2020: a year of adapting and innovating as UFV responded to COVID-19

Surjeet Meelu (BSN ’00) is a nurse manager who found herself running an emergency department on the frontlines of COVID-19.

The year 2020 started out like many others at the University of the Fraser Valley.

Students, faculty, and staff returned from the winter break and resumed classes. The Cascade athletic teams played their scheduled games. Students embarked on study-abroad semesters and international students journeyed from dozens of countries to study on UFV campuses.

New students were welcomed with a successful New Student Orientation.

Early in the year, UFV opened the newly acquired and renovated Building K on the Abbotsford campus with a ceremony infused with Indigenous elements. Historian Jean Barman made an in-person visit to read from her book about the late Irene Kelleher, a UFV donor and student who had hidden her Indigenous heritage for many decades. Honorary degree recipient John Jansen returned to campus to address School of Business students.

By mid-March, UFV was humming along in the routine of late semester activities.

Students were cramming for mid-terms, preparing assignments, and working on group projects.

Faculty were preparing and presenting their last few weeks of lectures.

Hundreds of people attended events on campus, including a Trades open house and an International Women’s Day event featuring honorary degree recipient Tamara Taggart, along with family physician Shahana Alibhai, and nutritionist Kate Horsman. UFV Theatre had just begun its run of Shakespeare’s Richard III.

And then, the world changed.

UFV had been keeping an eye on the escalating COVID-19 situation, but the declaration of a pandemic on March 11 spurred substantial action. On March 15, UFV announced a week-long pause in courses so faculty could adapt their curriculum to a remote learning model.

On March 23, classes resumed, with almost all instruction taking place remotely and most students, professors, and staff working and studying from home.

Suddenly, the university experience was very different for everyone.

UFV adapted and figured out new ways to educate, showcase work, celebrate excellence, and pursue the mission of engaging learners, transforming lives, and building community.

Over the course of the spring, the annual research awards and the CityStudio Abbotsford showcase went ahead in virtual formats.

An in-person Convocation wasn’t permitted under COVID safety plans, but each graduate received a celebration package in the mail and President Joanne MacLean visited major award recipients at their homes to present awards in a physically distanced way. Deans’ medalists were visited by the Dean of their faculty, and employee award winners also received special delivery of their awards.

President MacLean visited award winners at home to present their medals.

The Governor General’s Gold Medal for top student in a master’s degree program went to Kelly Ridder of Abbotsford, who earned a 4.33 GPA while pursuing her Master of Social Work. The Governor General’s Silver Medal for top bachelor’s degree student went to Shanna Yaroshuk of Surrey, who earned a Bachelor of Arts in Child and Youth Care. The Governor General’s Bronze Medal for top student from a two-year program went to Shelby Klassen of Abbotsford, who earned an Agriculture Technology diploma. The Lieutenant Governor’s Medal went to Tsandlia Van Ry of Chilliwack who earned a Bachelor of Education.

Dean’s Medalists were Aisa Dobie of Abbotsford (Science), Navdeep Rai of Abbotsford (Health Sciences), Kim Abram of Pitt Meadows (Professional Studies), Emily Drew (Integrated Studies), Hayley Ross (Social Sciences), and Laura Vanspronsen (Humanities).

Graduands received a grad package in the mail.

Student speakers who would normally speak at Convocation, recorded video messages for their peers. Graduates Owen Crocker (Arts), Amy Mueller (Health Sciences), Tsandlia Van Ry (Professional Studies), Nicoline Bos (Applied and Technical Studies) and Marcus Grymonpre (Applied and Technical Studies) all delivered their speeches online.

UFV also presented faculty and staff with awards via physically distanced presentations to: Gerry Palmer (Faculty Service Excellence), Kyle Baillie, Director of Student Life and Development and Leah Whitehouse, Culinary Cafeteria Cashier (Leadership), Robert Harding (Research Excellence) Al Tuchscherer (Employee Excellence), Joanna Sheppard (Teaching Excellence), and the PD Day planning committee (Teamwork).

We all got used to Zoom meetings, and pets got used to having their people home.

As the spring progressed and the pandemic continued, UFV announced that fall and winter semester programming would be mostly online as well, and invested in remote learning and meeting software, technology, and digital interfaces to facilitate virtual learning and community engagement.

Faculty worked hard to adapt course material to the new learning environment, found new ways of making meaningful connections with students, and evolved their online teaching skills.

In a year that saw the world’s attention turn to focus on racism and other forms of discrimination in the wake of the shooting of George Floyd and the rise in profile of the Black Lives Matter movement, UFV responded by releasing an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) action plan, the result of a months-long planning and review process overseen by the President’s office.

This action plan commits the university to 40 significant initiatives, including the hiring of an EDI director.The university also participated in anti-racism forums organized by the long-standing UFV Race and Anti-Racism Network, and other anti-racism events and workshops. An EDI wall calendar for 2021 was published.

Work also continued on creating a new strategic plan for UFV.

Three new research centres launched in 2020, including the Community Health and Social Innovation Hub, the Peace and Reconciliation Centre, and the Esposito Family Centre for Innovation & Entrepreneurship. All are involved in making community connections and are launching research projects and partnerships.

This fall, events such as a literary festival, the Pride Series, guest lectures, National Career Week panels, and a UFV Theatre presentation went ahead, in online formats adapted to the new remote learning environment.

UFV commemorated Orange Shirt Day with a special virtual presentation by Phyllis Webstad, whose personal story inspired the Orange Shirt Day movement. Her talk provided insight and education about the generational impacts of the Indian Residential School system in Canada.

Online support resources continue to offer guidance and information for students new to this environment and student services including advising, counselling, accessibility, financial aid, and registration are all offered virtually.

And for those in need, there is a Student Emergency Fund, one that many UFV employees support by redirecting their monthly parking fees while they work from home.

Students can still enjoy a variety of university experiences online including clubs, academic tutoring, and online recreational activities.

Approximately 15% of students still have a portion of their learning in face-to-face settings. Faculty and students in some Trades and Technology, Health Sciences, and Science programs continue to attend labs and applied learning experiences in person. All Provincial Health orders and WorkSafeBC requirements are in place. Risk controls, safe work and learning practices, and safety training regimens are established and maintained.

Facilities crews clean more frequently and with more intensity. Risk and Safety ambassadors have been hired to explain and encourage physical distancing and other safety measures. Masks are mandatory on campus.

Building renewal projects for Buildings A and D in Abbotsford continued, aided in part by the fact that there were much fewer people on campus for the last nine months of 2020.

Students are completing practicums and co-op positions in face-to-face and online formats. And many alumni are on the frontlines, working in health care, education, and other vital sectors. Some faculty research also continues in an online format.

The South Asian Studies Institute received $1.14 million in funding from the Province of BC to deliver Haq and History: A Punjabi Canadian Legacy Project.

A team led by professor Cindy Jardine, UFV’s Canada Research Chair in Health and Community, received funding from the Government of Canada for research aimed at mitigating the spread of contagious diseases like COVID-19, particularly amongst international travelers.

Researchers from the School of Kinesiology conducted a couple of studies into the impact of physical activity on mental health and the on severity of COVID-19 symptoms.

Canada Research Chair Keith Carlson continued to work on a project that will see some of his Indigenous history books published in China.

And sociology professor EvanTaylor helped to create Queering Cancer (www.queeringcancer.ca) a new website that addresses systemic disparities in access to cancer support and information for people who identify as LGBTQ2+.

UFV President Joanne MacLean praised the UFV community for the resilience shown during this difficult year.

“Nothing about this year has been easy. We have been required to change the way we work and learn at a rate we never imagined. Our faculty, staff, and students have revealed that they are strong, adaptable, compassionate, and exceptional. In this complex environment, we have remained steadfast to our mission of engaging learners, transforming lives, and building community. I have never been prouder to be part of the UFV community.”

See an Adobe Spark visual summary of 2020 here.

Skookum - Surjeet Meelu-18

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