Before I sat down to write this today, I took a break and walked around campus. I saw the redbud and maple flowers starting to open, the pine trees forming new cones, and the saucer magnolias in bloom. Although I also saw my favorite bur oak tree whose towering shape had been devastated by the recent ice storm, I felt hopeful after a very challenging year. And not just because it is spring. Over the weekend, I attended our Tri-Center Symposium, where students and their faculty mentors from our three interdisciplinary research centers presented posters. At the symposium, three of our outstanding alumni related to the students how the research opportunities they had at UCO and the close interactions with the faculty had prepared them for success in their Ph.D. programs and careers. The students were able to share their research because, with safety measures in place, they had continued to work in our research labs and in the field over this past year. The symposium was in a virtual format, but there were advantages to that. The posters were viewable for a few days in advance, so attendees could come with questions. Students gave a short summary of their poster, and many constructive questions were easily asked and answered in the “Chat”. A group of faculty and staff did an incredible job selecting the virtual platform and planning all the details of this highly successful event.
I was also feeling hopeful today because of some other impressive accomplishments by our students. Kayley McBride, assisted by Mahnoor Ahsan and mentored by Dr. Christina Hendrickson and Dr. Mel Vaughan, received 1st place in the Regional, Community, and Tribal College category at the EPSCoR Research Day at the Capitol for her poster on using dandelion extract to treat cervical cancer. Also, two of Dr. Nikki Seagraves’ students, Nazgul Nurbyek and Michaela Vance, were among the 60 participants selected from hundreds of applicants to present their research on the effect of phenylalanine, retinoic acid, retinol, and citral on proliferation of O9-1 mouse cranial neural crest cells at the Council for Undergraduate Research’s Posters on the Hill 2021. Another noteworthy achievement is the growing list of our students accepted to medical and dental schools for this coming fall.
My hope continues to grow because I know that our nursing students and faculty, through their participation in the clinics administering COVID-19 vaccines to our faculty, staff, and students, are helping make it possible for us to return to full face-to-face classes in the fall, as recently announced. I look forward to noisy hallways and to the Howell Hall Atrium filled with students gathered around whiteboards covered with equations.
Like all universities across the nation, we have had to deal with declining enrollment and resources over the past year. The value of higher education is being questioned. I am confident that, as demonstrated by the above examples, there is tremendous value to a degree from our college. Throughout the pandemic, we have remained steadfast in our commitment to our mission to advance knowledge, prepare students for success and leadership roles, and contribute to the intellectual life, health, and economy of the metropolitan area. In my letter in the fall newsletter, I said that our “landscape” after the pandemic might not look like it did before. We have learned much, and I suspect that we will retain some positive changes such as faculty holding virtual office hours to make themselves more accessible to students. There will be much good that emerges from this past year.
On behalf of the faculty, staff, and students, I thank you for your continued confidence in and support of our college. And I wish you a very hopeful spring!
Gloria Caddell, Ph.D.
Interim Dean, College of Mathematics and Science