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Fall semester student welcome

September 2, 2020

Dear MSU students,

Wherever you are beginning your studies, I am delighted to welcome you to our community of scholars this fall semester. While the pandemic and pivot to remote learning have forced us to engage at a distance, we remain close in our shared focus of providing you with the same high-quality MSU coursework, taught by our world-class faculty, that we provide every semester.

MSU is also acutely aware of some unique needs that have arisen to keep you connected to the university and to one another, and to support you differently in this remote learning environment. A diverse range of Spartans from across campus have worked hard over the summer to put in place the myriad resources and structures needed to ensure your academic success. Throughout the semester, we will continue to support you as new needs arise, in the same agile and innovative ways we have been doing since March.

Support for remote learning, student success

As you know, the pandemic continues to powerfully impact the university’s functions and your lives as students. Through it all, MSU never closed. Despite the virus’ persistence, we have continued to teach our students and keep them on track to graduation. To make that successfully happen, over a thousand of our faculty members and instructors have gone through intensive professional development experiences focused on how to better design and teach effective online courses. We also engaged groups of experts in exploring innovative ways to deliver lab experiences for students, and to continue instruction in the performance arts. In each instance, our faculty have been remarkably creative and thoughtful in devising ways to meet both student needs and our high educational standards. We are all thankful to them for their dedication to MSU’s students, and for their commitment to academic excellence.

In support of your success and continued progress toward your degree, all of this work by our faculty will continue through the coming academic year. Faculty understand the need to prepare you for life and careers beyond MSU, and we have invested heavily in ensuring that we continue to meet those expectations.

In fact, our accomplishments in preparing for online instruction have been so successful that, in our land-grant tradition, we extended our good work to K-12 schools across the state of Michigan. MSU created a number of support programs and materials to help Michigan’s K-12 school districts prepare for online instruction this fall. Through these programs, our commitment to student success and academic excellence reaches far beyond our MSU classrooms. We are excited to have the opportunity to provide Michigan school districts with a foundation for successful online teaching and learning.

Keep Learning website

Our Keep Learning website, established in March, continues to provide students with a broad range of resources from across the university in support of their academic success in a remote learning environment. Please explore the site during your first week of classes, and continue to reference it as needed throughout the semester. It includes helpful information about academic advising resources, MSU learning platforms, our Online Engagement Center, and additional materials related to studying skills and techniques for online learning. New mental health resources have been added as well, so as the semester progresses, please check that area of the site as a starting point to find any help or support you may need.

Mentor support for new students

We are happy to add a new resource for our newest Spartans. To help incoming students navigate their transition to MSU during a semester that has forced us to engage remotely in a number of ways that usually occur in person, we have created the new Circles of Success Mentoring Program in support of their academic success. This network of support will encourage an exchange of information about the specific needs new students face, and provide an opportunity to create effective individualized outreach plans to support them throughout the semester. We are confident that this program will help bring valuable resources and services to the forefront, to address the unique needs of new Spartans.

Staying safe

Last Friday President Stanley sent a message to the campus community setting expectations for fall semester and making students, faculty, and staff aware of all of the important health and safety measures that are still in place. A focus of his message was off-campus expectations for students, a reminder of the MSU Community Compact, and possible accountability actions for those who violate the Compact.

If you haven’t yet, be sure to read his message in its entirety, especially if you are living on campus or in the East Lansing area. Regardless of where you are living and studying, please continue to do your part to keep everyone safe.

Extending grace and empathy

Finally, as we begin the semester together in this remote learning environment, I ask that you all work to extend grace and empathy to one another, and to all members of our MSU community. Much is new to all of us, and there will be missteps along the way. As you study and learn, please remember that we need to be supportive of one another, and understanding of the fact that we each face unique challenges in this new, remote environment.

I have asked the faculty to extend this grace and empathy as well, as they teach this fall semester. I have shared a document entitled Addressing Student Mental Health Concerns in Online Courses with them, which provides thoughtful directions in support of remote learning and student success, and that serves as a solid resource for us all.

Your instructors and I, and everyone working in support of your academic success here at MSU, care deeply about your intellectual health, your physical health, and your overall wellness. Please reach out for any help you may need during the upcoming semester, to your professors, to your advisors, to Counseling & Psychiatric Services, and to others across campus who are here to support your success. We are all here for you, and all deeply invested in fostering both your well-being and your progress toward your degree.

Best wishes as you begin your studies this semester. Take care, and stay safe!

Teresa K. Woodruff, Ph.D.
Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs
MSU Foundation Professor