Message from UHD President Loren J. Blanchard: Welcome to the First Week of Classes
Greetings Gator Community,
Welcome to the first week of classes, UHD Gators. I’m glad to greet the incoming freshmen, salute returning students, and see faculty and staff busily launching this new academic year.
While the beginning of a new year can be filled with new possibilities, I know many of you have questions about how the University will operate given that we are still living with the effects of the pandemic. I want to share some of the expectations on campus and in your daily lives to provide comfort and to reassure you that UHD is working to ensure your safety and success this year.
UHD’s mission is to provide comprehensive academic and career preparation as well as life-long learning opportunities – but that mission is pointless if we can’t keep you safe. Amid our many safety protocols are hand sanitizers provided throughout campus, daily cleanings of rooms and laboratories, providing PPE upon request, placing Plexiglas barriers within highly congested spaces and more. Please know we consistently monitor conditions from the local, state and national levels to make the appropriate adjustments.
By introducing this new year, I also am asking the campus community to consider a “Rule of Three,” which are the guidelines that will help us all succeed during the coming months: masks, vaccinations, and testing.
With that in mind, we must utilize the tools we know will best help us in this battle. Masks remain a highly useful tool in safeguarding ourselves and those around us. UHD cannot enforce a mask rule, but we remain a mask friendly environment and impress upon you the individual responsibility to do the right thing. With that notion in mind, I implore you to “mask up” when appropriate.
Similarly, although UHD cannot mandate vaccinations, the evidence overwhelmingly supports their effectiveness in slowing down the spread and devastating effects of COVID-19, and prevention is key to battling this virus. More and more establishments (grocery stores, pharmacies, churches, and community centers) host walk-in opportunities to receive the vaccination. UHD is doing its part by offering vaccinations on August 26 (first dose) and September 17 (second dose) in the Welcome Center. This event is open for you and your families who are eligible within the age requirement. Also, this Harris County Public Health site has details on the vaccination and a map of locations offering it. If you have not received the vaccine yet, now is the time to do so.
Additionally, UHD will roll out the Gator Vaccination Incentive Program with some outstanding benefits for faculty, staff, and students who are vaccinated. Additional details will be available soon.
Since we are all involved with an institution of higher education, I hope you will resonate with the idea that knowledge is power. If there is any doubt about your status … or if you are feeling the symptoms of COVID-19, Curative operates a testing kiosk located next to the Jesse H. Jones Student Life Center where testing is offered Monday – Friday from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. It is free and open to anyone who registers online. Testing is sometimes the first step in detecting a new outbreak, so please take advantage of this service.
These tools are free and at your disposal, so I urge you to use them ... and use them often.
As I referenced in a message earlier this month, since our region still is adjusting to the rising threat of infections, it is UHD’s responsibility to make decisions that best protect everyone while also remaining true to our mission. Thus, in order to ease the process of starting the new semester under these recent conditions, the University has implemented a “soft opening” to fall 2021. This approach will offer flexibility from the start of classes through September 11 to reduce campus density. Students and faculty involved in face-to-face or hybrid courses will meet at least once each week during this time span to reduce campus density. Online courses will remain unchanged by this soft opening. On Monday, September 13, classes will resume under their normal schedules.
Just as we have remained flexible in order to adapt to COVID-19, you have shown mighty resilience in these oft-changing times. I appreciate your fortitude as we brave this storm and look forward to a brighter day ... and I hope this next bit of news will offer a reprieve.
UHD is glad to introduce the Week of Welcome once more. This is a fun-filled week to kick off the 2021-22 academic year and reacquaint students, faculty and staff with one another. Expect exciting offerings – both in-person and in a virtual format – that include everything from scavenger hunts, Gator Frenzy, and the WOW Bash as well as voter registration drives, blood drives, and several activities where the Gator Community can find out more about student groups and University services. The festivities last through Friday, and I hope you find the week fulfilling and useful for this coming year.
Also, I am excited to introduce to you UHD’s newest brand campaign. Take notice of the UHD website and digital billboards throughout campus to see the first phase of the “Determined. Dedicated. Downtown.” campaign. It was partially inspired by the campus community since you embody the campaign’s first two words in all that you do. And we are all connected by the University of Houston-Downtown, which rounds out the three-word mantra. Be on the lookout for more promotions on campus and around the city as this brand continues to roll out in the following month.
Just as you played a role in creating this identity for the University, UHD always remains committed to you … and to your continued success this year and beyond. I know the events since March 2020 undoubtedly have created concerns that still linger, but it is my hope that with a focus on that resilience I mentioned earlier … as well as our collective determination and dedication … we can make this a healthy, a successful and even a great year.
Loren J. Blanchard, Ph.D.
President, University of Houston-Downtown