Hello everyone! My name is Sarah Farrar, and I have the lovely privilege of being the Family Assistant for the 2021-2022 school year. There are a lot of great things that I get to do because of this job, and one of them is start my own blog series!
I am so excited about this, I can’t even imagine how 3rd grade me would be reacting right now! It feels like I have an infinite amount of pen pals!
My series is titled “Back to the Future” because I will be talking with University staff and administration about how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their life, but also what they are looking forward to as we approach our so called normal or new normal.
My hope with this series is to share how the pandemic has affected all our lives, but also how it has helped us grow! If we look hard enough, there are always at least a few positives that come out of the situation.
To kick the series off, we went big! My first interview was with President Clif Smart. Just from the interview I can tell you that he has a truly kind soul and genuinely wants what is best for all students at Missouri State!
As you continue reading, I think you will feel the exact same way! I am going to leave these interviews in a Q/A format so you can feel like you were there with us! Let’s hop right into things!
Q: What do you believe makes a good leader?
A: It begins with accomplishing things! There are a lot of unique styles of leadership that successfully lead to accomplishing things! Over the last 35 years, I have developed compassionate leadership. Compassionate leadership means that you are approachable, authentic, really seeking input, trying to build consensus, appreciating others in the organization, engaging in a meaningful way, coaching people up as opposed to just firing people that fail, and fostering a kind and empathetic community!
It is still important to recognize that there are tasks that must be accomplished to fulfill the organization/company’s purpose. I have found that it is a lot easier to get things done with an open and engaged approach rather than a top-down dictatorial approach.
Q: What’s your long-term goal to get the university back to normal or the ‘new normal’?
A: I think that the country is transitioning from a pandemic to an endemic. We are going to have COVID with us always just like we have other viruses with us always, so we have to figure out how to continue doing the important things like having a meaningful college experience, continuing to teach classes so students can graduate and move on to their professional careers, continuing to do research and service in the community, and all the things that make Missouri State what it is! We can’t just shut down until everything is over because it probably won’t be over completely. We have already started taking steps towards bringing people back.
Last year we brought back a lot of these important things, but they were modified in a way that probably made students feel like they didn’t have the fullest experience. This year has been a continued transition of trying to get back to doing things the best way by gradually reducing the restrictions and trying to get back to pre-pandemic types of things while also recognizing that we have learned some things and we can do some things better because of the pandemic!
One example is that we have transitioned our Freshman Seminar into an eight-week course that is now blended (half in person, half online) that way students are learning all of the information they need earlier to help them be more successful! Also, we have learned that working from home is a great resource for employees that aren’t student-facing. We have more programs online which has helped us be able to provide for a different group of students that are not able to attend college on campus.
We are trying to transition to doing things the best way while placing less emphasis on the virus now that people can get vaccinated, but also still recognizing that we have learned from this experience. The hope right now is to have the masking mandate end with this semester and come back next semester without the mandate. This could always change, but hopefully, this will encourage more interaction in classes. We need to embrace the important things and continue to move forward!
Q: At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m sure you had people telling you what to do from every direction. How did you navigate the changing environment around you in order to keep the university safe and student success in top shape?
A: Clearly we had to learn as we went along, there wasn’t a playbook for stuff like this like there is for natural disasters. Thankfully, Springfield is a collaborative community that was involved from the beginning. There were over 30 people in zoom meetings at the beginning that included city, hospital, and university representatives. We really were all working together and ended up forming an educational group that consisted of all of the schools and colleges in Springfield as well as the Greene County Health Department so we could all have meetings together to discuss our action plans.
David Hall, our director of safety, was involved in state-wide meetings with higher education to bring back information! One of the things that became really important was to communicate, communicate, and communicate! There was a lot of anxiety surrounding this pandemic, and it was important to be able to communicate to others, so they felt up to date on the information as well.
We had video messages, created a dashboard of cases every day, town halls that were open to everyone, the Board of Governors was engaged in setting overall policy, and many other people played a part in this! Overall, I think we have managed through reasonably well! The principle we came up with in the first summer was: what we do is important, and we need to bring it back as much as we can.
Q: How has the past year and a half changed your outlook in your personal and work life?
A: I have used the COVID pandemic to start an exercise regimen, I walk every day now! That is a positive thing that has come from this. I do think it probably shortens my tenure as President. It just has been a grind. The last two years feel like the same amount of time as the first eight, even though we have come through it well!
It has just been a lot and it has been hard, but it has been a good experience. It has probably shortened it up, but I’m not going anywhere soon! It has created anxiety and struggles in everyone and there comes a time when everyone needs to transition. I don’t know what that looks like yet, but I wouldn’t be honest if I said it hasn’t affected my outlook. You have to have the big picture when making these types of decisions and be thinking about the whole university and how it fits into our state, city, students, etc.
Q: What’s one thing you’re looking forward to going back to the so called normal we had?
A: I haven’t been to live music, theatre, or concerts since the pandemic started! I am also looking forward to international travel. The Chorale is in Spain, and I am looking forward to being able to travel like that soon!
These things have been on the back burner for the past two years and I find a lot of joy in them. The Chicago concert is something I’m looking forward to!
Q: What is one piece of advice you would give to students about being resilient?
A: It’s easier said than done but continue to be engaged and continue to do things. To the extent that you can, don’t let all of these things overwhelm you! We have to continue living our lives to the fullest that we can.
Now, if you are immune-compromised, there are going to be a lot more limits associated with that, but assuming that you are not in that category — continue to be engaged. We have stopped doing things for the past two year, but you need to continue to be in a faith group, go to music, join a student organization, do intramural sports, or take seated classes. The more you get back into it, the more normal it will begin to feel!
Get help to work through it from teachers, friends, counselors, or mentors. Until it becomes natural, we are going to have to push each other to get back to doing the things that make life meaningful.
I hope you all enjoyed this little sneak peak of President Smart’s plan to get the university Back to the Future! Make sure to keep a look out for the next interview where we’ll hear from other university staff on how they plan to go back to the future this year!
Thank you so much for reading and I hope you have a great rest of your day!
Until next time,
(Sarah Farrar is a junior from Webb City majoring in Psychology. She is the Family Assistant for the Office of Family Programs and the Vice President of Development for the Student Activities Council.)