affairs and student life, and formally a member of the house communities and a house professor. Dean Alexis Abramson, who is an engineer and the dean of the Thayer School of Engineering, and also an entrepreneur and someone who, in addition to being an academic, has worked in the government in public service, supporting activities in the Department of Energy at one point in her career. And Scott Pauls, a professor of mathematics, the former chair of the Department of Mathematics, a gifted teacher of some of the early mathematics classes, and also currently the director of DCAL, the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning.

So, what I’d like to do Alexis, Kathryn, and Scott, thanks for joining us, is jump around a bit and ask each of you a few questions, take about 10 minutes before we turn it to the broader audience. And if it’s all right, Kathryn, I’d like to start with you. Given the questions that Justin asked, I know the student experience is very much on everyone’s minds. And so, I’d actually like to start with a question about orientation. So, orientation is going to be virtual this year. Can you give us a quick description of how you envision it will work and then maybe mention any new features that are part of the program that you’re trying or experimenting with because of the new format and new opportunity?

Kathryn Lively:

Well, it’s a good place to start, as orientation always is. I must admit that the orientation team has been working literally around the clock to try to turn in what was a five day, intensive, in person experience into something virtual. And they have actually done some innovative things, which they’re probably going to keep moving even in future years when we go back to a more normal opening.

So, one of the things that they’re doing is they’re beginning to send out snapshots to students. So, their academic snapshots so that students can get their first introduction to various disciplines across the arts and sciences. And so, you get your social science snapshots, you get your STEM snapshots. And so, it’s giving students just a way to begin to get information. We’re also launching a brand-new student peer leadership program called the Orientation Peer Leaders, the OPLs, since we abbreviations here. And they will be basically assisting new students into the transition into college. And so, 200 students were hand selected for this new program. They, along with our undergraduate advisors and other advisors and students and the student of residential life, are developing new and creative ways to help the new students connect with one another, but also how to connect vertically with other members of the Dartmouth community.

Many of our traditional orientation programs, like the first meeting of the class where they’ll get introduced the president and to me, will be done virtually as well as the twilight ceremony, though they haven’t yet told me what that’s going to entail since it normally involves hundreds of candles and walking in darkness to the BEMA. And so, I think that’s a surprise that they’re going to hold off on. And we’re really working to try to facilitate what remains one of our highest priorities, which is pre-enrollment time with faculty, which is so important. And so, students will be participating in group advising sessions, specific content sessions with different professors, particularly in Scott’s department because the mathematics is structured in a way that it often requires some guidance to get through, one on one advising appointments with faculty. And I’ve actually been asked by the orientation team to host a dinner for students who are interested in sociology. So, there’s lots of different opportunities to continue these new things. And then, of course, we always have the shared academic experience and we’re absolutely delighted that professor Sonu Bedi will be leading that shared academic experience with his book, Private Racism. And we’re hoping to be able to continue discussions based on that topic throughout the year within the context of the house communities.


Yeah, that’s great to hear. I actually didn’t know that. I have found Professor Bedi to be just such an engaging, speaker, presenter, and provocative questioner and so that’s a great choice. Wonderful to hear. So, let me just ask you one really quick follow up question, Kathryn, and then I want to turn to Alexis and Scott. One of the parts of student orientation is of course bringing a cohort of first year, first-gen students to campus through the FYSEP program, the First Year Student Enrichment Program. And I’ve heard that’s gotten off to a fabulous start even in the virtual experience, so could you take maybe 20 seconds just to tell us about that and how that launched?


Yeah, so our FYSEP program got extended from four days to four weeks. And so, we just launched that, I think it was last week, though time is elastic these days. So, they started their first week with this nice kickoff ceremony where Laurel Ritchie, the board chair, was there to offer some wisdom. There are 85 students who are enrolled and they’re taking three courses with they’re being team taught by some of our best faculty who are really super committed. And this gives students the opportunity to build community among themselves, but also to actually have real class time and real access to faculty, because these are first generation students who may have not have the same background and familiarity with being in college-type settings, or they might not have support necessarily, from whether it’s through school or whatever, to be able to know even what questions to ask. We’re also working with some of our colleagues in student affairs to make sure that they really understand where are the resources, what are the resources, how to best access them no matter where they’re needing to access them from, and also there are courses just about how best to study, how to engage in time management. So, it’s a really phenomenal program and I was so struck by the enthusiasm and their willingness to connect to one another, even in the remote context.


That’s great. Well, thank you, Kathryn. Wonderful to hear that expanded program got off to such a great start. I heard about it from the board chair or heard about it from several others who participated, and they were just glowing in their praise for just the quality of the engagement with the students and the enthusiasm that was shown by all, so well done. Scott and Alexis, I’d like to turn to you with a couple of questions about teaching and learning and the academic side. And Scott, I think I’d like to start to you to ask a bit about spring and summer terms, which have been conducted entirely by distance learning, and which of course will be the experience for at least half of our students going forward into the fall term. Have you seen any examples of particularly creative ways in which faculty engage their students either in spring or over summer so far?

Scott Pauls:

Sure. Thanks for the question, Joe. So, of course we’ve seen tremendous amounts of creativity and innovation amongst the faculty as they’ve moved into what for most everybody is a new environment, in terms of remote teaching and remote learning. And I’ll start with just give a couple of examples around how the primary thing that I see, which is how the faculty have been able to get students engaged in the learning in different ways than they might do if they were on campus and had face to face meetings and things like that. So, a good example are all courses that have components where the students either in individually or together, or in conjunction with the faculty member, are creating something together, building something together. Maybe that’s in a science lab or in a theater course where they are putting on a production or things like that.

There’s been a great deal of creativity around that. So, a couple of examples that I’m aware of and know pretty well. So, in biology, Caitlin Hicks Pries revamped the laboratory components in ways that I thought were really exceptional, where she created new lab events or experiments that the students could do with things in their own homes or in their own environment. And this both connected the learning to their past and their present and their individual experiences. It also had the benefit of generating extra data from all different types of places in different parts of the world, in parts of the country, which added all sorts of interesting context that they wouldn’t necessarily have gotten on campus. There’s a great example, Dan Kotlowitz in theater team taught a course in the spring that had a big component of lighting design for productions and did similar types of rethinking about how can we do things in the home environment, where you don’t have a stage and you don’t have giant lights that you can position and things like that.

And he had a really interesting way of talking about that he had to completely strip down to the bare bones and think about exactly what that was, what was that production piece and how could that be achieved in different ways? Those are maybe direct examples that you could probably think of pretty quickly, but there’s also a great deal of creativity where faculty maybe in “more traditional modes of teaching” raised levels of engagement and contact. Some of that was enabled by technologies like Slack or discussion boards or things like that, but there was also some really clever but simple things that people did. One of my favorites was that Dartmouth has a take your professor to lunch program, where a student can invite a professor out. And so, you can’t do that right now, of course, but Jim Mahoney in computer science were relocated this by turning Zoom on every Friday and say, “Come have lunch with me,” and let the students come. So, there’s just a lot of really fantastic stuff out there.


That’s great, Scott, thanks. Those are all wonderful examples and I have to say, because I was able to see some of it, the theater department shared it with me late in spring or early in summer term. I was completely blown away by the creativity that Dan and his colleagues in theater demonstrated in getting students to interact in lighting design, in performances and even in creative elements of creating new works. Really tremendous and exciting.

So, Alexis, let me turn to you with somewhat of a similar question, but very specific to engineering. When higher education made the transition to remote learning back in March of this year for most of us, many engineering educators, your field and mine, expressed pretty significant concern over the challenges of trying to replicate the hands on, team-based design and laboratory experience that’s so fundamental to engineering learning and engineering design thinking. Thayer was particularly creative in meeting this challenge in my observation. I had nothing to do with it, but I watched from afar and thought, “Wow.” Could you talk a bit about what you and your colleagues did to engage students in team-based design work?

Alexis Abramson:

Absolutely, yeah. Thanks for the opportunity, Joe. I will say, with the beginning of that two weeks notice, it did feel like this existential dilemma, I think, for all of us over at Thayer, and that’s because, as you alluded to, hands on learning really is so integral to the educational experience at Thayer. So, how do we then take learning and labs and group projects and field research, how do we take that home? But still, it was really important to us to meet the educational needs of all of our students with also the understanding that it’s not just about how do you do hands on learning at home, but understanding that many of our students had different home environments and different availability of resources. So, in the end we offered 55 courses, that was four fewer than we had planned, and about half of those courses had lab or project-based components.

So, some examples, some of our courses that normally you’d come to campus and work on putting together an electrical device or mechanical device of some kind, we really quickly put together kits. Many of those kits cost less than $50 each and could be reconfigured throughout the term for different purposes for that course. We retrofitted some equipment on campus, like our scanning electron microscopes so they could be remotely operated from home. We continued with our project-based courses. So, that meant teams of students were scattered across the earth in many cases. And we gave them budgets and we actually gave them debit cards so that they could purchase their own required materials and ask them to get creative with their projects. Maybe another quick example, in material science course, we had our students make rock candy to study crystal structure, and we actually sent some kitchen kits to some of our students as well.

And then, another favorite example in a relatively small computer design course, so we could do this because it was on the smaller side, each student received a mini 3D printer, and this was a pretty inexpensive 3D printer, but that enabled them to actually print out parts for the mechanical clock that they were making. So, all of this required lots of outside the box thinking, it required our staff to work on boxing and shipping hundreds of packages so students could really complete their coursework, and also, as Scott alluded to, in the end this required our faculty and teaching assistants and instructional staff to actually spend more time, more office hours so that we could meet the new demands of distance learning.


Right, thanks. So, let me end before we turn it to Justin, with a quick unfair question from both you and Scott. I’d ask each of you to answer and try and do it in 10 seconds or less. Are there any creative experiments that you see your faculty trying in the fall that they haven’t yet tried in spring or summer? And it’s OK if you say, “I don’t know yet,” because it’s a month before the term starts, but what are you seeing? Alexis, how about you first and then Scott?


I can jump in. Well, it’s hard for me to give you just one, but I only have 10 seconds so I’m going to be quick. So, at Thayer, we have a Couch Lab. That’s a physical space where our students go to work on projects together, and it’s well-known, everybody hangs out in the Couch Lab. So we’ve created a virtual Couch Lab now where we’re making the facility accessible by our in residence students with social distancing and mask wearing in place, of course, but also the availability of a virtual Couch Lab, where it’s sort of a special Zoom environment, if you will, where you can go hang out, but also kind of spend some time meeting with your students in this kind of virtual space that will, again, help enable the projects and the teamwork that we require.


That’s great to hear, and one of the things, and Scott may comment on this, but we heard from students who were studying remotely over the course of the winter and spring, is that one of the things they look for, are the informal interactions that you can find on a campus physical environment, and this is a great and creative way to try and provide a forum for that. So, great, look forward to hearing how it goes. Scott, I’ll give you the last 10 seconds before we turn it to Justin.


So, I was sort of combing through my mind, and the sort of interaction piece that you highlighted is actually one of the things that we have wanted to focus on, coming into fall. So, one idea that has been batted around by a couple of the faculty members that I’ve been working with, is to cross-pollinate across courses, right? So where courses either are multiple sections of the same course, or courses that have sort of similar content or similar stages in the major, whatever it is, that they kind of visit one another and get more ability to interact outside of their classes with other people, for the remote students, but then also to bring in any on-campus folks into those groups as well. So, there’s a 10 second idea.


Great. Well, thank you. I love the thinking around interaction, because as I said earlier, that’s just so central to who we are as a campus, and what we’re looking to promote for those who are here, even in this restricted operating environment, and certainly for those who are still as much members of the community in learning remotely. Justin, what kind of questions are we hearing from our audience?


Thanks, Joe. Actually, there is one question that we have been getting repeatedly, since you announced that there would be a delay in the notification to the students, to undergraduates of their housing assignments and their arrival dates, and that question is specifically about international students, but more generally about students that need to make travel arrangements from great distances. And there’s a lot of concern about the time that is shrinking, obviously before the start of the term, and the need to make those plans sooner rather than later, for financial reasons, among others. And are we thinking about that?

And I would like to toss that to Kathryn or to you, Joe, but I mean, obviously we recognize that this is a challenge for everybody, but I do think that we think that it’s worth waiting, so that we can take a little bit of extra time and really try to get this decision right, and make a decision that will be in the best interest of the most students, realizing that it might be obviously suboptimal right now and it’s causing added stress. So, I just want to acknowledge that that’s a question that we’re seeing a lot, and we recognize that it’s causing a lot of stress, but Joe ...


Yeah, Justin, let me just comment quickly. I think you framed it and answered it really well, and we recognize that and understand the challenge that that provides, but in making this decision, we realized, and I hope most appreciate, to go down a path while very relevant data is still being collected. If we found ourselves in a position where we said, “Here are your assignments, buy tickets, move forward,” and then the progression of the disease on the campuses that are already opened is such that over the next several days, it gives us significant pause about bringing students back presently as planned, that is worse in terms of anxiety and financial outlay, than asking students to please give us until early next week. This is not going to be something that is going to be delayed on an ongoing basis. We’re asking for about five more days time. That’s an important and critical period, given the time in which other campuses brought students back to campus. So please understand and give us a few more days, and by early next week we’ll be able to answer that with much more certainty.


Kathryn, I’m going to start with you. A lot of questions that have come in today, and this echoes questions that I’ve heard in other forums as well, and it’s about enforcement of the community expectations that we have laid out in the agreement that we’re asking students to sign, and in the expectations that we are making clear as we open, in terms of masking and social distancing. And so, I’ll ask you, how is it that we expect to enforce things like masking and social distancing, not just on campus, but also potentially off campus?


So that’s a very good question. We’re actually hoping to also, in addition to just ... We don’t want to be a police state. I mean, that is not our goal at all. I think the important thing is that we’re really trying to impress upon all of our students, and staff and faculty, how critical it is to keep in mind exactly what Provost Helble said earlier, which is that we are all in this together. And it’s really important, I think for all of us to remember that we may make a decision and we think, “Oh, this is just a minor decision. I can go to this without my mask,” but in a case of a pandemic, every decision, every choice actually matters.

And so, we will be using the LiveSafe app, which is a Dartmouth app, where people can report different types of behaviors that they see that they may feel violate public health guidelines. Our staff, our faculty, all of our students will be given a, almost like a bystander intervention module around public health expectations. But in the end, if we don’t follow the rules, it’s very likely that we will have an unsuccessful term, and I think that’s the important thing that people need to remember. And we’re seeing it around the country. People didn’t follow the rules, and people are closing down.

And so, I have complete faith that our students understand how important this is, how important it is to them, to their friends. I keep using an analogy with students that we’re trying to explain something that, it’s cause and effect with a time delay, which is really hard. And so, it’s like you stick your hand into a flame and you realize, “Oh,” and your hand gets burned and you’re thinking, “Oh, I’m not ever going to do that again.” It’s hard to explain that you stick your hand into a flame, and then 10 days later, 10 of your friends are going to get burns on (their) hand, and that’s a really hard thing for people to grasp.

And so, I’ve been working with the Student Advisory Board to think about norming, to how to get these messages across to students in ways that stick. And we’re also working with staff and faculty to empower them, to feel that if they also see something where people aren’t socially distancing or not being masked, that they feel empowered and comfortable with the right words to know what to say, to remind everyone that this is a community, that we all care about each other, and that these things matter.


Scott, if I can go to you next, over the course of the 11 community conversations that we’ve had, I’ve gotten a lot of comments and questions about the experience of remote learning for students. And I suppose this mirrors the actual in-classroom experience, but that there are some students who expressed admiration for the quality of the experience, and then there are other students who say that they wish that certain aspects of the remote learning were more in line with what they see in the in-classroom experience. I know that DCAL has surveyed students about the experience, and I’m curious both what you’re hearing, and what kind of adjustments or changes might be made, based on what you’ve learned after a couple of terms of remote learning?


Sure. So yeah, we did a spring survey, and we have just taken out of the field the summer survey of all the students, and trying to get a sense of what their experience is, and we intend to continue doing this to try to create an improvement cycle for everybody. But in short, the things students reminded us of most clearly is something that you’ve heard throughout this conversation, which is students appreciate and recognize the value in interacting with one another, both socially on campus, but in the context of the course intellectually.

And so, in response to that, in some sense, but it was always part of our portfolio portfolios as well, we’ve been really trying to prioritize that part of the conversation with faculty and instructors that are creating their courses either for summer, or now coming up into fall, and to really intentionally think about ways that students can collaborate, that they can meet and interact, that they can discuss ideas, and simply engage intellectually in the ways that we know are so effective, as Joe pointed out. Fall presents a new wrinkle to this, of course, because there will be different cohorts of students, students that are on campus and students that are still remote, but again, people are being creative and we’re trying to help them facilitate those creative ideas, and create ways for this interaction to happen as seamlessly and effectively as possible.


Alexis, unfortunately we’re short on time, so I think I’m going to go to you for the last question before we go back to Joe, but I’d love to get your perspective on a question that has come up time and time again, and that Joe and others have addressed. And that question is, if there’s going to be a preponderance of classes that will be taught online, what’s the point of students coming back? So, where do you see the value in bringing students back to Thayer, even if so, much of what they do is going to be online?


Yeah, and I think this is going to vary across the College, and so keeping in mind I’m speaking from the engineering perspective. So again, this is going to have some variance depending on what students are studying, but we have a lot of courses that are going to have some in-person component. So, we actually have one course that’s a required in-person participation, we have six courses that have two different sections, one’s in-person and one’s remote, and those options are in the term, and then 10 other courses that have optional in-person components.

And so, we are finding ways to really, again, deliver a high-quality education, but accommodate the different settings that people are in. So, if you are a student in residence, you’re going to be able to take advantage of those in residence, optional in-person components, for example. But even more, everybody’s looking at the registrar and what comes out with the registrar. There will be opportunities that might not show up this way on the course schedule, but there will be opportunities, and some faculty who are going to be delivering, let’s say their lecture remotely, but then be willing to hold office hours in a physically distant, but in-person kind of way. So, to be able to take advantage of those related to coursework, is certainly something that might not be as published right now, but something that will evolve. Of course, it could change over the term, but we expect to have more of those components integrated in as needed.

And then I would just say, I think everybody, all the students who have been on campus know how being in the place of the Upper Valley, being on campus at Dartmouth is inspiring, and inspires creativity, which is so important to in particular, in engineering education, it inspires connections and there will be opportunities for connections. And so, I think for those students who are able and comfortable being on campus, that it is a great opportunity, given the constraints, even so, to really participate in and take advantage of those in-person options.


Thanks, Alexis, and thanks, Kathryn, and Scott as well. Very interesting conversation. I appreciate your time and your willingness to join us today. So, we will be back in two weeks, and I look forward to more questions. Great questions today, so keep them coming, and we’ll be back in two weeks to answer them. Joe?


So, thank you, Justin, and thank you, Alexis, Kathryn, and Scott for joining us this afternoon. Just in closing, let me say two things, and this is first to the Dartmouth faculty and staff community. Just a reminder that that call for volunteers associated with move in and transition will be coming out shortly, so please join me and many others in helping support the student return to campus. And the last thing I’ll say, I say with all seriousness, and I said this at the start of our broadcast two weeks ago, remember how much this (he picks up mask) matters. And so, if someone asks you to please mask-up because you’ve forgotten it, it’s important and it matters to community health. Don’t take it as a personal critique, take it as a friendly reminder. And to those of us who see someone, a student, or an employee who may have forgotten their mask, please remind them, please mask-up. It matters to us all, if we’re going to make it through the term successfully, and together as a community. Thanks everyone, I look forward to seeing you again in two weeks.