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Forging ahead with learning and support

Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education (VPUE)

Within the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education (VPUE) area, early mobilization began in February, just as Italy was facing its first wave of the outbreak. According to Eric VanDanen, Director of VPUE Communications, the Bing Overseas Studies Program (BOSP) team worked around the clock in close collaboration with Stanford in Florence global staff to cease on-site instruction and facilitate the students’ safe return. Eric stated, “Soon after, as the outbreak continued to spread, BOSP staff meticulously tracked the accelerated return travel of Stanford students enrolled in programs around the globe and verified that each reached home residences, healthy and safe.”  

S Knauff

Shawna Knauff, Associate Vice Provost and Executive Director, Bing Overseas Studies Program

Shawna and her team had to make tough decisions in February, as the virus accelerated in Europe, specifically in Italy.  At the time, which seems like ages ago now, they worried they were being overly cautious to suspend in-person instruction and ensure students get safely back home, but quickly realized Stanford had made a wise decision.  Within a few short weeks, universities and independent study abroad providers were scrambling to bring home students worldwide.  Shawna sees this time as a unique moment to continue to advocate for the incredible value study abroad brings to students in their development of global competencies and reinvent how that can happen if travel is restricted. Shawna has been impressed and grateful for the way her colleagues in Vice Provost Student Affairs (VPSA) mobilized and worked long hours to ensure returning undergraduates had a place to come back to.

One powerful memory from this distressing time happened recently when she was on a call with a group of colleagues from the Stanford in Oxford program.  At 8:00 pm, as citizens and neighbors joined in a round of applause for healthcare workers, the group in Oxford took their laptops outside so that all those on the call around the world could virtually join in. She said it was inspiring. "The spirit of 'being in this together' has taken on a new and deeper meaning now." Shawna said that despite the challenges, she is optimistic about what the future holds for international education.

L Campani in front of trees

Linda Campani, Spogli Family Director, The Breyer Center for Overseas Studies in Florence, Bing Overseas Studies Program

Not only has Linda been working at the Florence program since 1993 and is currently the program director, but she also teaches film (all virtually, now). The days back in late February when the decision was made to shut down were heavy; students were crying and unsure of their next steps, and program staff were scrambling to ensure everyone’s safety and put classes online. She shared that the support she received from the “home campus” was phenomenal and everyone came together to help, from the Provost’s Office to Vaden Health Services and VPUE; it was so heartwarming to see the level of caring that everyone had, and the effort that went into making decisions.

Linda shared that she and her team have transitioned all content to be virtual and the students completed winter quarter successfully and are now in the midst of spring quarter. She said they have started tackling a host of projects that had been waiting for their attention, including creating a new student handbook and orientation program, revising their Italian classes, updating their website, continuing to forge partnerships with other institutions in Florence to enrich program offerings, and professional development. Linda is teaching a Feminism & Film class this quarter through the Italian department and is giving public talks in Florence that are like a “film club,” where anyone who wants to join from the community can login; they watch a film together and then discuss it.

Linda’s been strengthened throughout this period by the many alumni of the program who are emailing and calling to talk with her and her staff, offering their emotional support. She shared, “We are all connecting on a more personal level now, and the camaraderie is so valuable. I think this experience has forced reprioritizing on many levels, because things we used to think were important just don’t mean as much anymore, and that’s likely a really good thing.”

School of Earth 

K Casciotti at home

Karen Casciotti, Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment, Victoria and Roger Sant Director, Earth Systems Program

Associate Professor Karen Casciotti has multiple roles at Stanford. In addition to teaching, she’s the Faculty Director of the Earth Systems Program, and a member of the Faculty Senate and the Committee for Undergraduate Admissions & Financial Aid. Every group she’s involved with has had to adapt rapidly to this evolving crisis. “We’re all figuring out how to respond and communicate with students differently,” she says. “I’m not able to fall back on all the ways I used to do things.”

One of Karen’s most significant challenges is the closure of the laboratory where she supports graduate students in all phases of their research--those just getting started, those in the middle of significant progress, and fifth-year students who just need a few more samples to complete their work. “I’m trying to make sure grad students are progressing on their research in some way, through data analysis, modeling, and other things that can be done by computer, without being in the lab.” Karen also mentions the great support she has seen from the Earth Systems staff, "They have stepped up amazingly to support our students as they continue their degree progress, retool internship and capstone projects, declare new majors, and prepare for graduation, all from their own home workspaces."

She also had to transition quickly to virtual teaching. Winter quarter was particularly difficult, as the uncertainty of final exams necessitated intense flexibility. “The final exam was a big part of their grade and I went from figuring out how to do it remotely, to indefinite postponement while the students were in the middle of taking it.”

Luckily, spring quarter has been much more stable. Karen is conducting lectures via Zoom and using breakout rooms to facilitate small group activities. Still, Karen’s husband also works at Stanford, so it can be difficult to manage the demands of their work and home lives. “The biggest challenge has been making sure that all the people that rely on me, both at Stanford and at home, are getting what they need,” she says. One highlight has been teaching her kids science--exploring the plants and insects in their yard, learning about the ocean, and conducting climate change experiments. For Karen, it comes down to priorities. “Continually reassess what’s important and make sure you’re spending your precious time doing those things.”

Vice Provost Teaching & Learning (VPTL)

T Lieuw at home

Tiffany Lieuw, Associate Director, Student Technology, VPTL

Tiffany and her small but mighty team manage the Peer Technology Specialists to provide computing support and consulting to all undergraduate and graduate students. Along with Sherwin Smith, Sr. Programming Manager, and Andrew Reid, Network Specialist, Tiffany oversees 100 students who have been trained and paid to provide in-person support through the Peer Technology Specialists group. With the emergence of the pandemic, Tiffany and her group had to quickly pivot to provide virtual support to students dispersed around the globe, as well as to ensure those students staying on the main campus were supported. Initially, their top priority was to ensure all students were able to connect to the Stanford network and attend classes using Zoom. The upheaval to students caused a lot of uncertainty, so Tiffany and her team did everything they could to ensure connectivity with any device, which was reassuring. They quickly set up a calendar system so students could make virtual appointments, trained the Peer Technology Specialists to use the new system, and set up a new phone number, then did lots of outreach to help students understand they were still there and ready to help.

Tiffany credits her amazing manager, Makoto Tsuchitani, and the team of people who acted so efficiently and selflessly to make things happen quickly. She also shared that Richard Webber, Vice Provost for Teaching & Learning, was highly transparent as emergency plans were unfolding. Tiffany shared her advice to others, "During this strange time we’re in, develop a routine that works for you while still being flexible, and make sure you initiate conversations with frequent check-ins with others at work or in your personal lives."

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