Since the first case of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was reported in our state last month, life as we know it has changed drastically. Life at UNM has also changed, but our mission has not, nor has the deep public responsibility we share to serve all New Mexicans. Even as we practice social distancing, the Lobo community has come together to create new opportunities.
This devastating global health crisis has demonstrated U.S. institutions of higher education serve society in so many important ways. Across the nation, public research universities are at the forefront of science and medicine, making vital contributions to our understanding of and response to COVID-19 as they develop screening tests, antiviral treatments and vaccines. New Mexico has invested in our state’s public colleges and universities, and we are seeing the returns in academic continuity and student success, scientific and medical advances, and community engagement. UNM is the only R1, very high research, university in New Mexico, as well as home to the UNM Health Sciences Center (HSC), the only academic medical center in the state.
Our health and emergency management experts have been called to serve at the state level, advancing our collective goal to “flatten the curve.” Anticipating a scarcity of personal protective equipment, UNM engineers, biologists and mathematicians have engaged with community partners to study, design, and produce effective face masks, and assess ways to safely disinfect them for reuse. Under the leadership of Paul Roth, Chancellor for Health Sciences, UNM HSC physicians, health care professionals and researchers are at the front lines of this pandemic, working tirelessly and selflessly and tending to those who are sick with the highest standards of care and dignity. And we have been enrolling patients in potentially life-saving clinical trials and painstakingly preparing for a surge of COVID-19 patients.
The UNM academic enterprise has been nimble in its transition to remote instruction across all of our campuses – and our faculty have been positive and proactive in developing creative solutions for grading and granting course credits to ensure our students will continue to learn and then graduate on time. Laboratories continue cutting-edge research, our libraries offer invaluable online resources, our IT department has worked to provide students access to laptops and Wi-Fi, and our housing and dining services continue to operate to serve those students whose only best choice was to remain living in campus housing. UNM staff, especially those who remain safely on site to ensure the university continues to function and that critical services are provided, exemplify character and service in these extraordinary times.
Over 14 million students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities have been affected by the recent actions their institutions have taken to ensure their health, well-being, safety, and rigorous intellectual development. Each day our students inspire the best in all of us with their resilience and tenacity as they adapt not only to changes in learning, but disruptions in their entire university experience. Despite the unfortunate circumstances, the willingness they have shown to collaborate and innovate is laying the groundwork for how they perceive, adapt to, and shape their, and our, futures.
How we rise to meet this challenge will define who we are as Lobos, New Mexicans and Americans for generations to come. The days ahead will likely stretch many of us to our limits, but I am proud to say we’re already defining new opportunities to educate, discover, improve health outcomes and serve our communities. As Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has said: we are in this together. UNM is always here for you, New Mexico.