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Dean's Blog: A sweet start to the semester

Dean Miralles-Wilhelm handing out cookies

On Monday morning, my colleagues and I greeted faculty, staff, and students, offering each a cookie as they entered Exploratory Hall for the first classes of the fall 2021 semester. 

Many of them seemed very happy to be back after a long hiatus.  Others were coming on campus for the first time as new college students on their academic journeys. Some were there early, bringing student registration questions, waiting for class to start, or checking building maps. Others were running late, learning their way by asking directions to hard to find classrooms, or having battled campus traffic after just putting their own kids on the bus to school.   

Some say the eyes are the gateway to the soul, and, as I got close enough to offer a cookie, because we were all wearing masks, people’s eyes showed a mixed sense of excitement and apprehension as I provided them the treat. Yet I observed their shoulders drop and relax as that small act of kindness became a trigger to show it would be ok; people in our MasonScience community care about them, are happy to see them, and are here to help.

The phrase ‘nice to see you’ takes on new meaning. I was fortunate to meet faculty, some for the first time, who are on campus helping our students choosing to learn face-to-face. Thank you for being here.

We listened as some faculty and staff we saw offered stories of how they, and their relatives and friends, have acclimated and adjusted to the pandemic scenario we previously and now find ourselves living. It’s not been easy yet we’ve taken collective comfort to have arrived at this new normal.

It’s funny how the pleasant surprise of ‘Have a cookie,’ freely given can lighten someone’s load. Our approach to reduce the stress, providing small acts of kindness and ways to connect, can be the best way to build community, piece by piece with one kindness at a time.

I encourage you to take it day by day, and even moment by moment. Recognize we are coming back from (or may be still in) a COVID-affected life situation. But the big difference between last fall and now is that science has prevailed. The university required and makes available a COVID-19 vaccine and our scientists created and set up a saliva-based COVID-19 testing system to facilitate our safe return to campus. Even wearing your mask is an act of kindness for another.

Make the time to help someone find a classroom location that’s new to them, or listen to their pandemic story of what’s been happening in their lives to see the burden they carry. Invite a colleague or even your whole classroom to the in-person or virtual ScienceConnect events we will be holding this September. One cookie or act of kindness can go a long way.

Looking forward to a great semester.