A Year Like No Other: President’s report reflects on impacts of COVID-19

Cover of 2020 President's report A Year Like No Other

In February 2020, Colorado State University had just celebrated the 150th year since its founding. The collective celebration was to continue under the greening leaves of the historic Oval and among beds of tulips poking through the soil.

Days before spring break, however, everything had changed. The COVID-19 pandemic was accelerating and President Joyce McConnell shared the news with the CSU community that learning was shifting to online only.

Students headed home. Frontline workers donned masks and learned new ways of doing their critical work. Faculty and staff reconvened in front of screens at dining tables and in home offices. CSU’s 150th year became one of its most challenging.

Recalling the first few weeks of the pandemic, McConnell said, “Every single thing about CSU had changed. Not one thing was the same for anyone.”

A Year Like No Other captures the impact of the pandemic on CSU – and the University’s courageous, resilient response. For a printed copy of A Year Like No Other, email your name and mailing address to presofc@colostate.edu.

Not your typical report

A Year Like No Other is not your typical annual president’s report, focused on fiscal transparency and accountability. It does those things. But it also tells the story of the extraordinary, responsive research initiatives that landed CSU in several national lists of universities with the best response to the pandemic.

To date, CSU’s COVID-19 related research projects have received more than $21 million in federal and other funding, and the innovative, interdisciplinary work continues in labs across the University.

Also documented in A Year Like No Other is the work done by CSU’s faculty, staff, students, donors, alumni, and partners to keep the University’s land-grant mission of education, research and service thriving.  Specific responses to the pandemic detailed in the report –expenditures of money, resources and hours, as well as expanded and new programs and initiatives – include the work of the Pandemic Preparedness Team, the CSU Health Network, the CFO and her budget team, the Provost’s Office, HR, Operations, Housing and Dining Services, and the Office of Engagement and Extension.

“It was an immense effort to make this shift, and it was the determination and energy of our faculty and staff that made this happen,” President McConnell said. “A lot of people worked early morning into late nights to help make this happen. I am really very proud of the response.”

Meeting new challenges

As an anticipated short pause became months, CSU planned a Fall semester that would be conducted with many new challenges. Ensuring students had as much access as possible to in-person learning, the University turned large spaces like Lory Student Center ballrooms into classrooms, while staff walked through every space on campus to ensure compliance with physical distance requirements. The work was tedious but enabled CSU to provide two-thirds of course sections with at least some in-person component.

Central to this effort was CSU’s ability to track outbreaks of COVID-19 on its campus. Through wastewater testing and a massive screening operation, CSU was able to get through the entire 2020-2021 academic year without needing to abruptly shift to online learning as many other institutions did.

By spring, a saliva screening program had processed tens of thousands of samples from students, staff and faculty who were on campus each week. Though events remained canceled and athletics stands were empty of Ram fans, CSU stayed stalwart through the pandemic and began to focus on recovery.

Meanwhile, McConnell and her leadership team, composed of deans, vice presidents, and other key leaders, embarked on a forward-focused process of courageous strategic transformation, which has already culminated in an initial report to the Board of Governors in early May. This transformation process, which has been deeply and broadly informed by voices from across campus and in the community, will continue to move forward this summer under the direction of Vice President for Strategy Jenelle Beavers.

“None of us will ever be the same after COVID,” McConnell said, “not individually or as a community or a university. We’ve suffered terrible losses, but we’ve also learned a lot – and I believe our CSU family has learned so much that we can put to use in helping rebuild, reconnect, and truly transform for the better. I am so proud of our people and excited for the future.”