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University Presidents Eye 'New Normal' As Semesters Begin

University Presidents Eye 'New Normal' As Semesters Begin
DNR 8/26/2022
 
The four area college presidents addressed the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce Thursday at Spotswood Country Club.

Collaboration among local businesses and universities are important for the community as a whole, according to Christopher Quinn, president and CEO of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce, who gave opening remarks.

“Having us all rowing in the same direction gives us the ability to be nimble on so many issues such as transportation, affordable housing, child care and, of course, general workforce development,” Quinn said. “This makes our area very attractive in terms of both economic development and quality of life.”

At the annual address, the presidents gave updates on enrollment, capital projects, academic programs, alumni, fundraising, athletics and more.

In his address, James Madison University President Jonathan Alger said JMU saw an impressive pool of applicants for its freshmen class, which hails from over 40 states and 70 countries. The large number of students at JMU, along with the other local colleges, plays a big role in the local economy, Quinn said.

“One segment of the partnership that really sets our community apart is the collaboration amongst the colleges and universities,” Quinn said. “Nothing is siloed conversation; we all work as a team.”

Also speaking on Thursday, Presidents Susan Schultz-Huxman of Eastern Mennonite University and John Downey of Blue Ridge Community College are members of the chamber’s board of directors and expressed enthusiasm for a full return to on-campus learning.

“I think [we’re] getting back to a new normal,” Schultz Huxman said. “Things are never going to go back to the way it was, but for instance, I just had 50 students over to my home last night and they are so eager to not be dealing with masks and physical distance.”

Downey, who teaches an introductory psychology class at BRCC, said it’s seeing his students’ faces in person that he’s most excited about this year.

“It’s just so much fun to interact with the students, and our students come from such broad backgrounds,” Downey said.

President David Bushman of Bridgewater College emphasized the importance of “place” in the college experience. Renovations on the college’s campus will not only make it a more attractive place to be, but will also enhance learning outside of the classroom, he said.

Schultz Huxman reported steady undergraduate enrollment numbers, while noting an increase in graduate enrollment, thanks in part to the new Institute for Justice and Peacebuilding programs at the university, she said.

“We’re thrilled with our enrollment situation,” Schultz Huxman said. “At the undergraduate level, we’re holding steady and at the graduate level, we’re just exploding.”

Alger said the feeling on JMU’s campus around the first day of classes on Wednesday was a positive one, with the feeling of a return to some normalcy after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think in the past people sort of took for granted what it meant to be together, not just in the classroom, but for student life in general,” Alger said.