A look back at the impact of COVID-19 on SILS and Carolina throughout 2020. 

Spring Break

On March 11, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced plans to extend spring break by a week, giving faculty a brief window to convert their classes to online instruction and students some additional time to decide where they would be living and learning for the rest of the semester. The abrupt changes were among many occurring across the nation and world in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

In addition to moving classes online, the University placed limitations on gatherings, effectively cancelling all spring events. For the UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS), this meant losing a day of discussion about the power and problems of digital technology with the 2020 Kilgour Lecture by Arvind Narayanan, leader of the Princeton Web Transparency and Accountability Project, and a panel featuring lead researchers with Carolina’s Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life (CITAP).

We didn’t get to see posters and presentations of student research at the annual Symposium on Information for Social Good or the SILS Project Fair.
We also missed the chance to hear about “Magic, Spaceships, and Explosions: Pushing Through Fear and Anxiety to Save the World” from author and librarian Megan K. England (MSLS ’13), who was set to deliver the 2020 Steinfirst Lecture. 

Posters with cancelled event details.

Above, digital posters advertising the CITAP spring panel discussion and 2020 Steinfirst Lecture. 

SILS didn’t get to make its debut at the Dean E. Smith Center, where the School had chosen to move its commencement ceremony to accommodate its annually growing number of graduates and guests. And we didn’t get to hear Meredith Evans (PhD ’06) deliver the keynote address at the University’s 2020 Doctoral Hooding Ceremony. 

SILS saluted its 2020 graduates online. During an April 29 All-School Meeting on Zoom, Carolina Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz presented several of the awards that are usually conferred at commencement. SILS Alumni Association representative Sarah Carrier announced that MSLS grad Katie Kehoe had been selected for the Outstanding Service to the School Award in recognition of her contributions to the Community Workshop Series. 

At the time these virtual alternatives seemed like temporary measures that could help sustain us until we could gather together later in the year. As we’d soon learn, Zoom meetings, online office hours, and cyber celebrations would become the norm for 2020.  

For the Good of the Order

In recognition of the countless hours they spent and innovative solutions they devised to help faculty, staff, and students make the transition to remote learning and working this spring, SILS IT Director Aaron Brubaker and Help Desk Manager Brian Nussbaum received the Edward G. Holley for the Good of the Order Award in May. 

This marked Brubaker’s second time receiving the award, and unprecedented achievement. Both Brubaker and Nussbaum are past recipients of the SILS Staff Excellence Award and the UNC Information Technology Award. 

Portraits of Aaron Brubaker and Brian Nussbaum

SILS IT Director Aaron Brubaker and Help Desk Manager Brian Nussbaum

In case of (more) emergencies

Recognizing the variety of financial hardships caused by the pandemic, SILS has established a new emergency fund to help students with challenges related to COVID-19, as well as expenses due to other short-term emergencies. Learn more about supporting the fund at sils.unc.edu/giving/make-your-gift.

Fall Back

Throughout the summer, Carolina made extensive preparations to welcome students back to campus in the fall. Classrooms, libraries, dorms, and dining areas were modified to encourage social distancing. Students had to commit to a set of community standards, including wearing masks during any public interactions, in order to stay enrolled.

All of the planning did little to slow the virus’ spread, and on August 17, less than a week after classes began, the University announced it would shift back to remote instruction and decrease the number of on-campus residents. SILS had already planned for most of its fall courses to be taught online or in a low-contact hybrid modality, so the transition required much less scrambling than the spring switch. 

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