The Journal Gazette
 
 
Monday, March 30, 2020 1:00 am

5 Questions for Ron Elsenbaumer

Chancellor, Purdue University Fort Wayne

1 As we all struggle to adapt to the COVID-19 crisis, what's the top priority for you, your faculty and staff?

Our top priority, without question, is the health, safety and well-being of our students, faculty, staff and visitors. We must continue to keep our community as safe as possible, even during a time of year when our campus would normally be bustling with classes, labs, events, campus tours and recruiting activities. A key objective for the remaining weeks of this spring semester is to stay focused on helping our students successfully finish their classes and maintain their progress toward achieving their Purdue degree.

 

2 What are some of the things you are doing to address safety concerns — both physical and psychological?

As much as we had hoped to provide the full on-campus experience for our students, especially those on track to graduate this spring, there came a point early on when it became evident that continuing the semester in the safest way possible outweighed any desire to maintain normal routines in the classroom and on site. Even before the governor's stay-at-home order went into effect, steps were already well under way to minimize the risk of COVID-19 being introduced on our campus.

We announced our move to online-only classes March 11, the same day we extended spring break an extra week. Social distancing and adherence to other best practices recommended by reliable sources, have been key themes of communication to our campus community dating back to late January.

Pacing ourselves physically and mentally over the long haul is also something we've emphasized throughout.

That formula for success includes ensuring both physical and behavioral health support for students, faculty and staff. This is so very important. The university is fortunate to work with Lutheran Health to support our campus health clinic, as well as with the Bowen Center to offer immediate access to counseling services over the phone. We don't want anyone to feel as if they have to face this monumental transition alone.

 

3 You announced a new emergency relief fund last week. How will it work?

Many of our students work, especially in the service and hospitality sectors, which have been hit hard with closures. We wanted to create a fund to provide direct and immediate support for them.

We are grateful for the initial response we've had to our COVID-19 Student Relief Fund. It's heartwarming to see the support our students dealing with financial crisis are receiving from people throughout the region and beyond. Key areas of need for these students include securing assistance with food, rent, medical expenses and more.

Even if the stay-at-home order is lifted soon, and we hold out hope that this will be the case, there's no guarantee that the jobs our students were forced to leave will still be there moving forward. We expect some in our campus community will still be struggling well into the summer and fall semesters. No amount of support from donors is too small. Those interested in contributing may visit pfw.edu/give-now.

 

4This is normally a busy student recruitment time. Are you continuing those efforts?

Absolutely. Our recruitment and marketing efforts have only intensified, although in different environments and in different ways. We want graduating high school seniors and their families to know that we're here for them now, and we'll be here for them in the fall. Additionally, competition for jobs will be intense for the foreseeable future, so a college degree will be more important than ever. We're committed to helping students of any age begin or finish work toward their degree.

Our admissions team is working remotely during the stay-at-home order, but is available at 800-324-4739 or ask@pfw.edu to help with any questions admitted or applying students may have.

 

5 Do you see a silver lining in this crisis — for Purdue Fort Wayne? For higher education?

It's hard to think about a silver lining when so many people in our region, state and world are suffering from this terrible pandemic. However, I think there's always room for optimism, and I am optimistic by nature.

Will our university and higher education be changed? Sure. These are challenging times, but universities exist to tackle challenges and face them head on. Purdue Fort Wayne is weathering these circumstances with courage, strength and ingenuity.

Our campus community is resilient, and we will get through this together. I am confident we will emerge stronger and much wiser from the many lessons learned from these unprecedented circumstances.


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