Director’s Perspective

September 13, 2021 |

Dr. Beth Wielde Heidelberg. Professor, Urban and Regional Studies Institute MA., Urban Planning Class of ‘99


Dr. Beth Wielde Heidelberg

Think on your university experience. You probably went to a classroom, conversed with your classmates about an upcoming assignment, when the next test would be, or the weird thing the professor is wearing (oh, wait, was that only MY students?). Now imagine going on Spring Break – and being told that you can’t come back to cam-pus. Losing that time connecting with fellow students and being able talk directly to your professor. It just...stopped.URSI students have been online, or in some strange half-empty classroom version of online for almost a year now. The bonding they would normally do in small gatherings has changed to trying to figure out who is talking on a small, Brady-Bunch style screen view. Some students haven’t even met their professors in person, although I must say, we are all getting to know each other’s camera-stealing pets very well, which is actually quite a bright spot in this whole thing. But our students’ resilience and flexibility has been astounding. They have made it work, showing their ability to quickly adapt to change.Faculty, too, have been extraordinarily challenged by the pandemic. We had to convert traditional in-person classes to an online format. Curriculum, schedules, and adminis-trative goals and responsibilities all had to be met and adjusted. Our annual conferences and events moved online with mixed success – it might be easier to go to a conference session but it is much harder to build and maintain a network and community with others in our field. URSI is accomplishing great things. Our merger with the Department of Government provided the opportunity for us to define and promote our programs more clearly. Dr. Asomani-Boateng and Dr. Fricano have conducted original research and published ar-ticles in peer reviewed journals. Dr. Porter has completed field work in Nepal and has published her findings (but had to miss her research presentation in Venice Italy because of the pandemic). Dr. Granberg-Rademacher and Dr. Parsneau were awarded the Doug-las Moore lectureship, a prestigious honor at the University level. And me? I’ve gotten some research done, created “Choose Your Own Adventure” sessions in two courses, and started the outline for a book about dark tourism. Concurrently, I’ve learned that I should never, ever teach online home school to young children (specifically my own). URSI students are much more pleasant to work with, and I never have to threaten to withhold their dessert if they don’t pay attention.Through all the changes, we are URSI, a feisty, plucky band of academics determined to train urban planners and local government administrators who are ready to take on the world. We don’t build buildings or businesses – we help you build the CITIES and COMMUNITIES where those buildings and businesses can thrive. Until we meet again in person.

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