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NIU Voices: NIU responding to COVID-19 with ingenuity, resilience

At Northern Illinois University, we have a saying: “Huskies never quit.”

Those words have been more appropriate than ever these past few weeks. Almost overnight, the predictable rhythms of a semester were thrown into disarray by COVID-19. Every member of the university community was forced to adapt to new circumstances and to overcome obstacles that only a month ago were unimaginable.

I am incredibly proud to report that we have responded to the challenges with ingenuity, agility and resilience. Our faculty and staff have collaborated, solved problems and confronted challenges as fast as they have been thrown at them. They have shown their commitment to the academic success of our students by rapidly switching our emphasis from classroom instruction to remote teaching and learning with a significant focus on how to make the transition easier for students, professors and instructors. They created resources to support this process, and developed strategies for identifying and addressing disparities in technology access.

For their part, our incredible students are working hard to adapt – demonstrating their creativity as remote solutions are developed and launched for lectures, laboratories, studios, musical and theatrical performances.

Many of our staff who support administration and operations have also adjusted to working off-site, finding different ways to execute their responsibilities and new ways to contribute to the university.

And it is notable that many of our students, faculty and staff made these adjustments while transitioning their children to e-learning, helping to care for family and friends, or even working on the front lines in the battle against COVID-19.

There are many other examples of how the entire NIU family has rallied to support our students. In the midst of all that is happening, we continue to provide technology support, tutoring and advising, mental health support services and food assistance. Partial refunds of fees have been issued, and an emergency assistance fund has been established to help students in need of resources and funding gain access to technology, employment, housing, meals, transportation and other critical needs.

NIU also has engaged with our local community, providing leadership and expertise to DeKalb County UNITES in helping the small businesses that serve our students and employees to remain viable during this challenging period.

Although the unprecedented circumstances of the public health emergency have demanded that we focus on immediate issues, we are also thinking about the future. We are looking ahead to welcoming a new group of Huskies to our university and the DeKalb campus in the fall. As we are not able to host those potential students and families on our campus right now, we’ve made provisions to engage them through virtual tours, “phonecasts” and online information sessions. Students and their families can participate in sessions designed to speak specifically to traditional, first-generation, and transfer students. All are offered in English and Spanish. All of these resources are available at niu.edu/admissions.

So, while things seem quiet right now, we are still hard at work promoting our mission, vision and values to potential members of the NIU community by demonstrating our resilience and caring. We look forward to the day when our campus is once again bustling with students, faculty, staff and alumni, all embracing a return to normalcy. For now, however, the health and well-being of our community and our loved ones remains our No. 1 priority. While that means physical separation, we hold all members of the Huskie community in our hearts.

Stay safe, be well and Go Huskies!

• Lisa Freeman is the president of Northern Illinois University.

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