Welcome Back Penn State!

Every August I look forward to welcoming our students and faculty back to campus. This year is no exception—even though the semester looks, feels, and promises to be like no other. COVID-19 has required a seismic shift in our operations, as has the fight for equity and justice for underrepresented populations, and an election that is already proving to be divisive.

As the late Robert Kennedy said, “Like it or not we live in interesting times.”

Over the summer, hundreds of Penn State faculty and staff have dedicated themselves to planning for a safe and productive semester. I know we are united in our common desire to be back on campus, and extensive efforts have made that possible. Whether we are able to continue the semester as planned is now up to all of you, and will require everyone to follow the COVID-19 prevention measures –wearing a mask, physically distancing, washing hands, limiting the size of gatherings, and staying home if you aren’t feeling well.

I don’t want Penn State to find ourselves in the same situation we’ve seen around the country when these measures aren’t followed. We’ve seen closures of schools and universities after a week, spikes in cases in local communities, and the return of restrictions to everyday life.

Meanwhile, we can look at countries that have strictly followed the prevention measures. Their schools are back in session, businesses are open, and people can safely attend sporting events and concerts. Guided by the work of epidemiologists, public health leaders, medical professionals, and infectious disease experts, we know what works.

Whether we can continue having classes in person will depend on you — we need your help to make this work. You can do your part by making smart choices each day.

We can do this—together. We need to do this—for others.

We have a responsibility to the larger community of children, the elderly, medical professionals and first responders, business owners and employees who count on their paychecks, and all those who depend on our university for teaching, research, and service.

I ask that you look out for one another and model the behavior that will allow us to continue to do the things we love—which brings me to fall classes.

I will be teaching an in-person class this fall as I do every year. I’m looking forward to it, although it will certainly be different than in past semesters. I expect to learn things that work, as well as things that will need to be improved given the necessary adjustments. But we are in this together.

You should also expect to see some changes in your Zoom classes. Now that everyone has figured out how to turn off their mic, share their screen, and change out of pajamas during Zoom sessions, we can move on to improving the overall experience. Faculty have created virtual “classrooms”, developed interactive ways to build community, and added highly engaging creative elements. I urge you to go to class with an open mind and be ready to participate fully…whether you’re on campus, at home, or in an off-campus residence.

Finally, please know that the University has stepped up our communications efforts to keep you informed. For example, this special edition of Penn State Today focuses on stories and resources that will aid in the transition back to campus. I hope you’ll find it informative, interesting, and a welcoming way to start the semester off right.

Thank you for being part of the Penn State community.