May 12, 2021: Community Conversations Transcript

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5/12/2021
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Joseph Helble:

Good afternoon, and welcome everyone to our 28th Community Conversation, addressing planning, response, and operations in the time of COVID-19. I’m Joe Helble, the provost at Dartmouth College, joining you from the Starr Instructional Studio in Berry Library on Wednesday afternoon, May 12, 2021. I’m joined as always by Justin Anderson, our vice president for communications from another studio here on campus. And Justin and I are joined today by four guests, each of whom is with us for the very first time.

Jon Kull, the dean of the Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies, the Rodgers Professor of Chemistry, and a member of the Dartmouth Class of 1988. Douglas Van Citters, the associate dean for undergraduate education and an associate professor of engineering at the Thayer School of Engineering, and a member of the Dartmouth Class of 1999, the Thayer Classes of 2000, 2003, and 2006, and perhaps best known to our campus as the engineer who redesigned the structure of the homecoming bonfire in 2018.

Laura McPherson, associate professor in the linguistics program, a program which is moving its way through the approval process to become potentially the department of linguistics on July 1. And by Peter Roby, a student athlete from the Dartmouth Class of 1979 and our interim athletic director since February.

Today, we’ll follow our regular format with a brief campus update, live Q&A moderated by Justin, a conversation with Jon, Doug, Laura, and Peter about teaching, research, and athletics as we look ahead to summer and fall. And then ending with an opportunity for them to hear from you directly and answer your questions directly. Today, after our regular update on testing and case counts and now vaccination progress, which I will continue to report on regularly in subsequent Community Conversations, I have a few updates on summer term, a term we’ve been referring to as a transitional term for the campus, as we continue to look forward to fall and the return of regular residential education for our students here in Hanover.

First, let’s start by taking a look at the results of our surveillance testing. Here at Dartmouth, the positive trend that I reported two weeks ago has continued. We’ve seen a continuing decrease in positive tests relative to the end of winter term, and also relative to earlier in the spring term. In fact, over the past nine days, we have had a total of zero, yes, zero positive student tests in that period. Over the past two weeks, we’ve conducted 15,896 tests overall, and had seven positives, four of them students, and three of them employees, for an hour overall positivity of 0.04% in that period. All of which means that over the past two weeks, we have reached levels lower than what we saw in the fall. For calendar 2021, our overall positivity for students and employees combined, meaning all of our testing, continues to fall and is now down to 0.22%. And overall, since the start of testing on July 1, 2020, we have now conducted 216,811 tests as of yesterday afternoon, May 11. And as reported on our dashboard, we have had a total of 400 positives, with an overall positivity of 0.18%.

All of these trends are positive and mirrored on the campuses of our peer institutions. I’ll note that we are also seeing declining case counts nationally, regionally, and locally, which for me is very positive news, and after more than a year, welcome all around.

For our Ivy peers who are reporting data, their downward trend continues as well. For the year 2021, all of our Ivy peers now lie between 0.10 and 0.61%. Our NESCAC peers are currently reporting positivity ranges from 0.04, 0.27% for calendar 2021. And our local state university peers, the University of Vermont, and the University of New Hampshire, are at 0.30% and 0.48% respectively for 2021, also down from their levels two weeks ago. This is encouraging news across the board. And the states of New Hampshire and Vermont remain among the national leaders in percentage of the eligible population receiving at least one dose of the vaccine, with Vermont at 62% and New Hampshire at 58%, according to today’s New York Times, an encouraging sign as well.

And if vaccination progress continues, it is strongly suggestive that case counts nationally and certainly case counts in New Hampshire, in Vermont, and in our region will continue to fall. In terms of our own progress on vaccinations, first dose clinics were held on campus last week on Wednesday, May 5, and Thursday, May 6, with both the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the single dose J&J Janssen vaccine made available to the student, and employee and family community. Second dose clinics for those who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine had been scheduled at Thompson Arena for May 27 with appointments made at the time the first dose was given. I will say again to all those who are getting vaccinated through our clinics, and also all of those who are getting vaccinated in general, as soon as you receive your second dose, we ask students and employees to upload their vaccination information so we can keep track of progress and use overall progress in vaccination as one gauge of moving towards more flexible campus operating conditions that I’ll announce and describe in a few minutes this afternoon.

Students are asked to submit proof of vaccination via Dick’s House with information available on the Dick’s House website. And employees are asked to provide proof to Dartmouth’s occupational medicine provider, Axiom, and provide consent to Dartmouth’s limited use of this information by completing the form at http://dartgo.org/vax. That’s V-A-X.

Although our dashboard does not designate someone as fully vaccinated until two weeks past their final dose, your information can be uploaded as soon as that second shot goes in your arm—as soon as you receive your final dose. I would therefore strongly encourage everyone who has yet to receive their second dose to use that 15-minute waiting period, post vaccination, as the ideal time to pull out your phone, if you’ve got one with you, and upload the information from your vaccination card.

We are making progress as a campus. Two weeks ago, I reported that the percentage of the undergraduate student community that had confirmed that they were fully vaccinated was 17% for those on campus or in the Upper Valley. As of this morning, two weeks later, that number had risen to 25% of the local undergraduate student population. Thank you to all of those who have gotten vaccinated and uploaded their information. I do suspect that the percentage who have been vaccinated is higher. We need you to upload your vaccination confirmation information so we can track it.

Among the graduate and professional schools and programs, Geisel remain the leader, as expected. But it’s worth noting that 49% of the local Tuck student community, nearly all of them living on campus or locally has now been fully vaccinated, making Tuck the leader among our non-medical student community. To all of our students, I will say again, this isn’t a competition, but which one of you is going to get your community to that 70% initial threshold first? I challenge you to try and be the first ones to reach that important milestone.

And among employees who have worked on campus at least once in the past 30 days, the percentage of those who have now been fully vaccinated is 34%. This is a strong start and great progress over the past two weeks. But again, a reminder that we still have a way to go to reach our goal. To our employees, a reminder that all of you are eligible to take time off to receive your vaccine.

All of those who’ve gotten vaccinated and uploaded their confirmation will begin to reduce the surveillance testing regimen to only once per week. And all who have gotten vaccinated and uploaded their confirmation are not required to quarantine upon returning from travel outside of New England as per the travel guidelines on our COVID website. Bottom line, if you’ve been vaccinated, you have significantly greater travel flexibility according to Dartmouth policy.

Let me turn now to summer term, as we continue to receive questions, particularly from parents who are asking why we aren’t requiring that most or all of our classes be taught in person or with in-person elements sooner than the start of fall. I addressed this a few weeks ago and I won’t repeat the details of what I said then. But I would like to simply reiterate three key points.

First, a reminder, that we remain committed to supporting the continuity of education for all our students. We have made that commitment from the beginning, a commitment continuing through this summer, as we work our way through this challenging pandemic environment.

Second, that 20% of our students will be studying remotely this summer. And to clarify, this was not intended to mean that they would be studying internationally, nor did it mean more narrowly that they were outside the narrow town boundaries of Hanover. Here and in this context, studying remotely means that they are outside of the Upper Valley region and not able to access campus this summer.

Third, that we continue to value and trust the judgment of our faculty as those who know best how to teach a class of mixed learners to decide how best to engage students in learning this summer. Those commitments to our students, including remote students, and to our faculty are not changing. I have, however, also said that once class rosters are developed for the summer, if faculty determine that their students will be residential this summer, they have the option to, and in fact are encouraged to add in-person elements or convert their class fully to in-person learning. I know from inquiries the deans and I have been receiving that there is, as I would fully expect, faculty interest in exploring this. Let me offer a little more detail on what I mean specifically by this conversion.

The initial registration period for summer term classes ends this week. Faculty will therefore know fairly soon their enrollments and whether students are locally resident or learning remotely. The first week of classes, summer term, is an open add drop period for our students as it is for Dartmouth students every term. And that week also overlaps substantially with the arrival quarantine period required of residential students who have not yet been fully vaccinated.

If at the end of that first week open add-drop period faculty find that students enrolled in their classes are all in residence, those faculty have the option to, and in fact are encouraged to, add in-person elements, or convert their class for the balance of the summer to in-person education at that time. Those faculty retain discretion over subsequent add drop additions to the class beyond that first week, as is our normal practice, with faculty approval being required for a student to add a class after the first week of the term.

Now, because we expect we will have a mixture of vaccinated and unvaccinated students on campus this summer, we will be maintaining distancing in the classroom, but we will be increasing classroom density. Classroom capacities for summer courses are therefore based on a three-foot separation distance and the continuation of masking. Eating, working out, and performing will however continue to require six feet of separation. Also, over the summer, we will be addressing remaining needs related to classroom ventilation and air filtration, so that come the start of fall term, a fully residential fall term with the expectation that all undergraduate classes will be in person, our full inventory of classes will be used. We expect that while masking is likely to continue in indoor spaces this fall, distancing this fall is not expected to be required.

Again, our goal and our intention is one of having all undergraduate classes, and labs, and studios and stages in-person this fall. Consistent with increasing vaccination and improving conditions on campus and locally, we will also soon be announcing our transition to the next and more flexible level of campus access using the five-phase reopening plan created much earlier in the pandemic as our guide, a plan that is posted at the Campus Life page of our COVID website.

Specifically, we anticipate moving to the next level of flexibility, the dark green level entitled “Less Limited Access,” in our five-phase plan, and that is happening on June 1, just three weeks from now. Details will be announced within the next week, but highlights are expected to include a reduction in the required indoor separation distance to three feet for some activities. As I’ve said, eating, exercising, and performances will still require six feet of separation. But importantly, in the classroom, this will be reduced to three feet, as I mentioned a few moments ago.

Sponsored and approved events supporting more than 25 individuals will now be allowed. And the number of employees working on campus will begin to increase after June 1, as we make this transition in operating levels. Masking, COVID-19 surveillance testing and completion of the TSA will still be required. But again, those who are vaccinated can submit their vaccine record to reduce their testing requirements.

And finally, we anticipate that starting on August 1, a transition to the final full access phase of campus operations will occur. More details on full access will be developed over the coming months, but at a high level, they are expected to include things like a return to full capacity of studios and research laboratories in advance of a return to normal capacity of residents, halls, and classrooms in the fall term.

Finally, let me close with just a few updates on campus activities. First, since our last community conversation two weeks ago, we have successfully launched Live @ Collis. The next Live at Collis will take place this coming Friday, May 14 with seating open at 5 p.m. and will feature two singer-songwriters from New England, Cole Davidson and Pete Kilpatrick. If you’re unable to make the concert, you can enjoy the show via live streaming by visiting the Live @ Collis page on the Collis Center website.

 

Second, I’m also pleased to note that Sundown Cinema officially launched last week, and the next showing will take place this Saturday on May 15. The film that will be shown is Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar. And I confess, I had to look that up to make sure it really was an actual film, and it will be shown at, when else? sundown on the Kemeny Courtyard.

Third, our new disc golf course is now officially open during daylight hours located on the front nine of the golf course. A map of the course can be found on the Collis website and discs can be borrowed from the college information desk between 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. I encourage you to enjoy the great weather and get out there and give it a try.

Fourth, the 2021 Ledyard Canoe Club boat rental season opened two days ago, Monday, May 10. And anyone with approval to be on campus can go to the Ledyard Clubhouse and rent canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddle boards for free Monday to Friday, 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. All you need is your Dartmouth ID. And again, as the spring weather improves, I would encourage you to get out on the river and experience this.

Fifth, Pride and APM Heritage months are in full swing with numerous activities taking place all month long.

And finally, sixth and last, but not least, Tuesdays Together has moved to Thursday. Tomorrow, Thursday, May 13, we will host our second opportunity for the Dartmouth campus community to stop by tables outdoors, grab a snack and say hello to other staff, other faculty, and other students. Locations are the same as last time, on the Collis porch, in front of Anonymous Hall or at the Gold Coast. Please stop by. It’s not donuts this time, but I’m told it will be something equally dessert-like, and say, hello. I’ll be at one of the tables. Several of my colleagues will also be out on campus and we would enjoy the chance to see you, ask how you’re doing, connect in person, and to have you see one another and get the campus community outdoors even briefly, even for just a few minutes. I can’t tell you how energized it made me feel running into many of you two weeks ago. And I heard the same thing from our students and employees who are able to step outside and grab a donut and say hello.

Although the official hours are 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. tomorrow, tables will be set up 30 minutes early, starting around 12:30 p.m., so that all of those who are also participating in the Fresh Check Day Programming to support mental health awareness programming—led by the counseling center with the support of a variety of student organizations and the class of ’77—can begin by getting outdoors for a few minutes and saying hello to friends and colleagues.

Let me end with just a few comments on this time of year, which I know for many of us can be the most challenging. We’re racing to the finish line in our classes. You’re preparing for summer research activity or trying to meet grant proposal deadlines. Or otherwise meet goals, meet budget, support students, defend a thesis, search for jobs, all in advance of the close of the fiscal year or the close of the academic year, or the approaching graduation and all its associated deadlines. For lack of time, the lack of sleep, the pressure of trying to get it all done can feel like a burden for all of us. I know I certainly feel that at this time of year, and that is compounded 10-fold, maybe even a hundred-fold, by the challenge of the pandemic.

Yet against all of this, I have to say, I continue to be impressed by the sense of community I have seen in my email inbox and seeing all around me this past year. Students, faculty, staff, alumni, community members alike, by and large, you have been looking out for one another. Whether it was offering constructive thoughts on policies we might change over the course of fall term, embracing winter and ice-skating during winter term, or now engaging in conversation about how to transition through summer to a fully open fall, it’s been inspiring.

Thank you to our students and to our faculty and staff who have worked so hard to get us where we are today, thoughtfully moving down the path towards fully reopening this summer and fall.

Thanks very much to everyone. Justin, over to you.

Justin Anderson:

Thanks so much, Joe. And as always, it’s great to be with you. I’m just going to dive right in. Already a lot of questions and I’ll just let you know in advance, a lot of questions about vaccinations and how we are thinking about those who are vaccinated and how we are counting those who may be vaccinated.

But one of the more popular questions has to do with mandating vaccinations for summer term. We’ve talked about mandating them for the fall term. A number of people have asked why we don’t mandate that students get vaccinated before summer term, given that there seems to be more than enough supply for those who want to get vaccinated to do so. So how are we thinking about that and why not mandate that students for summer term get vaccinated?

Helble:

All right. That’s a reasonable question, Justin. And as I said two weeks ago, when this question came up, it’s something we’ve given a fair amount of thought to, but we decided for a couple of reasons not to go down that path.

Number one, the availability of vaccine has accelerated dramatically over the past two to three weeks. When we were considering our options and making these decisions a month ago, that was not the case. Number two, although vaccine availability is high in many parts of the country and in some parts of the world, it is not uniformly high.

Number three, we did not know, and we still do not know, whether we will have the ability to vaccinate members of our student community here on campus as we head into the beginning of summer term. We anticipate being able to have vaccines in place again at the start of fall term, smaller numbers for those students who were returning to campus unvaccinated. But we did not in do not know at this point, whether that would be possible at the start of summer term.

Number, I’ve lost count, but number five, if we are vaccinating students who are arriving at the start of summer term, right before the start of summer term, they are not eligible to engage in in-person learning for a period of five weeks, even if we vaccinated them on day one. Fall term, we have more flexibility with orientation periods and the start of classes to bring them back sooner so we can have them ready much earlier the beginning of the term.

And so it was a judgment call based on availability of vaccines, lack of uniform availability of vaccines across the country, recognizing the range of places our students are coming from, and not wanting to, after we had announced that vaccination would be required by the start of summer term, and please recognize not everyone embraced that immediately and uniformly, not wanting to change and say to students who might be already a little bit concerned about doing this, and oh, by the way, we are going to move the deadline up on you by 10 weeks. So those are the reasons. I know that not everyone agrees with them, but those are the reasons we have made this decision. And we’re going to continue to support our commitment to the structure of summer term in that way.

Anderson:

 

Joe, another question, not about mandating vaccinations, but about how we quantify the number of community members who have been vaccinated. And a number of people have asked, why don’t we record from students and community members in general, when they plan to be vaccinated, as opposed to waiting until they are vaccinated? The rationale that several people are supplying is that if this is for planning purposes, wouldn’t it be good to know how many people we expect to be vaccinated one, two, three, four weeks in advance? Might that not allow us to have a better sense of what the, at least near future, looks like and might that result in different policy decisions.

Helble:

That’s a reasonable point, Justin. That’s a good question. And actually, I will take that. It’s a thoughtful question and put it in front of the task force for consideration. The hesitation I would express is that we know we’re not getting 100% uploading of the records of those students who have been vaccinated when there are tangible benefits to them for doing so.

I also know through my career as a faculty member and as an administrator, both as a Dean and the Provost, that not every student replies to email in a timely fashion. And so our yield on that survey will not be what I think we would like it to be, to have sufficient information, to make planning decisions.

Having said that, it’s a reasonable question to ask, and it would provide additional information and some directionality beyond what we have from those who’ve actually uploaded records. And so, I’ll take it to the task force. It’s a good question to ask.

Anderson:

Joe, switching gears somewhat, and just a reminder to the audience. We did have Julia Griffin as a guest on Community Conversation some months ago, and she addressed this question specifically, but I think it bears asking you again today, Joe. And that is about the role that the town of Hanover plays in Dartmouth decision-making. We’ve seen over the course of the last couple of weeks on the webcast, that people have had questions that pertained directly to what the town or what the state is doing. Vis-a-vis, masking. And so how are we working right now at this crucial time with so much change? How are we working with the town of Hanover to manage that change in a way that works for Dartmouth, works for the town, works for the state?

Helble:

I’ll answer that question this way, Justin, and I think I’ve said elements of this before. First, it’s an extraordinarily collaborative relationship. I’m in touch with Julia Griffin. Josh [Keniston] is the task force chair, who’s in touch with Julia Griffin, Michael Hinsley, and others in the town staff on a regular basis, talking about decisions that we’re planning, to make decisions we need to make, and doing them in collaboration, cooperation with the town.

In my 16 years here, these past 15 months have been, by far, the most frequent and productive level of engagement we’ve had with the town. We are genuinely trying to work through this in a way that is supportive of our integrated community. Having said that that, it doesn’t mean we see eye to eye on every decision that needs to be made. And so that’s a matter of working things out and trying to address differences.

And so, for example, our commencement plan was developed in concert with the town. The town has a stricter masking rule than other towns in the state of New Hampshire. It’s not just Hanover, this local community of towns, Lebanon, and I believe Lyme as well, continue to have outdoor masking mandates in place. That’s not the case elsewhere in the state. So, a lot of conversation about how we minimize group size, how we ensure people are masked, how we maintain social distancing as we think about events like commencement.

Setting the capacity for the stadium for commencement was a collaborative and lengthy exercise involving a whole series of conversations with the town, thinking about how the crowd would move to the stadium, how the crowd would be distanced in the stadium, how the crowd would exit from the stadium. And so again, one can look at this at a very superficial level and say, the capacity of the stadium is X. Therefore, you can fit Y number of students in the stadium and compare it to another stadium. Well again, these are related, but they’re apples and oranges comparisons because the town has different rules. The town is thinking about crowd management in a different way. Access to the stadium is different than access to other stadiums. And we need to be respectful of what the town is asking us to do in terms of allowing us to have an event that has a much larger number of people than any event they’ve hosted in the past year.

So, it’s collaborative. We don’t always agree. It’s extraordinarily productive and I’m counting on it continuing to be the case as we move towards full reopening in the fall.

Anderson:

Joe, we have time for one more question. And I think this is a particularly good one, given the composition of our panelists. And by that, I mean three quarters of them being Dartmouth alums. The question is, if all students are vaccinated in the fall, will you have a traditional homecoming?

 

Helble:

That’s a really good question and that involves collaboration with the town, Justin. Let me say that we hope to have an in-person homecoming celebration. I want to be careful and I’m intentionally not using the word traditional because that will mean different things to different people, but are we hoping to have the ability to gather in person? Yes. Are we hoping to have the ability to have a bonfire? Yes. Might we need to be thinking about masking and distancing as students approach the bonfire and the perimeter fence? I don’t know. It’s too early to say. Would those changes make it less than a traditional homecoming? I don’t think so, because for me, the spirit of it is bringing the Dartmouth community, students, and alumni together, back in town. And if we are able to do that, we are committed to doing that, but it’s too early to answer that question. Certainly, a lot of conversation is happening around it and a lot of plannings going into it. So, stay tuned over the summer as we work through that kind of question.

Thank you, Justin, for those questions. Thank you to those outside who have written in with questions. Sorry, as always that we are unable to get to them all, but perhaps we can put some more of them to our guests. And so, I’d like to invite them to join us today. We have four members of our campus community here with us as I said.

 Looking at my screen and going around the room, we have Laura McPherson, a professor of linguistics. Peter Roby, our interim athletic director, member of the Dartmouth class of ’79. Doug Van Citters, Dartmouth and Thayer graduate, bonfire architect, and associate Dean for Undergraduate Education at the Thayer School. And Jon Kull, also a Dartmouth graduate, class of ’88 professor of chemistry, teaching biochemistry this term and the dean of the Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies. That was a mouthful. Welcome to all of you. Thanks to have you joining us.

So, I’d like to get right into it to make sure we have time for our audience to ask you questions. And I’m going to start, if you don’t mind, with some questions about teaching and sort of the current state of things in each of your areas before we project forward to summer and fall. And so, Doug, I’d like to start with you. Just with a question about the teaching of lab and design-based courses in engineering during the pandemic. As you know, as I know well, Thayer has an extraordinary history of hands-on project work being central to its approach to engineering education. Enter a pandemic, how did you manage this? Can you give us a few examples of how you’ve worked through this and engaged students in design-based and project-based learning over the course of the past year?

Douglas Van Citters:

Certainly. I think that it’s important to note that nearly every engineering class has a laboratory or a project component and the transition frankly a year ago was pretty abrupt, but nearly all of our classes adapted. I’ll give you a couple of examples. The first, which it might become sort of an epic story of this is it was so successful last spring that we’re actually doing it again this spring. It’s computerated design and manufacturing with Sol Diamond. And this is a class that would normally make human-sized wiggle cars or walking beasts, and you’d see them competing out on the green or the Gold Coast Lawn. And each student in that class was actually mailed a 3D printer and they’ve been working together as teams from across the country. And the final project is a marine chronometer on wiggly stilts.

And so just to explain it, imagine making a grandfather clock that actually works in the middle of a storm on the ocean, and that’s what the students are doing at home.

Another example is, one, normally in our bio-materials class, the students are taught how to perform a couple of different orthopedic surgeries with very real equipment in a room that we turned into an operating suite. They’re fake bones, of course, but clearly, we can’t do that this year. And so, every student was issued an Oculus Quest 2, virtual reality set of goggles, and actually as we speak right now, the class is doing virtual knee surgery, followed by a virtual tooth replacement surgery. And you can have multiple students in the same operating room with an instructor, and this is from anywhere on the continent. So, there are dozens of examples like this.

Even a microprocessor class, where we mailed out pretty high-end laptop computers to every student in the class so they could do their final project. And in order to do this, it takes about six weeks to get the kits assembled, mailed internationally. And so, the total part count on a term-by-term basis, I think it’s 10,000 parts get mailed out to students every single term.

Helble:

Wow. That’s extraordinary. And I have to say, if there’s room in the class to audit, that sounds like a lot of fun, actually. I wouldn’t mind coming back and sitting through that. So, thank you. So, Laura, I want to turn to you, a very different field, your field of linguistics. First, can I just ask you to tell us briefly about the languages you study and in lay terms, the areas you focus on in your scholarship and your teaching?

Laura McPherson:

Yeah, absolutely. So, my research is founded on the study, documentation and analysis of unwritten and understudied languages, primarily in West Africa, though also elsewhere around the world like Papua, New Guinea. So theoretically, I focus on sound systems of languages and in particular, on tone languages, meaning the use of pitch to distinguish between lexical meanings, differences like mother and horse in Mandarin is done only with the pitch of the voice or grammatical meanings, so the use of pitch to make plural differences or tense differences for verbs. And I’ve kind of taken that interest in linguistic melody, if you will, this use of pitch in language and more recently have started studying the relationship between language and music and how these tone languages can translate their linguistic systems into musical ones.

Helble:

So, if I can ask you a follow-up question then, so I know this summer you’re teaching Linguistics 26, which is more morphology. And so, could you just take a minute to talk about what that means in this context just briefly? What is morphology in the context of a linguistics course? And tell us a little bit about what students will do and learn in that course.

 

 

 

McPherson:

Yeah. So, morphology in a linguistic sense is probably quite different than your past experience with it. In the linguistic sphere, it is the study of word construction, basically the internal structure of words. How words are built up from smaller parts, whether that’s through sticking on a suffix like the plural in English, or you could even just change a vowel in a word like sing and sang, if that’s a kind of morphology. Even just shifting stress in English words like record and record, right?

And so, in Ling. 26, we cover this vast range of different kinds of processes that we see in languages around the world, in how words are constructed and learn theoretical frameworks for how to analyze these patterns, some of which work really well for languages from other parts of the world and others of which don’t. So yeah, that’s the basic idea.

Helble:

 

Right. Great. Thanks. So, one last question before I turn to Jon and Peter then. I know you’re planning some in-person elements this summer. So how are you going to manage that and what are the in-person pieces that you’re going to be doing with your students?

 

McPherson:

 

Well, Joe, of course, all of this depends on what the enrollments look like. Currently, there are 18 students enrolled and I don’t know whether they’re all going to be on campus or not. In a perfect world, everyone will be on campus, and we can shift to being in-person. I know we’re all hungry for that in-person experience, the return to the classroom. So as much as possible, I’d like to give that experience to the students, but assuming that there will be some people who will be studying remotely, my aim is to have an equitable approach to the class.

I want the students who are in-person to have the same sort of experiences people who are studying from wherever they’re studying from. So, in that scenario, it’s a three-day-a-week class, I’m hoping to have two days a week be done virtually, be done remotely so that the whole class can kind of have community together and learn together.

And then maybe once a week, split it into a remote session for those who can’t be here in-person and then have another class in-person for students to be face-to-face with each other, as much as with me. And that will allow us to do some of the activities that I really love doing in that class, like bringing a whole stack of grammars from the library and making them available to the students and say, have at it. Break into groups, grab one of these books and flip through and see what you find in it.

 

 

 

Helble:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Great. Thank you, Laura. Thanks. So, Jon, let me turn to you now and just ask just briefly about your teaching before we turn to graduate questions. In addition to leading Guarini and overseeing basically graduate education at Dartmouth, you also teach undergraduate biochemistry, which you did via remote learning this year. And it’s a class where I know some students find the material challenging, and we know that some students find engaging in difficult material more challenging when studying remotely. How did you manage that over the course of the term?

Jon Kull:

Yeah. Well, it’s been really interesting and a lot of fun. And essentially, what I wanted to give the students was a similar, if not identical experience to what they would have in the classroom. And there’s 57 students in this course so it is a lecture course. But what I do is I use a tablet which I write on supplemented by videos and slides, and we go through the material. And it’s been really interesting this year because I did a similar thing last year. And last year, no one asked any questions out loud. And this year, the students are much, much more comfortable asking questions. So, they do it by chat and they do it by raising their hands. And I found the most interesting thing about this format is the running chat that happens during the course where students will ask a question, and it might be just as simple as, what does his handwriting say because I can’t read it, or it might be an actual question and other students will answer the questions in real-time sometimes before I even get to the chat.

So, it adds a layer of interactivity to a lecture that you don’t have when you’re in the real classroom. So, I found that interesting. And then the other thing that I found this year is after class ends every day, rather than rushing out because another class is coming in the room, a group of at least 15 or more students stick around and we have spontaneous office hours. And sometimes these will go on for 20 minutes after class ends, if I don’t have something to go on to. So, it’s really been a good experience. And I hope from the student’s perspective, it’s been just as good as a normal Dartmouth in-person class.

Helble:

It’s interesting, Jon. Just raises all sorts of questions for me about how one might capture the best of that and retain it when we bring students back on campus this fall. But let’s hold that question because I’m going to turn to Peter now and talk a little bit about the outside of the classroom experience. So, Peter, great to have you joining us. And I wanted to start right in with spring term. Practice and even competitions returned for some of our student athletes after a one-year pause in competitive Ivy League athletics. Other than now competing against local and non-Ivy teams, what’s different this spring? What are the students experiencing and how are they managing that?

 

Peter Roby:

Well, thanks, first of all, Joe, for having me on. I’m happy to be here. I guess one of the biggest differences is just the point of view, the attitude, the excitement, the hopefulness that the students and coaches now have about returning to competition and more of a normal experience as a student athlete at Dartmouth. And so, I don’t think you can put a price on what it means to actually see people competing and practicing in a normal way and looking forward to what the fall has to offer. So that’s been a really big difference I think that we’ve seen. It’s just lifted everybody’s spirits.

Helble:

So, given that, Peter, if I could just ask you a follow up question to start to turn this conversation to looking ahead, what can you tell us about plans for Dartmouth and Ivy athletics a bit over the summer as a student athletes return, but more importantly, I think looking ahead to the fall?

Roby:

Right. Well, one of the advantages that Dartmouth may have over its sister institutions in the Ivy League is that we have a full-blown academic summer term where not everybody else has that. And so, our athletes that are going to be on campus in the summer will be able to continue to train and to be together and continue to build the culture and comradery that need to be successful. They’ll be able to get into the weight room and continue to work on their strength and conditioning. And if they need treatment from sports medicine, they’ll be able to get that on a regular basis. But it’s also about just building culture amongst their classmates and their teammates that might be on campus and really looking forward to the fall. That’s I think a big advantage that Dartmouth has because of the deep plan and one that we hope to take full advantage of as we get into planning for the fall.

 

Helble:

Right. And right now, of course, the plan is full on all sports operating as... Maybe with masking in practice and things, but full slate in the fall, right?

Roby:

Yeah. Well, thanks to the provost and others for all the support that they’ve given our athletes over the last number of months. Yeah. I mean, it’s all full speed ahead with respect to the fall. The Ivy League, the presidents have made it pretty clear that they are expecting full residential experience in the fall, including our teams competing for Ivy League championships and having a full Ivy season and a non-conference season.

So yeah, I mean, we’ve been meeting this week with the Ivy ADs and others to plan for the fall, and can’t wait for that to arrive. It’ll be a real breath of fresh air for everybody, including the alumni and the local community that has become so accustomed to coming back to campus and to supporting our teams. And so, it’s going to be a great opportunity for everybody to get back to doing the things they love to do.

Helble:

Yeah. We are all so looking forward to that, Peter. That’s great to hear. All right. Thank you. So, Doug, Jon, and Laura, I’m going to ask you each one very quick forward-looking question. I’m going to ask you to try and answer it really briefly, like in 30 seconds so that we can then turn to questions coming in from the outside. And so, Jon, I want to start with you and just say, looking ahead to fall, what can you tell us about the incoming class? How did COVID impact student recruiting and how did admissions go for MS and PhD programs this year? Very briefly.

 

Kull:

Yeah. So, the answer is, really well. So, application numbers were up across the board by 17%, which was one of the largest numbers ever. And you don’t know this, so you’ll be happy to know that as of yesterday evening, the number of admits was up 14% over last year. And altogether, that’s an increase of almost 50 graduate students. We have 352 who have said yes so far. There’s still 130 outstanding. So those numbers will only improve in the coming weeks.

 

Helble:

That’s great. So really great to hear. So not only an exciting and outstanding year for undergraduate student recruiting, but for graduate and professional student recruiting as well. So well done, Jon. Thanks for sharing that. Doug, let me turn to you and just ask a question I hinted at earlier. So, what has Thayer learned from this mixed mode of project work that you might adapt and adopt when we return to full in-person residential education this fall? Anything, or will it go back completely to what it was beforehand?

Citters:

I think actually a lot. It might be a couple more years before we can miniaturize an electron microscope or the machine shop to send to students around the world but getting back to normal means meeting our educational objectives. So hands-on small group education really works, and that’s why many of us came to Dartmouth in the first place where we can marry the classroom and the laboratory, so we immerse our students and get both knowledge and know-how. And so, in our labs, we have top of the line test equipment, and we’ve already purchased over the past year smaller equipment, 10th of the price, but 90% of the efficacy. And so, we’re talking about how to bring this into the classroom in the fall so that that’s part of our normal education now is to have the labs come to the students where they’re doing their learning.

Helble:

That’s great. Thank you. Thank you, Doug. I think that’s worth writing up and publishing if you haven’t already, because I know that not many universities have taken such a creative approach to this. Laura, let me turn to you with the last question before we turn back to Justin. And again, it’s a forward-looking question. As we think about the next academic year, what will you be teaching and what are you most looking forward to doing with your students when we are fully back in the classroom in the fall?

McPherson:

I’m very much looking forward to teaching a class that we had to cancel this year because there was just no way to do it remotely. And that’s a co-taught course with Ted Levin in the music department called The Language Music Connection. Studying this relationship between language and music. And what’s really exciting about this class is that the students learn hands on how to play a West African xylophone that you can speak with from a master of that tradition from Burkina Faso who comes and co-teaches with us. So, Dartmouth has five of these instruments that we purchased a few years ago and I can’t wait to get the students back on them and learning in the classroom.

Helble:

Wow. That’s great. And that’s another class that I think I would love to sit in on. So, thank you, Laura. All sounds wonderful. Thanks to all of you. And Justin, over to you. What are we hearing from our audience this afternoon?

Anderson:

Thank you, Joe. As I said earlier, lot of questions about if you have students vaccinated, then why don’t you get them back into the classroom as soon as you possibly can. So, I’d love to ask Laura and Doug.

And Laura, you specifically said that you were hungry to return to the classroom, which I think is a pretty common sentiment that I’ve heard from everybody, faculty and students. So, I wonder if you could explain a little bit why the hunger to return to the classroom is not enough. That it’s not just a matter of wanting to be back and so therefore you will go back.

And what are... You mentioned in a previous response, the issues of equity. But in addition to that and say more about that, if you’d like, but what are some of the other factors that you are considering as you are planning the summer term, and then after that, fall? What are some of the factors do you consider as a teacher going back into the classroom in terms of trying to create the best possible learning environment for the students? And then Doug, I’m going to ask you this too so you can be thinking about this as Laura is answering first.

 

McPherson:

It’s a really good question. I mean, a month ago when vaccines were still kind of slowly rolling out, as much as I would want to return to the classroom, if I myself weren’t vaccinated, I wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable with that. Now that I am vaccinated it, that possibility is on the table. But there’s the question of can everybody be there because if they can’t, it’s not going to be the same experience for somebody who’s taking the class in-person versus taking it remotely. And I want all my students to have the same opportunities for success in the class.

But it’s also, for the summer especially, it’s also size. So, I’m teaching two classes over the summer, both Ling 26 and Ling 1. But link one of course Ling 1 is a much larger class than Ling 26. And I think just mitigating risks of large classes, I made the decision to teach that one remotely for the summer just because of size considerations.

Anderson:

And, Doug, how are you thinking about this? How are you weighing the factors as you are planning ahead?

Citters:

The most important thing I think we’ve been doing is listening to individual students and faculty and staff, because there are dozens of students who have put off their lab and project and design courses until they had better chances of getting back into the building. But there are also those who cannot be on campus for one reason or another. And we need to accommodate both. And our mode of content delivery is wildly different in a design class if you’re teaching a group of students in front of you versus a group of students over Zoom.

It is the case though that some of our classes this summer will go back to in-person only. Our flagship Engineering 21 course, which is a huge project course is all on campus because we have to make that global shift. Our machine shop is going to be 100% open for the first time in 15 months and the project labs will be bustling.

So, we are thinking really hard about how to accommodate both groups of students and then faculty and staff as they ramp back in. And we still need to be ready to hunker down if the need arises. So, we need the backup kits ready to go if it turns out that we have to shut down for a week, but we’re there and we have a good grab and go system. So, we’re sort of planning for contingencies while also doing our very best to make it an in-person exceptional experience.

Anderson:

Jon, as a teacher yourself, I welcome your input on that if you feel so inclined. But I also wanted to ask you as the dean of the graduate school, if you could share some of what the experience has been like over the last year for the graduate students. We talk a lot on Community Conversations because a lot of the questions we see are very much about the undergraduate experience and the challenges that undergraduates have faced including getting into the classroom and the challenges of remote learning, mental health issues. I’m just wondering, is there some universality here and the graduate students are having much the same experience as undergrads, or is it just because of the nature of their work and the fact that many of them live in the upper valley already? How have they experienced the pandemic in terms of some of the challenges that we might not know about?

Kull:

I mean, I think it’s a little of both, Justin. And as you know, when we shut down last spring, as you said, it’s not like the graduate students went home, they were already home. They were living here. So that was pretty isolating for many of them because they weren’t going home to family. Maybe they had roommates and maybe they had family here. I think that provided an opportunity for them to sit down and plan their work and sort of write the papers, write the applications that they might’ve been putting off. So, for a time that was good.

Then in June, when the research ramp up happened, they got back in the lab. And in fact, I think they were pretty heroic. They were some of the first people in the Dartmouth community to come back on campus, to go back in the Dartmouth buildings.

And they went in very constrained. They had to clean up after themselves. They had to go sit in their cars to eat. They had to schedule themselves. They could only do experiments at certain times. So, it was really hard, but I was really proud of them that they did it and they were safe, and we went on.

Now, we’ve now just recently moved into a more dense lab environment. So, we’re still trying to stay six feet apart, but we have to stay at least three feet apart and things are getting back to normal. But I think it slowed them down. And that’s been a toll both mentally and in terms of their progress towards a degree. But all in all, I think they’ve done great. And we’re graduating almost 200 this year. So, it’ll be really exciting to see them move onto the next phase and the new students come in.

 

Anderson:

Peter, I’ve gotten a lot of questions or comments or suggestions, I could say, about incentivizing students to get vaccinated and then to upload their data so that we have an accurate count of how many people on campus have been vaccinated. I’m wondering if we might learn something from athletics and from the teams and whether or not you are seeing a higher rate of vaccinations among the different teams, perhaps because there are incentives.

So, I guess a question would be, how were the teams doing particularly the ones that are competing in the spring? Did you see that the vaccination rates were much higher as a proportion to the rest of the community? And is there anything we might learn about how we could incentivize students and others to not just get vaccinated, but upload that data so that we can make a more informed decision and get back to businesses as usual sooner?

 

Roby:

I think the fact that people are on teams, and they want to keep each other safe, and they want to do everything they can to be able to compete is the incentive. It’s always interesting the dynamic when you’re on a team versus being by yourself or seeing yourself as an individual.

Obviously, we all would see ourselves as part of a bigger community, but with teams in particular, I think there’s that dynamic of never wanting to let your teammates down and wanting to keep everybody healthy and safe and have a successful experience.

So, I think there’s coaches that are encouraging, there’s teammates that are encouraging, there’s the sports medicine staff that’s encouraging the students to do everything they can to keep themselves healthy and be a viable member of the team. And I think that all plays into their own incentive and their own interest in wanting to get vaccinated. So, uploading the data so we can track it and then doing it to keep themselves and their teammates healthy is a big incentive.

Anderson:

And Peter, I’m going to stay with you for one more quick question. I would be remiss in my duties if I did not ask you this, because it is a question, we get every single week. When can people start going to the gym? When can everyone go back to the gym?

Roby:

Well, we work closely with the provost and the COVID task force. And I guess the easiest way to answer that is as soon as the provost tells us we can open the gym, we’ll open it.

Kull:

No pressure.

Roby:

No.

Anderson:

Well, that would be a great segue to go back to Joe to wrap things up. But I want to just end with one last question for Doug. Doug, you are an engineer, you’re a scientist. You’re all about doing experiments. The last year has been... It’s been a lot of things. It’s also been an experiment. As an academic, as a faculty member, as a teacher, as a researcher, what did you learn over the course of this last year that was so unique, and you never could repeat those conditions again? What did you learn about you do what you do that you might now do differently when we come out of the pandemic?

Citters:

So, I’m going to give you a decidedly Dartmouth answer as opposed to a scientific answer, which is I learned an awful lot about people. I learned about the importance of people, society, working together and how we actually can solve problems in a much more human centered way.

I think that if we just took a pure numbers-based approach to this, or we just took a pure science-based approach to this, I don’t think we would have been as successful as we have been today. It’s those numbers that Joe announced at the very beginning. And so, for that reason, Justin, I think that the thing that I’ve learned is to make sure I continue to include humanity in my own science, as well as in administration of an engineering program.

Anderson:

Thank you for that, Doug. That’s a great answer. You’ve given us a lot to think about as we say goodbye. So, I’d like to thank you and Laura and Peter and Jon for joining us, for giving us an hour of your time. Joe, we are in fact running out of time. So, I don’t know that you’re going to have time to address Peter’s lateral over to you, but I’m going to throw it back to you to say goodbye.

Helble:

Great. So, thanks, Justin. So, Laura, Doug, Peter, and Jon, thanks to you as well for joining us. Let me add my thanks. Peter, we are working on that and hope to be able to say more about that soon. I still have some of my own gear in a locker in the gym. So, it matters to me personally that we get this done before too long.

And I just want to close by saying, listening to the conversation amongst the four of you, what is so clear is the enthusiasm for being back, being back on the field or in practice with the coaches and with the student athletes. Being back in the classroom, being back in the lab, being back engaging with the graduate students. And it is so inspiring to me just to hear that coming from you and to think about what lies ahead as we open up more over the course of the summer and head to the fall.

Thank you for those contributions to Dartmouth. Thank you for sharing that. Thank you for doing what you’re doing with our students. And I want to encourage the four of you specifically, and also any of your colleagues, bring that enthusiasm and come out and join us for the Thursdays Together Gathering from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. tomorrow, even for five minutes to say hello to some of the students and employees who are being on campus as another step in bringing us back to what will be as close to normal as we can be this fall term with everyone back in-person, on campus, in the classroom, in the labs and on the fields. So, with that, to everyone I say, thank you for joining us today. Stay well, stay healthy and safe. And we look forward to seeing you on the next Community Conversation in two weeks.