A Message to Alumni: How SFU is Meeting the COVID-19 Challenge

Dear Alumni,

It is heartening, at a time when the threat of COVID-19 requires us to be physically isolated, to experience the sense of connectedness that comes from being part of an engaged and supportive community. Nowhere is that sense of community better expressed than amongst SFU’s 160,000-plus alumni. Your commitment to Simon Fraser University and contributions to building a better world exemplify and enhance our mission to be Canada’s engaged university.

In that vein, you may be interested to hear of the efforts that SFU has made in the face of COVID-19 to sustain our education and research, and to meet our commitments to the communities we serve.  In less than two weeks, we transformed the university in a way that I would previously have thought impossible. To keep people safe, we moved our entire educational program from the classroom to the cloud and other platforms. In mere days, instructors from every discipline embraced teaching technologies and techniques that many had never before encountered. At the same time, our staff worked tirelessly to make resources and services available remotely, enabling our students to continue their studies and access crucial supports, even as they adjusted to the difficult discipline of social distancing.

As Canada’s top comprehensive university with extensive research resources and world-class talent, SFU has been a leader in contributing to the national and global COVID-19 fight. For example, a team headed by Drs. Lena Dolgosheina and Peter Unrau is using SFU-invented RNA imaging technology to develop advanced coronavirus testing kits. Dr. Kelley Lee is directing a project to support global coordination of the COVID-19 outbreak response. And Dr. Caroline Colijn, our Canada 150 Research Chair in Mathematics for Infection, Evolution and Public Health, has been appointed to the federal government’s COVID-19 expert panel.

SFU students and alumni have also stepped up. For example, an expanding group of students in SFU’s Mechatronic Systems Engineering program are developing designs for rapid response, 3D-printer based options for personal protective equipment. Meanwhile Tinkerine, an education technology firm started seven years ago by a group of SFU graduates, has been manufacturing up to 1,000 face shields per day using 3D printers, and is looking to bring on additional workers to help meet the demand.

SFU has also been donating masks, gloves and other COVID-19-related materials and equipment to local health authorities, and are developing an inventory of services and facilities we can make available to advance the coronavirus fight.

Critically, at a time of physical isolation, SFU is also leveraging our capacities for public engagement to keep our immediate and broader communities well connected. This includes the efforts we are making to stay connected with alumni the world over. Even though we have had to cancel several alumni-related events – or move them to virtual platforms – you can be sure that we are committed to staying in touch with you, and hope that you will continue to look to SFU for community, as well as for life-long learning.

With that in mind, SFU is developing a broad set of initiatives to reach out and connect with alumni and others in our broader community. For example, SFU Public Square has launched an initiative called Community Engagement in a Time of Social Distancing, which includes a set of tools to help people stay connected. And the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue is Catalyzing Conversations for Change with a program of virtual dialogues designed to strengthen democracy in these shifting times.

We also have mounted a host of helpful online resources. First, under the headline and promise “We Gotchu,” the Centre for Dialogue has an extensive collection of evidence-based information on everything from health and wellness to arts and culture. While its doors are closed, the SFU Library still has a full array of services available online. Our Faculty of Health Sciences has built a resource for supporting kids in the time of COVID-19. SFU Woodward's has brought together links to video and audio content from past events. And SFU Archeology & Ethnology has assembled a selection of virtual exhibits. Whether your goal is to seek answers to questions, pursue life-long learning or simply be entertained, we have you covered.

Of course, challenges remain. While we have maintained educational programming and services, students still face serious problems. Many have lost part-time, co-op or summer jobs. Some don’t have the equipment they require to adapt to virtual learning. Some need help with day-to-day expenses such as food and rent. And some international students require assistance getting home.

That is why we have launched a COVID-19 fundraising initiative to support our students. You can find details at https://give.sfu.ca/covid-19-response.

In the meantime, SFU will persist in our efforts to help overcome this global crisis by continuing to educate our students, mobilize our research, engage our alumni, and support our communities.  We are all in this together, and what the university community has been able to accomplish thus far gives me hope and inspiration for our collective future.

Yours,

Andrew Petter, C.M., Q.C.
President and Vice Chancellor