April 28, 2020 9:18:38 AM
The second week of March seems like it was a year ago, Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum told the Starkville Rotary Club at its virtual meeting Monday.
The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic started to force the cancellations of school, sports and other gatherings on March 11, during MSU's spring break. The university extended its break by a week but soon had to convert all classes to an online environment for the rest of the semester.
"These past eight weeks or so, I can truly say, have probably been the most trying time of my life," Keenum said. "It's like the days run into weeks, and a day feels almost like a week."
Classes wrapped up Wednesday, students are taking final exams this week and MSU will hold a virtual graduation ceremony on Friday at 2 p.m., "the most unique commencement exercise in the 142-year history of our university," Keenum said. It will be livestreamed on the MSU website and broadcast live by WCBI.
The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) alloted more than $14 billion for higher education institutions, and MSU's share is $17.8 million, Keenum said. The university has already received half, or $8.9 million, and it has to go directly to students, he said.
"We're still working with the U.S. Department of Education, getting more specific guidelines on how we can award those grants to address student needs who have been impacted by this virus as far as their finances (go)," Keenum said.
The other $8.9 million will be used to cover the university's costs related to the pandemic, he said.
"Whatever they provide us, it won't be enough, but we're going to be in as good of a position as any other college or university in the state financially to meet this challenge," he said.
MSU announced in March that all summer classes will be taught online. More courses will be offered than usual and the prices of those courses have been lowered in what Keenum called the "Summer Advantage."
"Many students have summer jobs or internships or co-ops, but for many of our students, those opportunities are not going to be there," Keenum said. "So take advantage of this Summer Advantage to continue your education and do it in an affordable manner, and take courses that you would normally not be able to take because we're going to have a much broader offering."
MSU's emergency operating guidelines are in place until May 11: all employees must stay at home until they have coordinated their return with their supervisor, and those who can work remotely should do so, according to a Monday press release from the MSU Office of Public Affairs. Employees who must work on campus are limited to gatherings of 10 people or fewer and "are strongly encouraged to use personal protective equipment," the release states.
Whether students can come back to campus in the fall is still to be determined, but MSU has been able to contribute resources to help frontline health care workers fight the pandemic in the meantime, Keenum said.
A team with MSU's Paul B. Jacob High Voltage Laboratory worked with Taylor Machine Works in Louisville to convert more than 550 battery-powered ventilators to automatic current power, meaning they can be plugged into a wall, and sent them to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson earlier this month.
Shortly afterward, the College of Veterinary Medicine provided two ventilators to OCH Regional Medical Center. Keenum said he does not know if OCH has used the ventilators but is "very proud" that MSU could provide them.
Faculty, staff and students have used 3-D printers to make face masks for healthcare providers, primarily in Meridian and Lauderdale County, which "have been hit very hard" and asked MSU for resources, Keenum said.
He said he is confident that MSU will bounce back from the pandemic while continuing to help those in need however it can.
"Our state is going to get past this at some point, and I can promise you that Mississippi is going to need a strong, vibrant Mississippi State to help our state move forward," Keenum said. "I'm committed to doing everything in my ability to make sure that Mississippi State continues to be strong and vibrant and important, to meet our needs for our state's future."
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