Administration, Campus, Health, News

The Deans’ Panel: A Moment for Reflection and Forging Ahead

From top left: Deans Jeelani, Shannon, Prakash, Bell, Bolden, Morris, Aglan, Koong

In February of 2022, Tuskegee University hosted a plethora of events during Black History Month. Black History Month serves as a means of highlighting events of the past, events that have paved the way for the present. However, Black History Month also serves to remind us that the actions we currently take will pave the way for the future. Tuskegee University wrapped up Black History Month with a panel including the deans from each college on campus. This panel was an opportunity for each dean to showcase their respective colleges as well as the work being done for the years to come.

The host of the panel, Dr. Lindsey Lunsford, provided questions and moderated discussion for the deans. The main theme of the panel was, “Leading Colleges and Schools in an Era of Challenge and Opportunity.” Naturally, Dr. Lunsford asks the deans to address any of the challenges their college faced through and after the Covid-19 Pandemic, as well as any resulting opportunities.

Dr. Chana Prakash, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), says that technology has been the biggest challenge faced by CAS. The pandemic forced both students and faculty to quickly transition into a world of virtual learning. However, Dean Prakash notes that the college is better prepared to deal with this issue now as opposed to the beginning of the pandemic. As Dean Prakash puts it, the college was “just asked to jump into the web. [They] had to learn to swim.” Presently, all of the faculty in CAS are “proficient in teaching online,” and the Covid funds has provided the faculty and students with additional access to technology. Dean Prakash also recognizes the prominence of technology in the post-covid world. Hence, the college is working towards offering more online classes and online degree programs. He says that the faculty is not only qualified but also willing to move towards this direction.

Dr. Heshmat Aglan, Dean of the College of Engineering, also focuses on the lasting effects that the pandemic has had on the students’ education. A challenge that does not receive much recognition, he says, is the combination of online, hybrid, and in-person classes. When considering sequence courses, this can become an issue; if a student has not learned the material thoroughly and effectively in the first course, then he/she may struggle in the next course. To combat this issue, Dean Aglan is proposing preparation classes and/or extra-curricular courses. The pandemic has made many feel stagnant and disoriented, and these feelings may be felt by students at Tuskegee University. However, the steps being taken by Dean Aglan will help students get back on track. He says, “at the end of the day, we want students to leave Tuskegee with competence.”

On the other hand, Dr. Olga Bolden-Tiller, Dean of the College of Agriculture, Environment & Nutrition Sciences (CAENS), draws attention to the opportunities that resulted from the pandemic. Dr. Bolden-Tiller sees the implementation of virtual learning as an opportunity that was not available prior to the pandemic. She says the college wanted to provide these online resources but did not have the “institutional infrastructure and support.” As a result of the Covid funds, CAENS now has the ability to implement a new mode of learning which Dr. Bolden-Tiller describes as “exciting.” The college will be introducing two additional online programs in the upcoming fall, and she speaks of a new opportunity for undergraduate students in the Animal and Veterinary Sciences. Full-time employees at Banfield Animal Hospital will have the opportunity to participate in the curriculum of Animal and Veterinary Sciences at Tuskegee University. Additionally, the pre-veterinary students’ program will be almost 100% paid by Banfield Animal Hospital. This is another way Covid funds have generated new opportunities for future students to take advantage of.

The online modality of learning has been a tremendous challenge for the School of Architecture and Construction Sciences (TSACS) as well. Dr. Carla Jackson Bell, dean of this college, emphasizes the importance of tactile learning within the college. This challenge, she says, has been very stressful for both the faculty and the students. While there are five design studios on campus for students to utilize, Dr. Bell points out that not every student is able to be on campus. As a result, Dr. Bell introduced a hybrid model for students at home to utilize as well as for in-person students. She also highlights the assistance provided by Covid funds. Wilcox B will be undergoing the renovation process soon, and Covid funds will help in funding this building’s renovation. While the transition into Virtual learning has been difficult for TSACS, Dr. Bell is hopeful for the future. She hopes that students will be able to return to campus and resume their hands-on learning. Until then, she is focusing on the renovation of Wilcox B and the hybrid modality.

In addition to the questions asked by Dr. Lunsford, participants and audiences asked their own questions. Dr. Carlton Morris, Dean of the School of Education, was asked specifically if there are any plans to make history education a minor and/or major. In response, Dr. Morris draws attention to the fact that the state does not have a high priority for history teachers. As a result, students can major in History and then take a national exam to qualify for teaching in Alabama. Most importantly, Dr. Morris recognizes that the pandemic has “tremendously cut down on the number of candidates going into the classrooms and it has really gotten the attention of the nation.” Certifications, qualifications, and pandemic burnout are all contributors. However, Dr. Morris believes the teacher shortage will result in a change to the requirements and certifications in the education field. Tuskegee University, however, will be doing its part to ensure there are more minority teachers in the classroom.

Another participant asked if there were any new and interesting methods of teaching being utilized in the different colleges on campus. Dr. Tracey Shannon, Dean of the School of Nursing and Allied Health, says that transition period of the pandemic allowed the school to receive additional simulation equipment, one featuring a birthing mother. They also have new tele-health equipment as well as whiteboards with real time cameras. The addition of these whiteboards is very interesting in that they allow students to observe those in the simulation lab, mimicking situations they will see in the field. Dr. Shannon also mentions that some nursing students are engaged with their own family members’ health conditions. When they came back to campus and worked with the simulation equipment, they were arguably even more proficient because they had real life experience with their own family members.

In the closing remarks, Dr. Kai Koong, Dean of the College of Business and Information Science (CBIS), emphasizes the resilience and strength of Tuskegee University community. “Covid-19 hit us pretty hard,” he says. Yet, Dr. Koong is proud of the faculty and students for continuing to be dedicated and hardworking despite the challenges of the pandemic. He says, “I think that’s tremendous when you talk about students, how they rise up to meet the challenge. We are in for better days, I’m sure.” The college has been partnering with major companies such as Intel and Microsoft to create more opportunities for students in CBIS. On the whole, Dr. Koong wants to “make our university the University of choice, the university that we can be proud of.”

Overall, all the deans admit the challenging transition caused by the pandemic. They, nevertheless, found a chance to step back and get a clear examination of their colleges. They are all planning exciting upgrades for their respective colleges, promising a much brighter future for each and every student here at Tuskegee University.