Anthony Wutoh, Ph.D., R.Ph., is no stranger to change. As the provost and chief academic officer, it is his responsibility to oversee the evolution of academics at Howard University as he works to move Howard ahead. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he and his colleagues had to quickly think of a plan to transition everyone efficiently to an online environment. And then they had to work to transition everyone back to campus safely — a feat that required a lot of careful steps, strategic planning and reassurance to all. Now, it’s just a matter of maintaining vigilance and safety to make sure the Fall semester goes smoothly.
Q: How are you adjusting to seeing your colleagues and peers more regularly?
A: It has been good seeing colleagues face to face and not through a computer or phone screen. I look forward to having more faculty, staff and students on campus.
Q: Tell us some of the steps taken to ensure the safety of both staff and students as we return to campus.
A: We have implemented a vaccine requirement for students to try to ensure the safest possible environment for them. We have been conducting COVID-19 testing since last August and using that to assess our safety. We will continue to do regular testing. We will also continue to implement the Bison Safe app for daily screening and require masks on campus and other safety measures. In addition to enhanced cleaning, disinfection and additional environmental measures, we feel confident in our plan to keep faculty, students and staff safe.
Q: There are a lot of people involved behind the scenes to reopen campus. Who are some of them?
A: Every unit and office on campus was fully engaged in the process. Our public health officials, clinicians and health professional schools have been operating the COVID-19 testing clinic and the vaccination clinic. The facilities staff have posted signage, implemented cleaning protocols, and facilitated HVAC cleaning and filter replacements. Enrollment management was busy supporting our admissions and enrollment processes as we have the largest number of enrolled students in recent times.
Student affairs was preparing for the return to residential housing and preparing a robust and safe list of student activities. Our communications team has been supporting the messaging to our faculty, students and staff regarding the progress on campus and preparations for the Fall. A number of renovations have been ongoing in Douglass Hall, the Blackburn Center and the Undergraduate Library as contractors have been on campus supporting our preparation for the Fall as well.
Q: As an avid baker, did you bake a lot during the pandemic?
A: I started baking new items, like strawberry cake, orange yogurt cake with chocolate ganache frosting, and yeast biscuits. I had actually lost weight before the pandemic but have been challenged to keep it off. Will have to get more exercise.
Q: If anything, what might you consider some good things that came out of the quarantine phase?
A: We have been discussing moving towards more online courses and programs for some time now. The pandemic has accelerated our progress towards that. Actually, while many universities saw a drop in enrollment, we experienced a 15 percent increase in enrollment – both new students and a higher retention of returning students. We expect to keep up that positive trend.
Q: What would you say to students, faculty and staff who are still worried?
A: We have been and are continuing to go through the most significant public health concern in 100 years. It is natural that folks may still feel anxious and concerned. The COVID-19 vaccines have been a game changer. The most recent data demonstrate that the majority of recent hospitalizations have been from unvaccinated individuals. This is a tribute to the effectiveness of the vaccines as well as the measures we have taken to keep everyone safe.