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The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and the response of faculty, staff and students was at the forefront of remarks in Tuesday’s Opening Day Convocation.

For the first time, due to the pandemic, the UW Oshkosh Opening Day event was watched in a livestream fashion.

Winners of several distinguished awards were recognized at the awards ceremony for faculty and staff that kicks off the 2020-21 academic year. The event featured addresses by Chancellor Andrew Leavitt and Provost John Koker, along with the debut of a video that showcased campus efforts to stay safe during the pandemic.

Andrew Leavitt

Leavitt, delivering his sixth opening day address, said he believes the 149th year for UWO, with classes starting Wednesday, will go down as the most challenging year in the institution’s history.

He called the opening of the campuses “nothing short of remarkable.”

He credited faculty and staff for their devotion to the success of the institution and its students and said in midst of a worldwide pandemic, the goal at UW Oshkosh is to open campuses safely and keep them open the entire academic year.

Leavitt said one of the greatest moments of his professional life occurred last spring as he watched faculty, staff and students pivot from on-campus learning to completely online learning in just two weeks.

“There was a can-do spirit and laser focus on accomplishing a task that would normally take years,” he said.

John Koker

Koker spoke of the tireless way people from across campus worked since March to prepare for the return to UWO campuses.

“Within departments, units and programs across the University, faculty and staff worked together to ensure that students would not just succeed this fall, but feel a deep sense of support and belonging in these challenging times,” he said.

Leavitt urged UWO faculty and staff to harness some of the knowledge and experience of adapting and innovating at speeds and magnitudes no one imagined, to be different as people and as an institution.

“In order for our university to thrive in the coming decades, we must become equally fluent in face-to-face, hybrid and online instruction,” he said. “We must innovate—creating new teaching methodologies and modalities, degree programs, certificates and credentials.”

He said it can be done holding dear the commitment to liberal education.

“A liberal education is still the best hedge against change and uncertainty and is a foundational element of this institution,” Leavitt said.

His wishes were for UWO staff and faculty to safely open and operate the institution and asked them to support one another as they “collectively lift up yet another generation of people to achieve their greatest potential.”

Wednesday marked the start of classes for fall 2020.

Looking ahead

Finances, enrollment and the Sesquicentennial in 2021 were discussed, as well as the ongoing focus on diversity and equity.

“We at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh need to continue our work to foster campus communities that are sustainable, inclusive and welcoming of diversity,” Koker said. “The dimensions of inclusion for faculty, staff and students include access and equity, diversity in curriculum, learning and development and a healthy University climate.”

Koker announced that Gray Associates will assist in evaluating the UWO program portfolio as a new academic plan is developed.

Award winners recognized at Tuesday’s program:

Edward M. Penson Distinguished Teaching Awards

  • Valerie Mumm-Jansen (Global Languages and Cultures), Fond du Lac campus
  • Nenad Stojilovic (Physics and Astronomy), Oshkosh campus
  • Cathy Toll (Literacy and Language), Oshkosh campus

Barbara G. Sniffen Faculty Governance Service Award

  • Chad Cotti (Economics), Oshkosh campus

Outstanding Service Awards

  • Jennifer Bonack (Registrar’s Office), Oshkosh campus
  • Mary Nevins (College of Nursing), Oshkosh campus
  • Sara Ann Suwalski (Reeve Memorial Union), Oshkosh campus

Outstanding Performance Awards

  • Mary Bartelt (College of Education and Human Services Dean’s Office), Oshkosh campus
  • Kristy Newton (Registrar’s Office) Oshkosh campus

LGBTQ+ Ally Award

  • Alicia Johnson (Women’s Center), Oshkosh campus

Queer Faculty/Staff Award

  • James Krueger (Political Science), Oshkosh campus

Inclusive Excellence Award

  • Mai Khou Xiong (Academic Support of Inclusive Excellence), Oshkosh campus

Edward M. Penson Faculty Awards

  • Michael Beeth (Teaching and Learning Program), Oshkosh campus
  • Denise Clark (Special and Early Childhood Education), Oshkosh campus
  • Bryan Engelhardt (Economics), Oshkosh campus
  • Jason Mott (College of Nursing), Oshkosh campus
  • Caryn Murphy (Radio TV Film and Women’s and Gender Studies), Oshkosh campus
  • Lisa Schreibersdorf (English), Fond du Lac campus
  • Sara Steffes Hansen (Journalism), Oshkosh campus
  • Sarinda Taengnoi Siemers (Economics), Oshkosh campus

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