Friday, October 23, 2020
This week we celebrated Appalachian’s Homecoming — a time to show our Mountaineer pride and enjoy traditional festivities, including the Kazoo Band and crowning of the Top of the Rock. Like everything, our celebrations look different this year — with all of the events reimagined to accommodate safety guidelines. Campus was quiet without tailgating, but the black and gold spirit is still palpable, even when shared virtually, and the Homecoming football game victory was even sweeter after a pause in practice and 26 days without a game. At The Rock, we had 2,100 spectators. I am especially proud of the way our students modeled COVID-19 prevention and safety by maintaining distance and wearing face coverings. Their cheering provided terrific motivation for a great Homecoming win, and a great soundtrack for the national coverage on ESPN.
Many thanks to our Appalachian Police Department and Emergency Management team for their thorough safety preparations for last night’s game. In addition to extensive access to hand sanitizer stations and required face coverings, social distancing measures in the stands, in restrooms and in entry and concession lines were in place, allowing a portion of our community an important opportunity to celebrate Homecoming together and enjoy some much-needed, in-person social interaction.
We are encouraged to see our positive and active cases of COVID-19 trending downward, as I shared earlier in the week. The data continue to support this trend — today's active case count of 37 is the lowest it has been since Aug. 31. Since students arrived on campus for the fall semester, we have administered more than 17,500 COVID-19 tests to students, faculty and staff. Throughout the semester — and with guidance and assistance from local public health, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) and the UNC System — we have adjusted and enhanced our testing volume and strategy. We have increased surveillance testing to three times each week and have worked with local public health to add targeted testing at residence halls. As we near the end of the fall semester and continue planning for spring, we are also working with UNC System and NCDHHS leadership to further refine our testing strategy, review the latest guidance and acquire additional resources. We will soon share more information about testing before the winter break and the return to campus in the spring.
We have continued to work throughout the semester with students who would like to opt out of their housing contracts and students who would like to adjust the delivery method of their courses to be fully online. In the spring semester, we will continue with a mix of in-person, hybrid and all-remote course delivery. We are listening to the needs of our students and faculty alike who are seeking further engagement in virtual and socially distanced settings. Each day, both formally and informally, faculty continue to enhance virtual learning experiences for students. The Center for Academic Excellence team remains a valuable resource for faculty in this regard. I would like to thank our faculty, staff and students for the flexibility and innovation they continue to demonstrate under constantly changing circumstances. There is no one approach that works for everyone, so we will continue providing a mix of solutions that provides a high-quality education and the best possible overall Appalachian Experience. When we look back on these times, we may not be able to say we got everything exactly right, but we will be able to say confidently that as a campus community, together, we employed every option to continue our academic mission, while prioritizing the physical and mental health of our students, faculty and staff.
As we head into the weekend feeling encouraged by our COVID-19 testing numbers, we cannot let down our guard. I urge everyone to follow COVID-19 precautions: Keep wearing your face coverings when you are around others you don’t live with — in any size group — whether indoors or outdoors. Maintain 6 feet of distance and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer frequently.
While we have not seen many large parties, our university police and student conduct team are strictly enforcing COVID-19 safety ordinances and policies. The most effective strategy, however, is peer-to-peer reinforcement, which we see taking place across campus. Let’s continue these practices wherever we are. Wearing face coverings, in particular, must be the norm — not the exception — for the foreseeable future.
Slowing COVID-19 demands a tremendous amount of our attention. Still, our faculty, staff and students remain dedicated to simultaneously advancing the Appalachian Experience and I am so grateful for their efforts. We recently announced the recipients of Appalachian’s premier signature scholarships — a group of 24 students who exemplify Mountaineer values and ideals. We are excited to see these students thrive at App State! Last week, we also hosted our first virtual open house of the fall, welcoming 2,500 students and families remotely for information sessions, a virtual tour, meetings with faculty and opportunities to learn about the many programs and resources available.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to virtually attend the UNC System’s Board of Governors meetings this week, and while there is significant concern about the state budget outlook, President Hans emphasized as key priorities enrollment growth and strengthening support for faculty and staff. He took special note of the work faculty and staff are undertaking to continue providing high-quality educational experiences for our students, and said, “There is no pausing people’s lives, which means we must be resilient and resolute in providing a life-changing education. We have had to adapt, to do our part in slowing this pandemic while also weighing the risks of lost opportunity for thousands of students. There is no perfect answer for the decisions we face — only honest grappling with a challenging situation.” I encourage you to read his full remarks.
With each passing week of this historic semester, I am inspired by the resilience of our campus community and the strong desire to do our part to help keep our community as safe as possible. When we work together, we can — and do — make a difference.
Sheri Everts, Chancellor