This annual event celebrates the beginning of the year and generally features an ice cream social. We've redesigned it a bit this year: the ice cream will be virtual but the excitement of a new school year is real! Two of our student leaders, Iqra Nasir and Peter Martel, will join Dean Michael S. Barr for a conversation about what’s in store for the upcoming year. #FordSchoolWelcome
00:05 Michael S. Barr: Hi, I'm Michael Barr, I'm the Joan and Sanford Weill Dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, and I am just thrilled to be able to be here with you for our third Annual Fall Launch and Ice Cream Social. Of course, in today's environment, we're not doing things as usual, the ice cream will be virtual. But I hope the reality of being together will be a lot of fun, a great chance for us to connect at the start of the year, to catch up on what's been going on, and to build the excitement that I know we all share about what's happening this coming year. I wanna acknowledge at the outset that we're living in a time of a great uncertainty, and for many, fear. And at the same time, it's a time of great hope, with our amazing students launching their careers with us, and who are so dedicated to the public good. And we need to figure out how together to keep ourselves grounded in the reality of the moment, but also very open to the possibilities for the future.
01:14 MB: I'm joined today by two of our wonderful student leaders, Iqra Nasir and Peter Martel, for a conversation about what's in store for the coming year. Before we dive into the discussion, a couple notes about format. We're hope you will, in addition to listening to the three of us talk, will also engage in the Zoom chat, to engage with other members of our community and conversation throughout our discussions today and in the breakout sessions. After my initial conversation with Peter and Iqra, we're going to move into facilitated breakout sessions, for an opportunity to meet Ford School faculty, and students, and staff in small groups, for what we're calling ice cream breakers. A separate Zoom meeting link will be posted in the chat box when it's time for us to move to those breakout sessions, you're gonna need to click on that new link in the chat to go to the separate Zoom meeting, and in that separate Zoom meeting, you'll be taken to the breakout sessions. Please be patient. It might take a moment, but it's really important for you to go through those steps for this to all work out smoothly. Without any further ado, let me turn things over to Iqra and Peter, and they can introduce themselves and we'll kick off a conversation with each other.
02:34 Peter Martel: Hi everybody, and welcome back. My name's Pete Martel. I'm a third-year PhD student in Public Policy and Sociology. I'm also a union steward for GEO grad students, and glad to be here.
02:49 Iqra Nasir: Welcome back, everyone. My name is Iqra Nasir, I'm a third-year dual-degree, Master's of Public Policy and Masters of Science and Environmental Policy at SEAS. Really excited to be going into my last year at the Ford School, not that I don't love it, but I think it's time for me to go. [chuckle] So we're just gonna go ahead and get started. So Dean Barr, as you've said in your communications, this year will look necessarily different, but it seems like there's still a lot happening. Can you share a few of the things that you are most excited about this upcoming year?
03:27 MB: Thanks, Iqra. Yeah, I'm really super excited about the year. As I said, it will have challenges to it, but there's an enormous amount going on. I'm really excited about the work of the democracy and debate theme semester. The Vice President for government relations of the University, Cynthia Wilbanks and I are co-chairing a university-wide effort on democracy and debate, so you'll see all kinds of activities around campus. We had a kick-off, actually this Summer, July 4th, with a kind of critical evaluation of the Declaration of Independence. This Fall, we have classes all over campus, they're touching on this themes. There's a course that's a joint LS&A School of Information and Ford School course called Discerning Truth, about how to navigate in this crazy environment, and figure out what the facts are, and how you analyze facts, that I'm super excited about. A lot of our students, and staff, and faculty, are working together on voter registration and voting access, voter rights, that's so critical in this election. We need to make sure that everybody gets access to the ballot, everybody registers, everybody goes out and votes. We're doing that work in the Ford School, but university-wide, there's activity going on that's super exciting, and I hope to see many of our students get involved in that.
04:50 MB: I'm really excited about our Policy Talk Series. Those are gonna be virtual this year instead of in-person. But we're gonna continue that kind of intimate environment we have with our speakers, where students have opportunities for off-the-record, smaller conversations in association with the visits that people have when they come here. One of my favorite events coming up is Cecilia Muñoz is giving a talk about her new book More Than Ready, which is based on her own personal experience, but it's basically a guide to helping particularly women of color navigate the policy in the world of politics and get ahead. And I'm super excited about that. She is a long-time Michigan family member. She is an old friend of mine. We worked together across two different administrations, one when she was a activist, and another when she was inside running the Domestic Policy Council for President Obama. She's just a super accomplished human being. I think our students, and faculty, and staff will really love getting to know her. So there's a lot going on, a lot of excitement.
06:01 MB: I guess the last thing I'd say is, I'm really excited about the work we're doing on the leadership initiative. A number of our students got to have leadership coaching this last Summer as part of their internships, and that will be expanded for Master's students in the coming year. A lot of students took a leadership assessment before even arriving on campus this Summer, we're gonna be expanding that. And we're looking for opportunities for both our undergrad and our graduate students to have those leadership assessments and opportunities for reflection throughout the year. I think that's gonna be a really, really critical part of our curriculum and co-curricular activities in the coming year.
06:43 PM: Thanks Dean. At the Ford School, we pride ourselves on having a small and warm community. In-person connections will be more limited this year. How can we go about building a sense of community among Fordies this year?
06:58 MB: Well, Pete, one of the things that I've seen is that our students really have stepped up in lots of cool and creative ways to make sure that community stays vibrant, even when we're online, students creating Slack channels for conversation that I think have been really cool. A lot of work went in this summer. There was a group of faculty, students, and staff who worked together in kind of a design sprint, precisely on this question, because we wanted to make sure that, as you said, the culture of our community is that we're super tight-knit and we didn't wanna lose that. We want to take advantage of the new technology to keep that going. So that design sprint came up with a bunch of cool ideas. Some of our incoming Master's students participated in a scavenger hunt around campus to get started. I know there are lots of kinda pop-up activities happening among the student body, and with the faculty and staff, and we're gonna see those continue through the semester. So if people have ideas about how they wanna see our community stay together and grow and strengthen, please let us know. Let Susan Guindi know, and we'll be sure those ideas get incorporated as they have been during this Summer and early Fall. We'd love to have more input into that.
08:18 IN: Awesome, great, thank you, Dean Barr. How has the Ford School continuing to implement and increase diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, especially during a time when our nation is coming to grips with the legacy of racism, and where COVID-19 exposes the inequities of our health system and our economy?
08:37 MB: Iqra, that's just an absolutely critical issue, and I'm glad you raised it. I do think that we have done a lot to advance inclusion, and equity, and diversity in our community, and we have a lot more work still to do. It's an ongoing project. It requires commitment every day. We have a lot of work that went into thinking about the equity issues with COVID-19 this Spring, and as we're dealing with this year, equity was a very more important part of the planning. Thinking about equity was a very important part of the planning we did for the Fall. Everything. Been thinking about technology access, to thinking about the differential ways that people can participate in this online space, and of course, thinking about the huge disparities and health outcomes, particularly for minority communities, but for others who have particular risk factors. And so, in designing everything, we wanted to be sure that we were doing it in a way that would be inclusive, and respectful, and engaging, no matter what somebody's background, or race, or ethnicity, or whether they were studying abroad or here, Ann Arbor, we wanted to make sure it was accessible for everybody. And that's why our primary platform is remote, and we build in-person on top of that, because we wanted to make sure that everything we did was successful to everybody.
10:12 MB: We've also been doing a lot of work to continue to diversify the faculty, and I think you saw some of the slides from earlier. We've been building our faculty, and diversifying our faculty for the last few years, I think in a very positive way. We continue to have a extremely diverse Master's program, one of the most diverse on campus that we're really proud of, and we work in partnership with Rackham to be sure that there's financial support to build on that, but also in the building of our pool for applicants. I think we have a lot of work still to do on our undergraduate population. We're not as diverse as we wanna be or as our students want us to be. And so I think that's an area of continued need for progress. We have a lot of programming going on this coming year, that is built on diversity, equity, and inclusion themes.
11:10 MB: So we'll continue our Institutional Racism Series, that focus on structural racism, Stephanie Sanders leads that's, and has been leading it for the last few years and doing a great job on issues such as reparations, and the role of race in politics. So I think we're gonna see a lot of activity on that. Our basic Policy Talks programming will also include a lot of DEI-related themes, and we're continuing to do work on making sure that we have our faculty have access to the resources they need to be the best they can be. Building an inclusive classroom. So we're doing work in our faculty meetings this Fall in September and October on that topic, to get training resources and continue to do work on inclusive teaching. So we're busy on lots of fronts, it's a really critical issue for our school.
12:15 PM: So even with all of the great things that are planned, it's gonna be a challenging year for many of us. We're struggling to define a new normal, we're grappling with illness and economic strife, among other things. How can we as a community take care of each other in the coming year?
12:31 MB: That's a great point, Pete. And as I said before, we really are, I think a close-knit community, a supportive community. I saw that all Spring. I was so so proud of our community when COVID-19 hit, and I saw what all of you did to come together to support each other, and to support our broader communities around us. Whether it was working in the COVID-19 core or the work in the Detroit Metropolitan Area Community Studies or what CLOSUP did to help local governments, or the work of the Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project. People really came together in support of that public mission, and support of advancing the public good. And I think we need to continue to look out for each other. I think we need to continue to have that broader mission in our minds, 'cause that will, A, keep us sane; and B, give us purpose; and C, really help all of this around it. So I think looking out for each other, staying focused on public mission. I need to remind you, every day that you come to campus, you've gotta fill out that responsive Blue Health Screen. I was greeting students yesterday, and a number of students just didn't know about it, or weren't focused on it, and I know other greeters found that too. So I really need staff, students, and faculty, if you're coming to the building, if you're coming to campus each morning you have to check the responsive Blue Health Screen, and make sure that you fill it out, and make sure that your healthy.
14:12 MB: If you're healthy we want you to come to campus, if that's what you wanna do, if you're not healthy, you need to stay home. And that's a important way we look out for each other, is if we're sick, we need to stay home. If we have any symptoms, we need to stay home, and then get tested, make sure that everything is okay. Cooperate with the tracers if they need to be in touch with you. If you've gotten sick, cooperate with the tracers. If somebody you've had some contact with, I shouldn't say some contact, somebody you've had sustained close contact with, under CDC rules is been affected, the tracers will reach out to you, and you should cooperate with them. It's really important part of our public health strategy.
15:00 MB: Make sure you're wearing your masks every day when you come to campus, or for that matter, when you're off campus, if you're outside of your close household, the people you're living with, you should be wearing a mask and keeping your social distance. It's how we look out for each other. It's how we stay health and safe ourselves. And if we keep those public health concerns in mind, we'll be in a lot better shape. So I guess the last thing I'd say, Pete, is to look out for each other, we need to make sure we're looking out for ourselves as well. So please take the time you need to take care of yourselves. It's a stressful time. School can be stressful in a normal time, I acknowledge. People go through school in different ways, some people are very stressed just being in school in a normal time, many people. But in this time, it's super stressful, or it can be for many people.
16:00 MB: And so, you just gotta look out for yourselves. We're in a situation or a country right now that is, we're all hurting. Enormous issues of racial justice, in addition to the public health issues, in addition to concern about our democracy. And so, find ways that for you personally, give you the strength you need to be a good person for other people, and to have what it takes to be successful in school. For me, it is super important that I get exercise every day, that's the thing that for me, keeps me centered and focused, for other people, it might be doing meditation, or for other people, it might be hopping on the phone and talking to a good friend, or being in touch with your family. But whatever it is for you personally, make sure you set aside time each day to take care of yourself, so you can be part of building the kind of community that we need and want.
17:06 PM: That's great. Thanks Dean.