Remembering some sweetness in the year following the transition to remote work – 3.12.21
Letter from Dean Sive - March 12, 2021

Dear College of Science Faculty and Staff,

This is COVID Anniversary Week. One year ago, the World Health Organization acknowledged a worrying new infectious disease, and we locked down to avoid catching and spreading it.

There are a lot of ‘COVID Retrospectives’ around, which is odd because we are not done with the pandemic. It is still raging in some parts of the world. On campus there are a few positive tests every day, and some of our research labs have been affected, making a stressful situation. But it does seem like the pandemic is winding down in the United States. Every day family members and friends send joyous messages that they have received one or even two doses of a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. It’s a celebration of molecular biology, of Biotech and of Science.

In the spirit of the week, I did some Anniversary reminiscing. Have you done this? How has your year been, in aggregate? Mine has been extraordinary, really. There were many nights I lay awake, in the beginning of lockdown, unable to get my mind around the reality. That a small virus could kill us and change the whole world. That health workers, including my neighbors, were caring for such sick people without enough PPE, a newly prevalent abbreviation. That grocery shopping was scary. That people in general were to be feared.

A year ago, we learned about supply chains, and why toilet paper ran out. (Turns out there was almost no spare capacity to expand production when people stockpiled.) We wondered why other items ran out – peanut butter, chicken, coriander. There’s a human story behind each one. And we realized that people were putting themselves in danger to supply our food.

A year ago, I picked up two daughters from college, one about to graduate triumphantly, the other enjoying her sophomore year, and drove them home. Their deep unhappiness at this enforced move was not mitigated by having comfort, safety, and private space.

A year ago, I became deeply grateful for every day. Taking a walk around the block in good health became an opportunity to give thanks.

A year ago, we stopped teaching in person and had about 5 hours to figure out how to keep classes going remotely. I was teaching Introductory Biology at my former university, with Dr. Diviya Ray, now an Assistant Teaching Professor at Northeastern. We got through the class, quite well really. I know many of you did so also. Congratulations for that, and congratulations for your ongoing refinements to our NUflex way of teaching.

Remember when the air started smelling sweet because no-one was driving? And we got a sense that pollution could truly plummet, if we would let it.

Remember when it became clear that wearing masks was a good idea, but you could not buy any? My son-in-law’s sister, Tatyana kindly made a cloth mask for each member of the entire extended family, and for hundreds of other community members. It was the best gift.

Remember when I began serving as your Dean at Northeastern, nine months ago? I wondered how to connect with you, without in person coffee and cookies. Hooray for Zoom and Teams. It has not been such a bad way to get to know one another, although I look forward to meeting in person!

I remember some sweetness this year. A homemade graduation ceremony with Zoom guests, all supplied with “Congratulations Miranda!” hats and bears and candy. Birthdays, Passover, planting seeds that became flowers, and so much good cooking, so much gratitude for the food. There was sweetness of being family locked together for three months. Even in the strange, scary landscape, it was a gift.

I remember all of your extraordinary commitment, hard work and innovation, that continues to this day. For keeping Northeastern University and our College of Science doing its important work in research and education, thank you thank you thank you.

And I remember the Nor’easters this last year. Cold, wet winds that broke branches and whole trees. The howling upheaval of those winds matched the landscape of COVID. This week the wind changed. I noticed it while out walking – a warm, dry wind that made leftover leaves tumble along the road. It’s a new wind for a new time, an opening into the future.

Best regards,

dean signature

Hazel Sive PhD
Dean, College of Science
Northeastern University