Interview with Alex Hummel, 05/19/2022

UW Oshkosh Campus Stories
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´╗┐GL: This is Grace Lim interviewing Alex Hummel on Thursday, May 19, 2022, for campus COVID stories. Campus. COVID stories is a collection of oral stories from students and staff at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh about their experiences in the time of COVID. Thank you for sharing your stories with us. Before we start, could you please state your name and spell it for us?

AH: My name is Alex Hummel, ALEX HUMMEL.

GL: And then for the purposes of getting good audio recording, tell us who you are again and what your title is here at UW Oshkosh.

AH: I'm Alex Hummel. I'm serving as the Chief of Staff and the Office of the Chancellor here at UW Oshkosh.

GL: Okay, we're gonna dive you know, before we dive into your campus, COVID story. We just want to get to know you a little bit better. And you know, tell us about where you grew up.

AH: I grew up in a small town called Fall Creek, Wisconsin, which is about nine miles outside of Eau Claire, Wisconsin on the west side of the state. And yeah, 00:01:00that's where I'm from. So I serve here on the east side of the state but actually grew up on the west side.

GL: And tell us a little bit about your parents and what are their highest degrees.

AH: My mom and dad were both public school teachers in the Fall Creek School District for about 35 years a piece. My mom had was an English and language arts reading teacher. My dad was a civics and American government American history teacher. In seventh and eighth grade, she served in sixth grade, and mom had achieved a master's degree in education. My dad got his bachelor's degree. So mom was from UW Eau Claire and dad was from the University of Wisconsin superior.

GL: And where did you earn your degree or degrees?

AH: I earned my degree my bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin Platteville in broadcasting, actually with an emphasis in production and 00:02:00performance and minor in journalism. And I'm currently working on my Master's Degree in Public Administration here at UW Oshkosh anticipating I'll graduate in December.

GL: And how did you come to work here at UW Oshkosh?

AH: I, I took the role of a public affairs reporter with the Oshkosh Northwestern newspaper in middle 1999 and then served at the newspaper, as a local journalist for about 10 years, eight of those years being literally on the day to day newsroom reporter with kind of an emphasis in city government, county government, local public affairs, you pretty much have to do everything when you're at a local newspaper, small local newspaper. And then I served another two years while at the paper as the editorial page editor, so that meant I was working pretty regularly with the university to cover you know, news events, 00:03:00issues for the for the institution. And then when I left the newspaper in 2009, I spent a couple years with a local nonprofit and at the end of that, that term, I saw the opening for news and public affairs director here at the university and I applied and got the job. So in 2011, that was the start of my career in the at the university and then the UW system.

GL: And from 2011, you know, did you work straight through here at UW Oshkosh?

AH: Yeah, I worked from 2011 till about 2015 in the University Marketing Communications Office here at the university. It from 2015. To the end of about almost end of 2016, I was serving at the UW system in Madison and a similar news and public relations communications role. But I returned to UW Oshkosh to join the Office of the Chancellor here. One of my colleagues, was about to retire 00:04:00from the role of kind of public, public and legislative liaison for the chancellor. And so I took that job, and was back here at UWO.

GL: And what year was that?

AH: That was 2016. In the fall.

GL: And then when did you become chief of staff?

AH: Just recently became Chief of Staff, January of 2022. Officially, this was all related to actually retirement here in the office of a dear colleague, and also the onboarding, I guess, if you will, of the title and total compensation project, which was a huge sweeping reordering of jobs throughout the UW system, and so they just kind of gravitated into this role. I think I think I've got the confidence of the chancellor, but so far, so good.

GL: So in January of 2022, you became the Chief of Staff. What were you doing before that?

AH: My official role was special assistant to the chancellor for community 00:05:00partnerships. So what it really involved was legislative relations, liaising with UW System colleagues, a lot of communications work on behalf of the chancellor in coordination with the University of Oxford University marketing, communications, and other duties as assigned to which when you work in the chancellor's office, there's a lot of those.

GL: What do you mean by liaising with those people?

AH: Often there's a, there's a lot of issues and policy matters and legislative developments that that kind of trickle down from the UW system in Madison, and require universities to adapt or respond. So I would often be working with colleagues in the state relations wing of UW System Administration, or the president's office on behalf of the chancellor, you know, whether it was getting the word out to our campus about something that we needed to adapt to on a 00:06:00policy basis, or maybe it was legislators that had questions about things happening on the campus, I would, I would work closely with people, my counterparts really, in Madison at the UW system. And that means that was maybe few times a month, we would just kind of connect, stay in tune, make sure that we're sharing each other's notes and progress on developments, that kind of thing.

GL: Pre COVID, can you sort of describe a typical day? I mean, I don't think you have one, but just walk me through a day?

AH: Yeah, sure, a lot of is planning to so typical day, you know, maybe you come into the office and sit in on a couple of meetings with the chancellor or other folks that he's got on his calendar, working with our University Marketing Communications team to craft an email or a university wide communication of all different kinds of flavors, maybe it was something really regarding a change in 00:07:00leadership, maybe it was something regarding an announcement for the chancellor related to, you know, the academic year, and as, as I'm sure we'll talk about, there was plenty of that kind of thing happening when the pandemic set on and throughout this pandemic. So, you know, typically a lot of communications work preparation, but also, you know, maybe sitting in on a meeting on behalf of the Chancellor to with, I don't know, of faculty members, or students who wanted to brief us on a an initiative or a research project. So that kind of thing that would that's pretty much a typical day, sometimes also running off on off campus and meeting with our local Chamber of Commerce or economic development organization, or, you know, representing us at a local service group. Who knows, you never know, it's always different.

GL: And then you are now the Chief of Staff and how has your job changed?

AH: Well, um, you know, it's still new to me, but I think in the chief of staff role, from what I've observed, whoever sits in this job always brings to it a 00:08:00specific skill set that may be different than the, his or her predecessor. And so I've, I've had a career largely built around the world of, you know, journalism, communication and public relations. So I think what I've, what I am bringing to the job, and we can touch on this too, in regards to the pandemic, is a little bit more of a concentration on regular study, communications on behalf of the Chancellor and helping make sure that people feel in the know, empowered to do the right things and safe, particularly a little bit over the last couple of years. So my role in Chief of Staff has largely been yes, managing a lot of policy matters and the Chancellor's calendar, and making sure that the university is you know, in compliance and on top of issues, you know, from strategic planning to, to just the health and safety and wellness of our student body, in coordination with Vice Chancellors. But, I get to specialize a 00:09:00little bit more, I think, because of my background, too, in these communication matters.

GL: Do you, are you in any supervisory role?

AH: I do not have any direct reports. Our office is pretty small. And that might surprise some people. We've got three employees, one, the Chancellor, two the Chief of Staff and three an executive assistant, and Melissa Vaughn Lender (?). And so we were all we're doing okay, I guess, you know, we feel like we were up to the task and so far so good. Melissa is actually just a wonderful colleague, who has been helping us manage a lot of the, the steady flow of paperwork and signatures and, you know, meeting management and everything. So, so far, so good with that trio.

GL: Okay, so, let's move to the early days of COVID. You know, we're going couple years back, I mean, do you recall the first time you ever heard of this virus

AH: In early 2020 we were, I think the world was, of course, watching the news 00:10:00reports, you know, emanate from other parts on the planet. And suddenly, you know, I guess if you want to say lap up on our shores in the United States, I particularly remember the first reports of illness in the Pacific Northwest, I think it was maybe Seattle, brought about that same time, I know that we were starting to get more steady reports here at the university from our Emergency Operations Committee, which is a term pretty common to us now, but at that point was something you know, relatively new in terms of it being operationally it was set up, and our police chief Kurt Leibold and a team that he had pulled together, we're paying close attention to this. And, and thankfully, were providing regular updates, which at that time, felt rather distant, and kind of FYI, if you will. But very soon, you know, I think that was maybe January, February, when they when they were really starting to operate more steadily and 00:11:00it didn't take long for, for this to, the ripple effect to reach Wisconsin.

GL: And then, starting in March, I think is when it started feeling a lot closer to viruses kind of encroaching on our state boundaries and coming in. What were your initial feelings about the you know, seeing other campuses across the nation shutting down.

AH: I, we were paying close attention. And it, in addition to higher education institutions, making some pretty dramatic historic moves to protect their people, I was also, I remember being very struck by the NBA, canceling its season, and you know, that, that really hit people. I don't know why that was such a why that was such a shock to us. But you know, when you see an 00:12:00institution that big, and, you know, that sort of in your face, I guess you know, that that's it's a huge organization, and with a lot of money behind it and they decided we're done to be safe. That's kind of when it really hit me, even though we were paying close attention to higher education. So I remember that very distinctly that the NBA was going to cancel that season and wow, okay. Now, we were also watching, you know, places like the, I think it was the North Carolina system and some other places where they were starting to see upticks in COVID positivity. And those, you know, certainly reinforced the national mood, the tenor and, you know, it was getting very real very quick.

GL: I guess, the person that, you know, you've worked most closely with is the chancellor, would that be accurate?

AH: Yeah.

GL: So describe what happened, you know, when, you know, the mood, the, you 00:13:00know, what actions were taking place during those, you know, the early days of the, I guess, in March, we're talking about March,

AH: Yeah. A lot more daily coordination and update between the chancellor, the cabinet and our EOC, Emergency Operations Committee. I can share a story that that will also is cemented in my mind. And that is middle of March, I believe, maybe early part to middle of March, we were at an event that we go to annually called Research in the Rotunda. And that's a showcase of undergraduate research, right in the, under the dome of the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. And so what happens is you get all these undergraduate researchers, their faculty, mentors, and university leadership, and they're literally in that circle, physically in a circle, walking around and, you know, really learning about undergraduate research and patting these wonderful students and their faculty mentors on the back for some really remarkable work. Well, it certainly took a different tone that day in March of 2020. It was really this first and last 00:14:00chance for Chancellors in particular, to trade notes and in person and the last gently chance in person for a long time. So there was a lot of conversation going on under the dome of the rotunda that day about what's next. What do we do? What's the governor going to do? Because, you know, ultimately, the governor had a very influential position in deciding what happens to state government of which the UW system is sort of, you know, to a large degree nested. So a lot of conversation going on in the rotunda that day and in fact, I do recall us at that event, the Chancellor and I stepping aside with Vice Chancellor too and saying we gotta get back to Oshkosh because I think the governor is probably going to, you know, make some declarations that are going to affect operations at UW system institutions. So we did and headed back and kind of got ready. And 00:15:00sure enough, you know, I think I've got this correct in my recollection, but in the days ahead, life changed for us and for our students and faculty and staff. So we were, we responded as quickly as we could, and we were ready, I think. But that's when it came home.

GL: So, at this time, the virus is still a huge unknown. I mean, scary as heck, right? Oh, you're seeing reports out of China, and Italy, and it's just scary.

AH: Right

GL: Were you, how were you able to reconcile the, you know, your own person, you know, in their, in your thoughts, and then your family and then and, and your work?

AH: Well, I very much believe that in in role like mine, but also in roles that, you know, across the campuses of UW Oshkosh, three campuses, we're public 00:16:00servants. And so, you know, I don't want to sound overdramatic, but I do feel a sort of obligation to, you know, keep a solid focus and help serve the people that are here, the faculty, staff and students of the institution. So I guess I, we all just kind of hunkered down and really concentrated on what we needed to do to get out good, reliable information that that first and foremost assured everyone that their safety was priority number one, that's our job. If we don't have that we don't have anything. So we needed to really prepare a kind of fleet of communications, that we're going to let people know, here's what's happening, here's what's going to change, here's how we're going to keep you safe. Here's what we need you to do to help us pull this off. And here's where you can go and look for reliable information and stay updated as we go forward. So you're really building what is ultimately an architecture for consistent regular 00:17:00communications, and confidence in the direction we're heading in and making sure we can continue as best as we can.

GL: What did you actually do during those very early days,

AH: A lot of collaboration and coordination with our chief communicators at the university, because the chancellor rightly so was the one that was sharing a lot of these, you know, email announcements and social media announcements. And so we needed to make sure that what was being sent out was precise and helpful to people. And again, going to keep them safe. So I was really concentrating on writing, writing, writing, and on behalf of a lot of our leadership, just to make sure that we had the nuts and bolts of what we were prescribing for people correct and helpful, and, you know, pointing them to resources on the internet, 00:18:00that we're going to be helpful to them, too. We didn't know how long this was going to last. Maybe some of us in the back of our minds quietly without saying it had some hopes that it might be a month or two. But you know, that of course, in hindsight, sounds foolish. But, you know, we were careful not to let our expectations or predictions overtake the necessary work to let people know, no matter what the timeline is, we need to be ready to go and ready to be ready to take action.

GL: I'd like you to paint a picture for me. I mean, like, those early days, I mean, did you like meet with the chancellor and take notes, and then you go back to your office, and then write something up, and then share it with the UMC? I mean, how did that, you know.

AH: Well, we're blessed here to have a, I think we're very lucky to have a chancellor who is I think, a great communicator and a very, he's a wonderful 00:19:00human being. So whenever he's putting out information he wants to make sure and you know, is grabbing a pen and keyboard and helping us develop it. He wants to make sure that we're not forgetting the human dimension of everything. Now, that said, most of our communication work was flowing up from the Emergency Operations Committee, because they were interfacing with people like, you know, state emergency management, Winnebago County Health Officials, other law enforcement people that you know, we're kind of gatherers and veters, if you will of this information about how we're going to cope with this and make the adjustments we need to. So I've worked a lot with Chief Kurt Leibold and his team, our university marketing communications Executive Director, Peggy Breister just to make sure we understood, here's what's reliable information. Here's what we know. Here's what you can do to help us and here's what you can do to keep yourself safe and be ready to continue studies going forward? So it was evolving 00:20:00super quick. And, you know, we were, you're listening to local health system officials over here about you know, things like washing your hands and making sure that you're maintaining distance when we all learned the social distancing term, right? And then, on the other hand, you're also talking to students about what can you expect as we move into spring break, and thereafter? How are we going to manage this and make sure that you can keep going and toward and progress toward your degree, which is one of our key commitments, while keeping you safe. So you have to synthesize all those threads of information, do it in a way that's clear, easy to understand, empowering, not scary, and, you know, I think, inspires a bit of confidence, because people need to know that we're looking out for them. And that was why we were here. That was everything we were doing was really designed to help people feel like and be reassured that we're 00:21:00looking out for them. We're going to keep this thing going as best as we can.

GL: I keep harping on this. Okay, so I'm looking forward to that. Yeah, for the historians in 50 years, 100 years from now, to help them paint a map of the line of communication. So you said the EOC would come up with some recommendations, where does it go from there?

AH: Typically, the EOC would make recommendations to the cabinet of the university. So this is the chancellor, the vice chancellors, of which there were four at that time. And then you know, we've also got seated on the cabinet our Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Supportive Inclusive Excellence or our University Diversity Officer, enrollment management, you know, some other high-level executives who can who are looking out for divisions and areas of the university and helping manage people etc. So the cabinet was really the key 00:22:00receiver of recommendations upward from the EOC. And at that time, when we were moving into the, you know, the early days of the pandemic, there were a lot of things that we needed to operationalize to make sure that people were safe, but also keep it going. Keep college going. So that was really the flow of things. I mean, that particular relationship was critical as we started to build out an understanding and websites and resources for people.

GL: I'm still trying to figure out where you fit in that flow of information.

AH: The Chief of Staff? I was part of the cabinet. So I was there to also help field and kind of understand what needed to be said. And then typically, after those recommendations would come in, that's when you know, a lot of the message makers would compare notes that includes our Chancellor, me, Peggy Breister. Yes, even you'll see leader, Kurt Leibold was help helpful in reviewing a lot of 00:23:00the things we were about to say, and make sure that they were precise that they were accurate, that they were helpful and directive, but also respectful of people's ability, people's need to make decisions. So yeah, those were the actors, I think that really like traded a lot of those communications to make sure that we were just, we were speaking to people in a humane, but serious and sensitive way.

GL: I know the hundreds of emails are sent campus wide regarding the COVID updates and on procedures, etc. Would you say that you saw every one of them before they went public? Or had a hand in them?

AH: Yeah. The vast majority, I would say Yeah, absolutely.

GL: Okay, so, um, something at the very beginning. And actually, I don't even know when, I'm losing my own timeline here. But some employees roles were deemed 00:24:00essential to the upkeep in that maintaining of the university, were, you know, was your role deemed essential?

AH: I don't think I ever got really, you know, the Chief of Staff, in my opinion, is a little bit of a fuzzy existence. It's a little ambiguous and so I never really got I don't think, officially classified as one thing or the other. You know, this is, I guess, a bit of a personal reflection, but I'm not a big fan of essential non essential declarations because I think it's unfortunate. You know, what we're really talking about when we get into essential non essential workers is, in someone's work, not their being. Continuation of operations dependent, is the work they supply and provide and give and contribute to this university. Like vital in the moment to making sure we can 00:25:00keep doors open and make sure systems are still running and that we can keep people safe as they go about their studies and their contributions and service and research, etc. So that's kind of how I look at it. So to answer your question, I don't think I ever really got officially classified because the Chancellor and others probably needed me and maybe a few other folks too, in our roles to be sort of, you know, at the ready to do whatever was necessary to be done. And that's just part of the job. So I, I didn't fall in any specific category if you asked me no, I'm sure there's probably something out there that says AH: actually, you were this or that, but I'm not exactly certain.

GL: Did you work in person after we were all sent home the week before spring break?

AH: I did a lot of my work remotely and I felt very confident comfortable with that, because it could be done remotely. A lot of messages, you know, message 00:26:00crafting, and just checking in with people via, you know, the tools that were pretty new to us at that time, or newer, like teams, zoom, etc. so that was perfectly fine with me. Eventually, I would come back as soon as I safely could, when we had felt like, you know, maybe that the concerns about COVID and the Dedensification (?) of campus were addressed, at least in that first wave. So I got back as quickly as I could still masking still doing the things that we needed to.

GL: When did you come back?

AH: You know, I looked back on my calendar. And I tried to determine what that was and I can't. I don't know exactly when it was precisely, but it was probably later in the summer of 2020, I think when we were ramping back up into fall 2020 and the return of students and making sure that we were prepared for the resumption of in person learning that fall. So I can't give you a specific date, but it was about that time.

00:27:00

GL: And you were in person in the fall of 2020?

AH: I believe I was, yeah.

GL: What would you say were your biggest challenges during that period from March until the beginning of the fall semester?

AH: You know, we were all starving for a better understanding of what this pandemic was going to be like, when it was going to subside. You know, I remember reading New York Times articles that I had come to kind of rely on from some pretty seasoned writers and experts saying, wow, you know, could be a year and a half could be two years. And you feel those and you just feel like your heart sank when you hear that sort of thing. You know, we have now of course have the benefit of hindsight, and boy, they weren't off or they. But I guess that's what I was really paying attention to, you know, as much national hard science as I could, I remember the Atlantic magazine being a real kind of 00:28:00respected, single source, you know, they weren't pulling any punches. They weren't holding back when they had when they heard, you know, particular experts and other folks trying to make some predictions about when this thing might subside, took it to heart and realized this is going to be a long haul. And it may not be as intense or severe in certain periods, but it's still going to be around and we're going to have to learn to live with this as we go forward. At that time too I think people started thinking when's a vaccine going to come, when can we expect some sort of intervention to change life and learning for us. So everybody was trying their best. And we always use this phrase, as I'm sure a lot of students, faculty and staff at university, remember, but nobody had a crystal ball. And that was a common refrain. We wish we did, but I'm glad we said that because it was honest and even though it was a little vulnerable, it was authentic and true. And we just kept going as we could a lot of 00:29:00improvisation, but a lot of hard planning and detail oriented response was also necessary.

GL: Who came up with that phrase?

AH: Nobody has a crystal ball? I want to say it was somebody in our EOC because when you talk to health officials, whether it's on a county or state level, I think that was probably where the real origin of it was, but, you know, this is again, gets back to the path of communication. They were hearing those things from experts and scientists and doctors that were in high ranking positions and it trickled down to, to our message to

GL: Were you getting you as the Chief of Staff getting any, you know, pushback or anything, you know, from parents or students and faculty and staff regarding our policies that were set forward?

AH: Yes, there was. I wouldn't say it was you know, steady wave, but I would 00:30:00say, you know, any given week, you might get a handful of emails from people who were frustrated, wanted answers that we simply didn't have yet, and you know, asked fair questions about the decisions we were making. I have to honestly say, in helping respond to a lot of those emails or calls, once you got on the phone, or got in an email conversation with people, and responded to them, which we made a high priority to not keep them waiting. People were very understanding and appreciated having a voice or a one on one conversation with top leadership here and I think our Chancellor, credit to him, you know, insisted that we make sure we don't lose track of anyone's question or outreach and do our very best to get back to them quickly.

GL: Were you actually responding to them?

AH: Some of them, yeah.

GL: Phone or email?

00:31:00

AH: Um, I did some phone calls. Email was the large one on the front end, because, you know, we were initiating a lot of those email announcements and so people were responding to them, so I would jump back in and, and get back to people as quickly as we could.

GL: You know, were there any new challenges coming forward in the fall? When we were opening up for in person instruction? Were there any?

AH: I think working with our communications team members and the EOC representatives to craft protocols for what happens if, what happens if I get COVID? What happens if my roommate gets COVID? What happens if a student in the classroom gets COVID? And that question comes from both faculty and staff and students themselves. Where do I go? What do I do? Am I able to continue learning? Will I shift online? How does that work? What's that like? What 00:32:00happens if I have to go into quarantine? How does that work? You know, do they bring food to me? Can I leave? Can I not leave? Imagine if you will, and for us, we don't have to use our imagination too much. But this is some pretty serious stuff, and life changing for people, so we needed to really put ourselves in the shoes of all these different community members here. That's what I did anyway, and try to understand their fears, their frustrations, their just lack of information, and, you know, meet that need, as best as we could. It was hard. I don't think we you know, were 100% on everything, I don't think anybody was, but we did our best.

GL: Can you point out to some things that you were really proud of regarding your response and campus' response to COVID-19?

00:33:00

AH: In March 2020, we picked up all learning and teaching at the university in the span of two weeks, shifted it to online and other alternative modes, and put it back on the ground in those structures. I hate to use this term, but it's kind of true, I guess, flipped the switch. Our faculty and staff did it. We pulled it off. No one would ever expect us to design it that way, if we had intentionally designed it that way, if we had the time and without the emergency in front of us, but it worked. It was never ideal in all cases, but I think it kept learning and teaching going. Our most fundamental parts of our mission kept going despite a global emergency and crisis. And if you ask me, What am I proud 00:34:00about? I am so proud of people who even before the pandemic may have been a little itchy, questioning of the online learning as a way of teaching and doing their jobs, doing it. They did it. And in fact, we even heard some feedback, limited, but some feedback from people who were, you know, vulnerable enough and courageous enough to say, I was wrong. I learned something about online learning that is pretty remarkable. Now again, we wouldn't design it that way. We wouldn't do it that way if we had the opportunity or the chance, but we did it and that is something to marvel at. It really is. I like to say higher education, in my opinion, in college, went from one of the most questioned, the greatest sources of skepticism. Can they actually do it? Won't they actually be part of the problem to, maybe just a month or two later being one of the 00:35:00greatest sources of solutions in the pandemic. And I don't know, if we've fully gotten credit for that yet, as a, as an American and global institution, you know, higher ed once was the biggest target, the biggest X Factor. In fact, we were even I think it's fair to say early on the early end of the pandemic, a big source of blame, like what are you doing? What do you mean, you're going to keep going and keep, you know, serving your mission, you're going to jeopardize people, you're going to harm people. Some of those fears were fair, I get it. But I think higher education actually emerged from those early months and into the fall, as one of the great heroes of this pandemic, we kept doing what is expected of us, particularly in the public sector, and did our best to fulfill our mission. And along the way, as we'll get to probably in a little bit, found 00:36:00some really remarkable solutions when it came to public protection, testing, vaccination, etc.

GL: How would you say your job has changed in the last two years? You know, prior to the pandemic I'm sure you were working on other issues the university was faced with, right? And were you still working on those? Or did you have to put that aside? I guess I want to also, I mean I want to ask what do you think about during that, like, the first you have to say that, you know, from March through the end of 2020 what percentage of your work was focused on the pandemic? And then what percentage would be all the other issues that we have?

AH: Yeah. Well, I mean, in March 2020, I think it's fair to say, you know, probably shifted to, but 80 to 90% of my work was related to managing COVID. And it consisted, it persisted that way, for maybe a couple months or so a few 00:37:00months. As we got back into fall 2020, you know, if we had figured things out, we had learned more about what was learnable anyway, about the nature of COVID-19, and the way that the pandemic was spreading and infecting people. We were able to get back and concentrate a little bit more on, you know, college, not just college with COVID. And so that meant, you know, making sure that we were staying in touch with our elected representatives, for example, and, you know, letting them know how we're pushing forward safely, to keep learning going. I did a lot of, you know, budget advocacy and that kind of thing, because I think, you know, we had to go through a biennial budget process with the UW system typically is our leader in that effort, but you know, the institutions play a big role in making sure that we're letting people know what we need and 00:38:00what the right and responsible level of investment by the state is in our mission, and then our work ahead for the next couple of years, so got to do that. Couldn't let that slip. And you know, just the usual things like, you know, working with our local city councils and Chambers of Commerce and Economic Development Division, so that they know, you know, we're keeping going and we still need to produce graduates, and we still need to make sure that people are earning degrees and responding to the needs of our region and state as well, so that picked up more, which was kind of refreshing. You know, we we needed to be very COVID centric in those first several months, but things did return to the list of duties in the months ahead, like I just described, and that was that was important.

GL: Do you think the pandemic has changed some aspect of your job permanently?

AH: I think this pandemic has introduced us to incredible opportunities to 00:39:00reimagine how we work and work effectively into the future. Here's my example. No longer could we have face to face meetings, you know, with the chancellor, with a lot of our colleagues and shared governance. And so when we made that shift to online, we asked ourselves, you know, what can we do to honor the spirit, if not, tactically carry out things like our Chancellor's town halls, where he would just be available, you know, grab a microphone, make a few quick updates, let people ask questions about the operations of the university, new priorities, issues, hot button issues, even controversial issues. Just be there, you know, be present with people. So we shifted that to online, Chancellor's town halls are now an online thing and frankly It works kind of good. Because, 00:40:00you know, rather than have, you know, 40 or 50 people in a room, listening to updates and asking questions, you can get 300 online where they are in between, you know, teaching and learning and etc. So that works. And I know our chancellor has said, let's keep it going, you know, this is pretty efficient. So for me what that meant was assuming this role, what I like to call the talk show host, where you just need somebody to make sure that you know, that the leaders have the right order in space, so that when they report out to our people, that there's some logic to it, and that they're actually being responsive. You know, there's chats and chat threads that stack up and people have questions. And of course, during COVID, there were some pretty serious basic questions about what's next. And where do we go from here. And you needed somebody to kind of track all those and sort them out and make sure that we weren't missing any. So suddenly, I'm this talk show host, which, quite frankly, I love. And it harkens 00:41:00back to some of the undergraduate preparation that I had in my college experience as radio, TV, on camera, and behind the scenes producer and that kind of thing, so people have been very kind and said, hey, this seems to be working. Thanks for doing that. I'm like gee whiz thanks I, you know, we're just kind of going with it. This is all improvisation to a large degree, but thank you. So to answer your question, I think the pandemic has introduced us to a lot of innovations, we shouldn't just throw it all away. And this is one of them. I think that you know, you can use digital tools and the internet, to stay in touch with people, even though you're not close. In some ways, you're even closer, you can be even closer and more accountable to people. I like it and I think we're going to keep doing it. As long as it's useful to faculty and staff here.

GL: Which tools were you using?

AH: We did teams, we did zoom we use to have what the old, one of our old online 00:42:00learning platforms that we kind of Co-opted for this purpose too but that's since morphed. So, you know the bottom line, and I've said this before to a lot of our journalism students here, when I've had the opportunity, don't get too hung up on the technology, stay concentrated on the content, because the technology is always going to change.

GL: Let's move on to the fall of 2021. Vaccines are readily available, did you have a role in bringing the you know, the testing centers and the vaccine community centers here on campus?

AH: I did not have as direct a role, mainly just explaining to be helping explain to people that they're here, they are there available to you, here's how to use them, which was very fulfilling. But you know, the credit for the setup 00:43:00and the preparation and operation of those sites, really goes out to our EOC and in particular, I'll single out Kimberly Langolf who we were blessed are blessed to have as a member of this university, both as a I think double alumna, but also a scientist and she has a microbiology background, and Ted's been serving in the EOC in kind of an operational capacity and really did the one on one interfacing with local health systems and the UW system and the president's office as they were marshaling resources to set these two vaccination and testing clinics up.

GL: What were your initial reactions to the vaccine? I know that the administration had been pushing it on students and you know staff and following the CDC guidelines, but what were your own personal thoughts about the vaccines?

AH: I mean I, my dad was a history teacher. And so when I grew up, I grew up 00:44:00with an appreciation of history. And the powerful story and tool that it is and what history will show you is that whenever we've had an opportunity to vaccinate our population, on planet Earth, it has changed society and civilization for the better. And so when we had an opportunity to help make these available to people, never required, never required, but make them available to people and make the case that this is the thing we all can do to help students, faculty and staff continue earn a degree, fulfill our mission, we got to do it. And so that was where I always stood on it. I'm a, I love science. I love the remarkable entrepreneurial push that a lot of these companies made to 00:45:00get these vaccines ready to go, which, you know, no matter where you stand on vaccines, I guess, at least we can all say, wow, these companies, you know, came to the rescue and worked hard to develop some solutions and did and here we are. So that's how I felt about it. I was grateful.

GL: So we're now in May of 2022. How much do you feel that things are getting back to normal?

AH: There are many things that operate, look, feel, experience, like the way they did in 2019. There are many things that don't, and I will always be the optimist, and I will always not just for the sake of being rosy about it, but I do think we're better, we're stronger and we can get even better based on what 00:46:00we've all gone through, even though there's been horrendous loss and pain suffered throughout this whole thing. So I believe that we don't necessarily want things to get, quote, unquote, back to normal unquoted, for who should they get back to normal is my always my question. You know, we live in a, we operate in a world of higher education, that's, you know, soaked in a lot of tradition. And that's important. But you know, a lot of those traditions may have been comforts for people, but for a lot of other people, they weren't comfortable, and they weren't inclusive. And so maybe some of those can change. So that this amazing thing that we do at a university, public university, in particular, can be even more open and affirming and empowering to more people. So that's a lot of abstract response right there, but you know, I think, you know, for example, 00:47:00online learning, it's not just about technology, it's about accommodating people in the rhythm of their life. And I think we're looking at stuff like that, you know, like, how can we make the most out of that, and, but still offer that high quality experience that everybody wants, whether you're a faculty member, or whether you're a student, maybe a student with a family, maybe a student's got a full time job. So, I think those kinds of things, I know that those kinds of things are priorities for this chancellor in the cabinet and other leadership, so we're going to keep pushing on him and all in the name of expanding who we can help.

GL: Knowing what you know, now, are there any things that you would have done differently in regards to what you did here at UW Oshkosh?

AH: Um, you know, there are some very literal things I know, we've always talked about leadership years talked about, you know, if we could go back in time, we 00:48:00can't, but if we could, would we have been so quick to ask people to evacuate residence halls, in March of 2020, when the pandemic really hadn't even, you know, have gotten a foothold here locally. Then again, you know, you can second guess yourself and say, that's exactly the right thing to do, because we wanted to make sure we weren't going to be, you know, early on contributors of the spread. So I don't know, that's kind of an area I asked questions about. I think, you know, this barrage of email communications that we pushed out in those early days, was pretty exhaustive, and overwhelming for a lot of people, so it's another one that, you know, I'm not set on, did we do something that wasn't as helpful as we wanted it to be? But I often ask questions, you know, about email communication as sort of your main pipeline in today's age, is it you know, given all the audiences we need to speak to, is email really the way to go? Did the best we could. So those are kind of the kinds of things I think 00:49:00about, you know, the, the technological and structural stuff that we did.

GL: And what has living and working in the time of COVID taught you about yourself?

AH: Well, I think what it's taught me about myself is it's reinforced my belief and hope, and affirmed a lot of it that improvisation is all right. We w, as a society, in my opinion, get a little bit too hung up on planning, and protocol, and policy, which are all very important things, but when you're faced with something new and unexpected and unpredictable, how do you respond when there's no manual to go to? I marveled at how people on the fly responded, we learned a 00:50:00lot about ourselves in that regard, you know, how quickly can we adapt? And how well will we make sure others not just ourselves but others are made to feel safe, comfortable and empowered. I think we did a pretty good job, and you know, wish we didn't have to, but we learned a lot.

GL: I'm just gonna ask you a couple questions regarding your private life if that's okay. I'm just gonna go with the, you know, when we were all sent home, I mean, where was home for you at that time and with whom were you living with?

AH: Super lucky, super privileged, my house is literally a mile or less from the campus, the Oshkosh campus at University Wisconsin Oshkosh. So my wife and I are there, and, you know, we had, we had it easy. We had it easy. In terms of adapting we had, you know, strong, secure Wi Fi, all the things we needed the 00:51:00ability and availability of food and all those sorts of things and we did okay.

GL: At any point, during the first couple of years, were you ever feeling vulnerable, and perhaps even, you know, depressed or despairing or any of that stuff.

AH: I felt anxious, particularly in that first month, as we were getting a lot of these communications and announcements ready for people. It always felt like, go go, go, go, go. Let's go, let's go, let's go. Why aren't you, you know, come on, we gotta keep this going. people are waiting on us to have something to say and something to announce. And it's a good feeling because you do feel accountable to others, but it's also kind of a exhausting feeling. Because your heart is always kind of in your throat, you know, you want to go the days just burned by, burned by so fast in that first month, because we were just working 00:52:00so hard to try try try to be transparent, accountable and informative to people. And that was intense. That was an intensity that I look back on. And I think wow, it makes me, I lose my breath just thinking about it.

GL: And hold on, I had a question in my head. Let me let me take a second, this is going to drive me nuts cause I know I had it.

AH: Personal stories you were saying.

GL: Yeah yeah, the, oh well gone. I will email you later. And then, um, oh, I got it. Did anyone? Did you get COVID or anyone close to you get COVID and had gotten really sick?

AH: I did not get COVID, my wife has not gotten COVID, we're very lucky. Close to me, yes. I've had colleagues who have lost loved ones. I'm trying to think 00:53:00here, through my own family. We were very lucky, I had a circle of friends who took this very seriously and were very careful about their bubble. You know, another term right that we all sort of learned and lived with. So I did not suffer the kinds of loss that a lot of other people I know, did suffer, whether it was their job, or a family member, you know, contracting the illness and you know, being hospitalized or, you know, worse, losing their life. But, so we were lucky, we were very lucky.

GL:

Is there anything else you'd like to add? We touched on a lot of things today.

AH:

You know, you asked me this is the one last thing I guess I'll leave with is there's this question about what has it taught what has COVID taught me about 00:54:00myself and others. It's also, I do remember very distinctly, maybe, May, June of 2020 when we're out of the academic year here at UW Oshkosh moving into the summer, but still all, you know, very much in the front end of this pandemic and wondering, what's this going to be like? I remember seeing people grappling as much with the uncertainty as they were grappling with the dormancy of things, the slowing down of things, the lack of things to do. And I for one, I don't know if it's my personality or just my being or what, but I was, there was a weird gratitude that washed over me in terms of seeing people come to grips and learn that it's okay for things to slow down, and they're to be no meetings, or 00:55:00vacations, or soccer practices, or all these other things that we like to think make us, you know, responsible, healthy, functional people. Doing nothing, you know, doing nothing is okay. And sometimes it's even healthy for you to stop and sit and think and breathe, and not have a crazy schedule to respond to. I fear we're already losing that. That sensibility, but I hope not all of us do, because it is something to, something to treasure when you can literally just be and not have to worry about be running or be dashing off to X, Y, and Z. Just be a person. Our time on this earth is pretty limited, and if you stop and look around, there's a lot to marvel at, no schedule required.

00:56:00

GL: Thank you for sharing your stories with us, we appreciate your contribution to the campus COVID stories at UW Oshkosh.

AH: Thank you