President’s message: Overcome obstacles, keep eyes on opportunities

Don’t let COVID spike obscure UND’s exciting future, which is captured by the phrase, ‘To infinity and beyond,’ Armacost says

Editor’s note: On Friday, Oct. 23, UND President Andy Armacost sent out the below message and the above video to campus.  A transcript of the video message is also below; scroll down to find it. 

Dear Members of the UND Community,

In my remarks during the Oct. 5 UND presidential inauguration, I talked about the “Chain of Office” and how it symbolizes both a connection with the past and the need to contemplate change. A good example of this is how the last few months have been profoundly different from what we expected for the fall semester. This change has demanded incredible work by many and the patience of all.

COVID and its obstacles

We’re now heading into a tough time for the pandemic, and I respectfully ask everyone to redouble their efforts to keep themselves and others safe. The recent increase in COVID-19 cases has been steady. Unlike the quick rise and fall of cases we saw in late August, we are now seeing a steady increase in cases. The measures we are taking for testing, isolation, and quarantine are certainly suppressing the growth in cases, but the steady increase without abatement indicates we have work to do.

Let me reiterate our expectations: wear a mask when interacting with others; wash your hands frequently; keep a safe distance of six feet or more from others; and avoid large groups of people. It’s a simple set of steps that can be difficult to practice.

You might wonder what your friends will think of your mask. Will they think you’re overly paranoid? Will they shun you? The truth is, they probably won’t think any less of you. In fact, they’ll likely follow your positive example. It’s relatively easy and simple to take these steps, but it’s more important than ever that we make the effort.

I was in an off-campus meeting the other day with seven UND members and another 25 community members. We were safely distanced. But the UND members followed our on-campus rules and wore masks. By the end of the meeting, there were an additional seven members of the crowd who followed our lead. This is the type of reaction you get when you take the steps to be safe. Others will follow you, as they know these simple steps make a difference. The same can happen in your circles on campus.

A civic responsibility

Speaking of setting an example and individual actions, please be sure to exercise your right to vote in the upcoming election, at all levels of government. This is the opportunity to use your voice to determine how you wish to be represented in our republic. Not all nations give voice to the people, and our Constitution grants us the good fortune to have a say in our nation’s future. Please take advantage of this right.

To infinity and beyond

There are many areas of possible growth on our campus, and one is in outer space! We’ve hosted four key space leaders over the last year or so, and I know there’s an important role our University can play in the ever-increasing domain of space. This includes commercial and military uses of technology. Our space studies, UAS, and engineering programs are logical connectors, but so is our work in law, philosophy, business, and policy.

I’ve quipped that I’d like us to launch satellites from Grand Forks, but please don’t take that literally. A more practical goal is to design, build and control satellites after they’re launched into orbit elsewhere aboard a commercial space vehicle.

Consider all the work we can do at UND with our air-based autonomous systems to test technologies and procedures for future systems operating autonomously in space. There’s a promising frontier right in front of us. Let’s use the creative and scholarly talent of our faculty, students, and staff to make some magic happen.

To inclusivity and beyond

In my next letter, I will share my thoughts on the work being done by UND’s Task Force on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. More specifically, I want us to be prepared for the important conversations ahead. What I envision is a campus rooted in the highest possible levels of respect for each other, one that uses education and conversation as a way to defuse the growing polarization around social and political issues, and one that raises its song of gratitude for the contributions of each of its members.

Have a great week.

Andy Armacost
President

 

The following is a transcript of UND President Andy Armacost’s Oct. 23 video message to campus, which is embedded above.  

Hi, this is Andy Armacost, UND’s president. Thanks for tuning in for this bi-weekly message.

As you know, I typically talk about one or two things that are on my mind. Today, what is primarily on my mind is the COVID pandemic. I wanted to make sure that you were tracking all the things that are happening across the state and also here in Grand Forks and on campus.

And what we’ve seen across the state and locally is not a good picture.

The levels of positivity of our testing is higher than it’s been in a long time, and the trend is upward in terms of our cases.

If you look back to what happened in the summer, we had great systems in place that we still have in place currently, and the number of cases peaked at 330, and then we were able through testing, through quarantining and isolation and through good health practices, we were quickly able to drive that number down.

What we’re currently seeing is a number of cases in roughly the 100-120 range. So this number has been creeping up steadily over the last 10 days to two weeks. Just know that the resources we have available on campus are sufficient and more than adequate to handle this number of cases.

We’ve hired a significant number of contact tracers. We have a significant number of hotel rooms available for quarantine and isolation. And so, I think we’re well positioned to handle this increase in cases.

However, what I would like to see is us turn the corner. That just doesn’t require the identification of close contacts and positive cases, but it requires the actions that we need each of you to take to prevent the infections from spreading.

So these are the age-old habits that I’ve always talked about: washing your hands, wearing a face mask, keeping your distance from others and avoiding large groups. And by all means, taking advantage of testing.

And I have ample evidence that it’s happening well on campus and not well off campus.

So, I’ve been very pleased to see people wearing their face coverings as I walk about campus and as I drive on University Avenue. That’s great news, but I need you – we all need you – to make sure that you’re doing those same things off campus in your private lives in social settings and so forth.

I know that it’s hard. I know it’s hard to be the one person who’s wearing a mask, but trust me on this. When you start wearing masks, others will follow.

This is what happens when you’re a good leader. You take these steps. And I have seen pictures and videos from events that have happened off campus that cause me great concern.

People recklessly gathering in tight spaces, in large numbers, in close proximity to each other without face coverings. I’ve seen this happen on a number of occasions.

And what I need you to do is make sure that you take the steps to avoid having that happen.

And furthermore, the response from some have been, “Well, there’s no city ordinance that prevents me from doing this.” Or, “it’s off campus, and the rules on campus don’t apply.”

That’s one way to look at the world. The other way to look at the world is your moral responsibility to keep others safe.

I ask you when you’re in those situations: take the very simple steps of keeping your distance and putting a face covering on.

There’s a higher purpose here. The public safety of all is what you should be marching towards, not whether or not there’s an ordinance that tells you what you should be doing.

So please, keep yourself safe. Take the actions you need to make sure that you keep others safe. Wear your mask, wash your hands, keep a distance and avoid large gatherings.

It’s simple. Let’s do those right things.

To infinity and beyond

When I think longer term beyond the pandemic, I think about the long-term future of the university. I think about the bold directions that we can take. One such bold direction, and you’ve seen it in our UND Today stories, we’ve focused a lot on the Space Force – the new U.S. Space Force.

We’ve had four space-oriented visitors: the leaders of our Space Force, the leaders of NASA and most recently Dr. Derek Tournear, who runs the Space Development Agency. He’s fielding an amazing system in space that provides the infrastructure for communications in space. This supports both commercial and defense applications.

And he quickly pointed out the connection between autonomous systems and the systems that we will be fielding in space. I think UND is uniquely positioned to take advantage of this opportunity to look beyond where we are now, which is our Earth-based systems, and to really amplify our work on space systems that happens in the Odegard School, to look at an expanding portfolio of research and educational opportunities here on our campus.

I’ve asked the Odegaard School and the College of Engineering and Mines to really take a close look initially on what types of programs – both on the research front and on the education front – that we could explore to expand our reach, to do things in space that we haven’t imagined, and to really start thinking about how it involves the entire campus, whether it’s business and entrepreneurship, whether it’s space policy and space law, whether it’s physics experiments that are launched aboard satellites that we could launch from here in Grand Forks.

OK. We won’t physically launch them from here, but we can certainly design them, build them, and then control them from Grand Forks.

There’s a lot we can do. It’s an exciting opportunity.

In addition, we have a Space Force member who is among us. Major Jim Franciere from our ROTC detachment for the Air Force is now a Space Force member. We’ll be profiling him in an upcoming publication about what it means to be in the Space Force and what the Space Force does that’s different from our Air Force.

As we’re talking about all this space stuff, your imagination is running wild, I’m certain. About movies that you’ve seen about space, whether it’s Star Trek or Star Wars. When you think about “Live Long and Prosper” or “To Infinity and Beyond,” there’s just this wonderment that should exist – this idea of discovery and charting a new course for the university, and using space as our next frontier.

So there’s optimism and hope for the long term. There’s many things that will happen on our campus over the long term.

And in the short term, let’s keep our full and undivided attention on the pandemic. Let’s do the right things to keep each other safe. Let’s do it together, and let’s do it as One UND. Thanks!