Persistence during a pandemic

Posted: March 31, 2020
An empty Hitchcock Hall main entrance and surrounding area.
Hitchcock Hall in March.

Although written in 1902, Carmen Ohio’s “time and change will surely show” lyric seems prescient today. In such little time, so much has changed in the world. While this is abundantly true at your alma mater, one very important thing remains the same: our commitment to our students.

Immediately after President Drake’s March 9 email informing the Ohio State community that all in-person instruction was suspended, our faculty and staff—especially our IT team—began the massive task of converting the delivery of our curriculum to online platforms (I have used the word zoom more in the past two weeks than I have in the past two decades). About three years ago, college leadership decided to invest in our IT and technology infrastructure; that investment is paying dividends during this crisis.

“Continuity of instruction” became our mantra. During the week of March 23, 7,964 undergraduate students and 1,848 graduate students began receiving online instruction, the vast majority of whom had never before taken an online or hybrid course. Combined, more than 2,400 undergrad and graduate courses were converted to online delivery. And our IT team enabled remote desktop connections to 2,200 systems in academic computer labs to ensure student access to specialized software.

Given the complexity of engineering and architecture instruction, I am in awe and immensely proud of the patience, resilience and persistence exhibited by our students, faculty and staff since March 9.

While spring commencement has been postponed, job search support for our soon-to-be graduates has not ceased. Through virtual sessions, Engineering Career Services staff is helping with job searches, mock interviews (many companies are still recruiting), and job offer and salary negotiations. If your company is hiring summer interns or full-time employees, open positions can be posted here.

Research and discovery is a core tenet of our land-grant mission. While most R&D is on hiatus with the closure of campus, some of our faculty and staff are working on solutions to the COVID-19 crisis.

For instance, Professor Perena Gouma’s group is developing a COVID-19 breathalyzer device that will sample a single exhaled breath for two key biomarkers of the infection. This research builds upon her invention of a hand-held breath monitor that may provide early detection of flu before symptoms appear. She is currently in talks with both government and industry leaders.

Meanwhile, the labs of Professors Daniel Gallego-Perez and Natalia Higuita-Castro are working on novel methods for the delivery of mRNA vaccines to specific cell types in a highly targeted manner. While they normally focus on cancer and regenerative medicine research, their methods may be applicable to vaccine development and deployment. They plan to engage COVID-19 experts to possibly transition this research into the right arena for subsequent efficacy studies.

And our Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence and Institute for Materials Research are collaborating with the U.S. Army, Harvard, University of South Florida, Desktop Metal, Formlabs and HP, among others, to implement a strategy to produce COVID-19 test swabs, supplies of which are running dangerously low.

At times like these, our thoughts also turn to our alumni community, spread throughout the world. I hope you and your family are safe and well.

We are grateful for the outpouring of support we have received from our alumni and friends. As you can imagine, this is a significant time of need for our Buckeye Engineering community.

For those of you who would like to support Engineering and Knowlton School students, you can make a gift here. Your kind generosity will aid students’ pressing, known needs, including food and rent insecurity. As the COVID-19 crisis evolves, we are actively exploring solutions that will help our entire College of Engineering community. We look forward to keeping you informed and involved in the coming weeks as we share plans to support the long-term, on-going needs of students, faculty, staff and researchers.

If you would like to share warm wishes or words of encouragement to students and faculty, please send to engineering@osu.edu. We’ll compile these notes on a page of our website and share with them.

One of my favorite traditions at Ohio State is singing Carmen Ohio at the end of large alumni gatherings, and raising our arms, together. Rest assured, that spirit of unity is evident every day here as we push ahead.

How firm thy friendship,
David B. Williams

Monte Ahuja Endowed Dean's Chair
Dean of the College of Engineering