Message from the President: Let's take comfort in our united UPEI front

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This message was distributed to UPEI students, faculty, and staff on April 3, 2020 to their @upei.ca emails. While we will continue to update our COVID-19 website, the latest news will be first shared with the UPEI community by email and notifications will be sent by UPEI SAFE, the University’s safety app (available on The App Store and Google Play).

 

Dear Members of the University Community,

Another week has passed in this long journey. I know everyone is fatigued with all of the new practices that have been introduced to our lives: physical distancing; self-isolating; and teaching, learning, and working remotely. We are all grappling with this sudden threat of COVID-19 to our health, financial situation, social well-being, and education. Our stress levels are increasing as we near the end of the semester and the exam period is set to begin—it is normal to feel anxiousness and be worried when there are so many unknowns.

What I do know is that despite all of this change and uncertainty, I am so proud to be a part of our connected UPEI community. Together we are resilient, patient, kind, and taking care of each other, on and beyond our campus.

Our faculty and staff are dedicated to supporting our students in their learning, despite the different circumstances we find ourselves in. Students are demonstrating how well they can adapt and manage during these difficult times. Essential services continue to be provided on- and off-campus. Our alumni and friends are contacting us to see how they can help, and many members of our UPEI community are contributing to the greater Island community.

As I did last week, I want to again take the opportunity to reflect on a just a few of many reasons why we can take comfort from our united UPEI front as we endure this challenging situation.

Dr. Trevor Jain is the Director for UPEI’s BSc in Paramedicine program, Associate Research Director for Paramedicine, and a member of the Prince Edward Island Emergency Medicine Research Group. Dr. Jain is also an emergency department physician at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital who happens to be a disaster medicine specialist. He leads the team at our provincial hospital in providing COVID-19 response while maintaining essential emergency services. Using the hashtag he has been using to recognize his colleagues, I thank him for being one of our #COVIDWarriors.

With the suspension of in-person classes and in-person exams, Dr. Jason Pearson is employing learning software he developed two years ago, Stemble, to help with the delivery of online UPEI chemistry exams. Faculty and students in the department were already accustomed to using Stemble for instruction, but Dr. Pearson’s team has adapted the web-based homework tool for exams, ensuring it will let students know that their responses and revisions have been saved. For now, Stemble can only be used for chemistry, though Dr. Pearson hopes to expand its use to other programs.

Last week I mentioned how the Faculty of Sustainable Design Engineering was mobilizing to produce Protective Personal Equipment (PPE) such as surgical masks, N95 masks, and protective face shields. I am so pleased to report that the FSDE team has turned their vision into reality. Dr. Nick Krouglicof has advised me that Health PEI’s evaluation of the prototype face shields was extremely positive. Manufacturing began on April 1 and the first delivery of 900 face shields is expected early next week. It is so amazing how the FSDE faculty and staff have stepped up to the challenge to help protect our health care workers.

Our Nursing students are also answering the call to help. On behalf of UPEI Nursing Society, fourth-year student Kitty Yin, in collaboration with the Dalhousie and Memorial medical school societies, is organizing student volunteers from the UPEI Faculty of Nursing to be matched with health care providers who are in need of childcare, someone to run errands, etc. So far, there are over a dozen UPEI Nursing students as well as MUN and Dalhousie medical students currently on the Island who are interested. The group hopes to roll out the initiative mid-April to provide extra support to the dedicated nurses and doctors working so tirelessly right now on PEI.

Business at the UPEI Chaplaincy Centre Food Bank and the UPEI Student Union’s SUpplies Food Bank has been brisk during these uncertain times. My sincere thanks go to Sister Sue Kidd, our Campus Minister, and Emma Drake, President of the UPEISU, for their leadership in food security for our UPEI community. They have been working together, recently assembling and delivering hampers to students unable to get to campus, and are also issuing e-gift cards (in small denominations) to local grocery stores. If anyone wishes to contribute to these efforts, they can donate online at upei.ca/donate and designate their donation to the Food Bank, or bring food donations in person when the UPEI Chaplaincy Centre Food Bank is open, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 am–12 pm.

I am so appreciative of all our employees, who are adapting to this new reality, whether they are working from home or providing essential services on campus. One group that often doesn’t get recognized is our IT Systems and Services department, which has played a vital role in our transition to online teaching and learning by ensuring our networks, software, and hardware are bolstered during this time of increased technology use. Thank you to CIO Dana Sanderson and his team for their responsiveness during this crisis.

An aspect of campus life that we all miss is events and celebrations. While nothing can completely replace in-person gatherings, I am very impressed with how we are finding innovative ways to celebrate at UPEI. For example, the Department of Athletics and Recreation was set to recognize outstanding student-athletes who have excelled in sport, the classroom, and serving the community at their 51st annual UPEI Athletics Awards Gala. Because the student-athletes and coaches are now unable to gather in person, Panthers from around the world will be able to follow a special version of this year’s award presentations on UPEI Athletics and Recreation’s Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram channels. The UPEI varsity club team awards will be revealed on Friday, April 3, beginning at 7:00 pm, while the varsity team awards will be announced on Saturday, April 4, beginning at 7 pm.

This type of adaptability and flexibility highlights that we must continue to maintain close communication, using creativity, and the technology we have, in order to persevere during this unprecedented situation of COVID-19. This is a very stressful time so I encourage you to reach out if you need support. UPEI has a number of resources for students through UPEI Student Affairs, including personal counselling (studentserv@upei.ca) and the International Student Office (irostu@upei.ca). UPEI faculty and staff can access the Employee Assistance Program at 1-800-387-4765.

My heart is with all of you, and I count myself very blessed to be part of a highly dedicated and forward-thinking Island community that has compassion for each other. Please continue to practice the physical distancing recommended by the Chief Public Health Officer, and maintain your social links online or by phone. I thank each and every one of you for your contributions toward building a stronger and even more connected UPEI community.

Best wishes,

Alaa

 

Dr. Alaa S. Abd-El-Aziz
President and Vice-Chancellor
University of Prince Edward Island
 

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