Dear CMS Alumni and Friends,
We have had some changes in the Dean’s Office this year. Dr. Wei Chen resigned as Dean this past summer in order to accept an endowed chair position in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Oklahoma. I thank Dr. Chen for his many contributions during his five years as Dean of the College of Mathematics and Science. We miss him, but we are happy that his energy can now be directed full time toward his passion to cure late-stage metastatic cancer. I have accepted the Interim Dean position in the college while a search is conducted for a new dean, and Dr. Bob Brennan is the new Interim Associate Dean. I am immensely thankful to him for taking on this new role. I also thank Dr. Jesse Byrne and Dr. Evan Lemley for continuing in their roles as Assistant Deans.
As we began this fall semester, our outstanding faculty once again were recognized for their achievements and leadership. At the Convocation in August, they received the following awards:
- Sean Laverty from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics was a recipient of the Neely Excellence in Teaching Award.
- The Vanderford Research Award went to Dr. Tracy Morris from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, and the Vanderford Initiative Award went to Nancy Gwin from the Department of Nursing.
- Connie Harris from the Department of Nursing was a recipient, along with other members of the Grand Rounds: Experience in Interprofessional Practice group, of the Masonic Endowment for Transformative Learning Award.
- UCO’s COVID-19 Task Force, which includes Dr. Pam Rollins from the Department of Nursing and Dr. Bob Brennan, Interim Associate Dean of CMS, was recognized by the Citizen’s Bank Leadership and Civic Engagement Award.
- Two faculty received Merit Credit Awards in the area of Research: Dr. Sanjeewa Gamagedara from the Department of Chemistry and Dr. Jicheng Fu from the Department of Computer Science. Dr. Kristin Karber from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics received a Merit Credit Award in the area of Teaching.
At our CMS Back-to-School Meeting, Dr. Tierney Harvey from the Department of Engineering and Physics received the CMS Vanderford Teaching Award.
I hope all of you and your families are doing well during this challenging time. There have been many changes in the College of Math and Science for this semester, but we are trying our best to maintain a sense of normalcy as well as our values and our commitment to academic excellence, transformative learning, and student success. We are offering face-to-face classes with reduced capacity, and most lecture sections have an extended section in which students attend classes virtually but synchronously. To make this possible, the necessary technology was added to most of our classrooms this summer. I want to acknowledge the efforts of the deans, chairs, and the college staff to help us prepare for the semester, and particularly the efforts of the faculty to learn the technology and prepare for the challenges of delivering their classes in entirely new formats. Lab classes are face-to-face, research labs are open, and students have been able to continue their field research. Our students have been incredibly understanding of, and compliant with, our mask, disinfection, and physical distancing policies.
In early February, I went to the Big Island of Hawaii just before we realized that the coronavirus was beginning to spread in the U.S. As I reflect on that trip, I often think about the lava flows I hiked across and the volcanic craters I hiked through. I’m sure many of you have been to Hawaii and have seen the vast miles of a’a lava from volcanoes that erupted many decades ago, or have hiked across the floor of a crater. A’a lava is particularly treacherous; it is rough, sharp, and very jagged. It is hard to get your footing, and if you fall, your skin can literally be shredded. I admit that as difficult as it is to hike over a’a lava, I have said more than a few times since then that I would rather hike barefoot for miles across a’a lava than be dealing with what we are encountering during this pandemic! But as you hike across the barren a’a lava landscape, the life that was destroyed is being replaced within and around stunningly beautiful pools of water filled with golden algae and surrounded by plants adapted to the harsh conditions. Likewise, if you hike into a volcanic crater, you see plants such as the ohi’a tree becoming established on the lava, and beautiful miniature gardens of ferns and other plants nestled in cracks. You see tiny blueberry plants in flower, whose fruits support the endangered nene or Hawaiian goose. These plants are surviving and producing flowers and fruits.
Given time, the a’a lava will be covered with plants, and a forest will grow up in this crater. However, at this point, life is hard on the a’a lava and on the floor of this crater, just as our lives are hard because of the pandemic. Life as we knew it at UCO in February has drastically changed. But I think of our faculty and staff like the plants taking hold and thriving on the harsh landscapes of the Big Island of Hawaii. I know we will adapt, grow, succeed, and thrive in this new pandemic landscape if we all work together. With all we have learned during this time I suspect our landscape might not look like it did before, but I am certain that we will continue to engage and transform our students and prepare them well for their careers and for professional and graduate schools. In the meantime, we have plans and dreams for the college that we will keep alive and move forward – new programs and degrees to propose, labs to remodel, and other initiatives to explore.
On behalf of the faculty, staff, and students, I thank you for your continued confidence in and support of our college.
Gloria Caddell, Ph.D.
Interim Dean, College of Mathematics and Science