A student in a red shirt and Dean Arthur Heinricher in a white shirt and blue vest walk away from the camera and over the Earle Bridge

Walking the Talk

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many changes to the WPI campus and to the way the university does business. It has even altered such longstanding rituals of academic life, such as office hours, as Art Heinricher, dean of undergraduate studies (at right, in white shirt), discovered. Sitting in his office in Boynton Hall near the beginning of A-Term, Heinricher looked out his window and saw masked students walking alone or in very small groups. This contrasted sharply with the sight he was used to seeing each fall: groups of students talking and laughing on their way to and from classes. He then thought about his own isolation. With access to Boynton Hall restricted and in-person meetings discouraged, Heinricher had cancelled his long-standing office hours, which gave him the chance to get to know students and “take the temperature” of the campus. So he decided, if students could not come to him, he would go where they were. Thus was born outdoor walking-and-talking office hours. Now he can stick to health and safety guidelines but still keep in touch with students. The meetings are unscripted, and casual conversations are the order of the day. The walking meetings are an opportunities to say “Hi,” and to let students share what’s on their minds. Because when everyone is feeling the stress of being cut off from human contact, personal connections—however brief—are needed more than ever before.

To see how WPI’s academic enterprise has adapted to the unprecedented challenge of a global pandemic, read “In a World Turned Upside Down, We Are Still WPI.”

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