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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Mary Cullinan: How do we meet our mission during a pandemic?

By Mary Cullinan Eastern Washington University

Across the state and around the country, businesses, families and individuals face a new reality, a new normal. We’re all learning what a pandemic is, what terms such as social distancing and sheltering in place really mean. And we are navigating these difficult times with you.

As of this writing, of course, we have no idea how the pandemic will proceed. We don’t know what decisions will be made in coming weeks or how profoundly and even tragically our Eastern community and our region will be affected. We know that our campuses, our families, our economies are being transformed in large and small ways. We know this is a time for us to think creatively, to be flexible, to realize that things we thought were always going to be the same are changing.

Every year, thousands of Eastern Washington University graduates enter the professional workforce, powering the regional economy and the region’s social support network. Our Eagles are out there now, supporting our businesses, organizations and neighbors, rising to meet the challenges of this pandemic. And we know it’s not easy.

So what do we do when we’re hit by a new reality?

First, we take care of our own. We make the difficult decisions that protect our loved ones and fellow citizens. The solutions are not always clear or easy. But we must act.

Second, we implement responsive measures, supporting one another as we traverse unfamiliar territory. We adapt as the situation evolves rapidly – as it has over the past few weeks.

Third, we look ahead, beyond the horizon. It’s the promise of a strong, vibrant and resilient future that inspires a community to come together.

And, even as we struggle to adapt, we know this is a time to support each other. This is a time to ask, “How can I help?” That question frames the ways in which Eastern works to meet our mission and goals during this tumultuous time.

That’s why I’m writing today. In times like these, we need to be reminded that there is more than tomorrow. Eastern Washington University has served the region for 138 years. We will serve you for generations more. But, most important, we are here today to serve you now.

We need to ensure that our current students can continue toward degree completion – the workforce needs their talent and innovation. Therefore, we have moved all our courses online and waived the online delivery fee. We’ve migrated our student support services online so that students can move forward, wherever they are. And for those who need laptops to access online courses, we’ve established a Student Emergency Fund.

Our next generation of Eagles has also been impacted. Future students have had their high school experiences disrupted, so we’ve modified our admissions processes to accommodate them. Students may now submit an alternative to the SAT or ACT as well as unofficial transcripts to receive an admission decision. And they have extra time – until June 1 – for application and financial aid deadlines.

We know many of you are facing challenges. Our hearts go out to displaced workers and those who are unsure about their employment. Eastern is here and ready to support you should you need additional training or certification to re-enter the workforce.

Lastly, our talented faculty are ready to collaborate with our community partners to help you tackle the challenges you’re facing. Innovation runs deep within our programs. From engineering, tech and health fields to business, social sciences and humanities: When you’re ready, we’re here.

This historic moment, unprecedented in our history, will test the nation and its citizens in ways that we can scarcely imagine today. But I remain confident that, together, we will rise like Eagles with perseverance and courage.

We support our students. We serve our communities.

Together, we are strong.

Mary Cullinan is president of Eastern Washington University.

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2020 has been a stressful year for myriad reasons.