Message from the Director: New Normal, Unchanged Mission

Many who are reading this message will have finished their day as a first responder, an essential worker, or a dedicated teacher who is adjusting to online teaching while taking care of young children.  Your commitment to the health and well-being of your communities inspires us and we are grateful.   As we adjust to the new normal of life during a pandemic and alter our behaviors and attitudes to do our part to flatten the curve, we focus on what has not changed. This “Big Pause” cannot blunt the Belin-Blank Center’s dedication to the educators, students, and families we serve.  Nor has it altered our mission of nurturing potential and inspiring excellence.

For educators, most of our summer courses and workshops will proceed as intended; the only exceptions are that we have canceled the AP Teacher Training Institute, and everything else will be online, including the two weeks of Chautauqua.  Chautauqua instructors will use some of the time that would have allowed face-to-face time on campus, scheduling some time to meet via Zoom over the first two days of each class.

The situation is different for our summer 2020 pre-college student programming. Every day since mid-March, we have examined how we might conduct – or simulate – our summer 2020 programs for elementary, middle, and high school students.  After six weeks, we recognized that our commitment and enthusiasm could not overcome the fact that the best way to ensure the safety of hundreds of 2nd through 11th graders as they attend programs on the University of Iowa’s campus was to (a) defer most of our pre-college programs to the summer of 2021 and (b) turn our attention and energy to planning for this coming fall and next spring and summer.  This will be the first summer since 1988 that pre-college students will not be on the UI campus during the summer.  Nevertheless, we remain inspired by our past programming and look forward to the future.

We are working on exciting new possibilities for meeting the needs of bright students, their teachers, and their families during and after the pandemic, and we would appreciate your input.  You can share your thoughts and offer suggestions by filling out this brief survey:

The “Big Pause” has not only impacted the summer; it also affected our major spring events. Although we were able to enjoy the Iowa Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS) and the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards Celebration on the University of Iowa campus in March, the JSHS national event took place virtually, and the national Scholastic Art and Writing Awards celebration will be online, as well.   Young inventors taking part in Invent Iowa submitted their clever inventions online well before the advent of social distancing; however, the State Invention Convention occurred online (and is still available to browse), and so too will the national convention.

Physically, we were able to transition to remote work without too much difficulty.  The Belin-Blank Center’s faculty and staff are all good-natured and their humor has served the Center well during the Pause.  Thanks to the amazing technical skills of the faculty and staff (and a few six-feet-apart computer equipment drop-offs!), we are still meeting as often as ever – if not more – writing our reports and manuscripts, teaching, and always planning for the future.

Psychologically, we have been working assiduously to juggle our personal and professional lives during this time of uncertainty and unpredictability.  In my humble opinion, the “Big Pause” is bringing out the best in an already superb cast of Belin-Blank Center professionals.  Each of us has examined the challenges of remotely working from home.  We have also considered positives, which go well beyond wearing sweatpants or pajamas and having no commute. 

Personally, I find the main positive and the major challenge are the same.  This “Big Pause” has been an opportunity to accept with greater humility that uncertainty and unpredictability have always been in the background and are now in the foreground of our lives.  Uncertainty and unpredictability lead to new and different ways of living and working.  New and different does not mean more or less, or better or worse.  New and different are simply challenges and opportunities, and with humility we can accept their place in our lives.

We hope you and yours are staying safe and well, and we look forward to the day when we can welcome you back to the Belin-Blank Center.  In the meantime, we strive to nurture potential and inspire excellence apart, together.

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