Last year, on March 10, 2020, Babson College announced the decision to temporarily close our physical campus and shift all classes online. Virtual classes persisted through the semester and summer. It seemed unimaginable that we would still be fighting this virus a year later.
Yet, today, as we mark the one-year anniversary of that historic decision, we continue to navigate the considerable uncertainty of a pandemic that has altered our lives. It has been a year of profound sadness and challenges, punctuated by tremendous moments of camaraderie, community, learning, and growth.
From the outset, our management of the COVID-19 crisis has been guided by two principles, now foundational to our view of One Babson: working to safeguard the health and well-being of our community, and maintaining academic continuity and excellence.
Mobilizing as a Community
The initial impact of the COVID-19 crisis was logistically and emotionally daunting. In a matter of days, 651 classes shifted online, 450 faculty and staff members were trained to teach and work in a virtual environment, and 1,900 students moved off campus. Technology enhancements were quickly implemented. Physical spaces were deep cleaned and disinfected. Immediate and potential financial impacts placed tens of millions of dollars at risk. The mental, emotional, and physical stress placed on students, faculty, and staff was significant.
In crisis, the Babson community took action, quickly proving the power of One Babson. Students brought energy, optimism, and intellectual curiosity to our virtual classrooms, staged Babson’s first stay-at-home musical, and ran impromptu marathons to raise funds for local communities. Alumni answered the call for financial support in extraordinary ways, and pivoted their own businesses to produce masks and face shields, and to feed frontline workers. Staff pitched in to donate personal protective equipment and support Boston Public Schools students. Faculty and staff re-engineered the classroom experience to support student success across time zones, formats, and geographies, and collectively embraced the Babson ethos of continuous learning.
Returning to Campus
Following Babson’s initial crisis response, the ensuing months were marked by a series of individual and interrelated decisions about how to move forward. We made the difficult decision to postpone Class of 2020 Commencement exercises and remain in our remote environment throughout the summer. Summer operations were a focused frenzy of continued virtual delivery of classes, pedagogical training and innovation, and planning for a fall opening.
Our decisions for fall aimed to optimize options for students, requiring preparations for face-to-face, virtual, and hybrid learning. Wayfinding, PPE, webflex, de-densification, and physical distancing became common language and important risk mitigation strategies that imposed urgent requirements for the August return of students and faculty, and welcoming of the Class of 2024. Multilayer collaborations became intimate to planning and operations. Administration, faculty, students, trustees, consultants, parents, alumni, suppliers, and philanthropists all contributed to the thought, action, and funding of a complex new normal.
Throughout the fall semester, our belief that an entrepreneurial mindset is core to humanity supported continued planning, execution, and pivoting as the realities dictated. Daily symptom reporting, testing, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation, meal preparation and delivery—everything changed and evolved as we continued to manage our health and the acceleration of enhanced digital learning. A dynamic COVID-19 dashboard reported metrics to the community that over time elicited both pride and concern.
Together, we worked to facilitate a safe transition home for winter break, and the spring semester was met with increased understanding of how to manage the pandemic.
Moving Forward Together
In January—as cases continued to climb at the national and local level—we increased testing requirements and quarantine and isolation spaces. We are closely monitoring data and trends and making appropriate operational adjustments designed to help safeguard our community.
Still, we must remain vigilant. We have changed the way we live, work, and learn, not only to protect ourselves, but to protect each other. After a year of enhanced health and safety measures, there is understandable fatigue. But, we have worked too hard, and come too far to let our guard down now.
Our goal is to remain together for the duration of the semester. All of us have a role to play if we hope to successfully conclude our in-person experience in April. We must remain in compliance with testing protocols, wear a mask at all times, and avoid gathering in crowds and unnecessary travel. Our collective behavior will dictate our shared success.
There is light on the horizon, and planning is underway for our Fall 2021 return to campus.
The principles that have guided our pandemic response—working to safeguard the health and well-being of our community, and academic continuity and excellence—parallel a temporal framework of management priorities: survive, re-emerge, and thrive.
Now, the vaccines and the vast knowledge we gained have inspired confidence in a near-term future of greater freedom. We are re-emerging beyond the self-interest of surviving to embrace the shared interest of thriving—together. One Babson is about the many, not just the few. The wonderfully human experience of empathy, authenticity, and understanding underpinned by learning, leverages the individual to an enlightened sense of service to the community. The greater good cascades throughout the College. It starts with the individual, and, importantly, with each of us as leaders.
We’ve learned important lessons this year. One Babson—and the very notion of community—is an evolving and dynamic concept, and we will continue to define and redefine our community and ourselves. Respect, understanding, connection, and belonging create a platform for better decision making and lead to the greater good. Perfection is not required; recognition of mistakes and pivoting to new choices is essential. Resiliency and agility are critical when operating amid ambiguity.
Lessons will continue to emerge and form a better Babson, driven by an acceleration of our strategy and enabled by a diverse community of entrepreneurial leaders committed to our values and united in pursuit of a shared mission to create value and positive change.
A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, my prevailing emotion is gratitude—for the Babson community in particular. Thank you for caring, connecting, and continuing to learn and grow, together.