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Dean's Blog: The gift – what did you do with your 365?

What a difference a year makes. I mean really…just think, this time last year, we were in quarantine, in many cases staying away from our families (to keep them safe). Our classes were all virtual after the great pivot and our research efforts, usually plentiful over winter break, were, in some cases, cut way back or even put on hold while we figured out how to work off campus. And we were asking for contributions to help those in need as many students and friends were without food, shelter, or even a job as the holidays approached.

The world anxiously pinned its hopes on many of our scientists to find a vaccine to protect us from COVID-19. And make our world more ‘normal’ again. In my last blog post in December 2020, I encouraged us all to take a real rest over the break, for the weight of that moment weighed heavily on us all.  

Fast forward to now. Not one but many vaccines were created and offered to the world. And a booster is even available to strengthen the body’s immunity to many of the virus’ variants. We have a better understanding of the virus spread, thanks in part to our COVID research efforts and evolved saliva testing. People shifted from worrying if Mason could sustain our jobs and enrollment to lifting a hiring freeze and welcoming 30+ faculty and staff into our ranks. We celebrated our successes, including graduation, from hybrid to hooding PhD and processionals back in person this week.

This year has really taught us a lot. We have much to be grateful for and we have learned so much…about ourselves, our world and what really matters.

So how do we use that knowledge?

This winter break, we have the chance to visit with those we love. I will be present in these wonderful moments with my family and friends as I recognize I am fortunate. For who have lost loved ones, their pain is still sharp. We are keeping you in our thoughts this holiday season.

Some of our researchers will be very busy, either working in their labs, or writing papers from the results obtained once efforts resumed. But the pace is quick, perhaps making up for lost time or mentoring a larger influx of students to work on new grants. Our research enterprise is strong and thriving. Our centers and labs continue to build on their research partnerships. We’ve just recognized many of our researchers and staff for important work. And I’ve got great news to share. Last year’s Deans award winner for early career excellence, physics and astronomy scientist, Nirmal Ghimire just received the National Science Foundation’s Career award, their most prestigious award in support of early career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic research and education role models.

I too am personally grateful for my collaborators and the many opportunities our science community has worked hard to bring to us.

And our efforts to educate continue to produce scores of graduates filled with knowledge and hope for a brighter future. Yet, I recognize the workload and the current state of our world can be heavy and stressful.

Food and shelter insecurity is still of primary concern for many. Whether it be storms tearing through Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee, or the lack of food and shelter in the communities where we learn or live, I encourage us where we can, like we did last year, to take a moment to help those in need.

This winter break, I also urge all of us to purposefully take time, real time, not just to help others, but also take a few meaningful moments to nourish our own spirits. Take time for wellness. Reflect on our gift of the past 365 days. What did we do with it?

Think hard about what we can do with 2022 as Mason celebrates our 50th year. Our collective bright future awaits.