An AVP’s Aspen Journey – Chapter 5: The Pandemic Pivot

The Aspen Rising Presidents Fellowship typically runs from July (an exhilarating and exhausting week at Stanford) through April (a gathering in Aspen where each Fellow presents a “capstone”). But . . . I was a member of Cohort 4, what became the COVID Cohort (Best Cohort Ever!).

Because the world turned on its head in March, our cohort suspended its formal work in the Fellowship. But that doesn’t mean that we suspended our connections with each other or with the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program. The Aspen Institute pivoted to online teaching and learning just as we did. They offered a variety of workshops and virtual sessions to help the Fellows navigate unfamiliar terrain – after all, who among us ever expected to lead in a hundred-year pandemic?

One of the workshops was in late May and it was with Dr. Sandy Shugart, President of Valencia College, who spoke about transformation in a time of crisis. I wanted to offer some of his words of wisdom here.

  1. People don’t fear change, they fear loss. We must honor what we each value most deeply, even in the face of transformation.
  2. Walk in chalk, not stone. We have to learn from everything, but that doesn’t mean everything we try or do is precedent-setting.
  3. In a storm, be careful what you throw overboard – you may need it later.
  4. If you can’t get out of it, get into it. Have a “joyful conspiracy” to get through the storm and keep moving toward your institution’s mission and vision.

And finally, “play the game on the ground of hope, not despair”. If we focus on the horizon and our goals, we’ll move forward with purpose and commitment.