When there’s a critical problem to be solved, it’s important to have diverse minds at the table—problem solving is not a solo endeavor and requires creativity, innovation, and many different perspectives. It’s a philosophy President Laurie Leshin has long espoused and has stressed in her work both on campus and off.
This philosophy is especially vital amid the COVID-19 pandemic—one of the most challenging problems ever posed to the modern world—as Leshin helps guide both the university and the Massachusetts higher education sector in mitigating the impact of the pandemic.
In addition to working with the university’s Coronavirus Emergency Response Team (CERT), a cross-functional group that since January has been managing WPI’s response to the pandemic, Leshin was tapped this spring by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker to be a member of the Reopening Advisory Board to provide advice on the state’s reopening efforts and plans.
Baker looked to leaders in critical industries upon which the Commonwealth’s economy is built—including higher education—to strategize and collaborate on ways to safely and carefully reopen as the world adjusts to a new way of working and living against the backdrop of coronavirus.
Leshin brought the higher education perspective to the Reopening Advisory Board. Higher Ed is one of the state’s largest and most diverse sectors, with 106 institutions—large and small, public and private, urban and rural, four-year residential and two-year community colleges—that educate 500,000 students and employ 130,000 faculty and staff.
Noting that higher education has industry-specific challenges, Leshin convened a 14-member Higher Education Working Group (HEWG) to develop a realistic framework to safely reopen campuses with the flexibility to address individual institutions’ diverse needs.
“Being a member of the Governor’s Reopening Advisory Board and leading the Higher Education Working Group was not only an honor, but an opportunity to gain real-time insight into evolving strategies that we can apply here to our own campus,” said Leshin. “The state-level view of the economic and public health impact of our actions definitely informs what we can and should do at WPI. And being intimately involved in WPI’s pandemic response work gave me very granular insight that relates directly to practical strategies the HEWG needed to consider in developing its framework for reopening higher education.”
The HEWG framework for reopening campuses has been submitted to the State as a recommendation for the broader plan to reopen Massachusetts. It includes a phased approach, and a focus on health behaviors of students and employees, COVID testing and monitoring, de-densifying classroom and workspaces, and residence hall management, and other strategies. WPI has begun its own phased approach to repopulating campus, restarting with laboratory research, and is preparing in person operations for the new academic year in line with the Massachusetts plan and higher education framework.
“I have said before that we didn’t expect this pandemic and we certainly didn’t ask for it, but I truly am impressed with, and proud of, the ways we are dealing with it—we, WPI, and we the Commonwealth. Throughout this experience, I could not have asked for better collaborators, both on our own campus for the benefit of WPI students, faculty, and staff, and on the Governor’s panel for the broader benefit of the people of Massachusetts and all of our colleagues in higher ed.”
Members of the Higher Education Working Group (HEWG):
- Laurie Leshin, President, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, member of the Governor’s Reopening Advisory Board
- Robert Brown, President, Boston University
- Nicholas Covino, President, William James College
- Javier Cevallos, President, Framingham State University
- Mary-Beth Cooper, President, Springfield College
- Helen Drinan, President, Simmons University
- Patricia Gentile, President, North Shore Community College
- Deborah Jackson, President, Cambridge College
- Paula Johnson, President, Wellesley College
- Richard Lapidus, President, Fitchburg State University
- Marty Meehan, President, University of Massachusetts
- Anthony Monaco, President, Tufts University
- Paula Rooney, President, Dean College
- Yves Salomon-Fernandez, President, Greenfield Community College
-By Colleen B. Wamback