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From President Ryan: Unsung heroes in an unprecedented year

The past year has been a year like no other. We have been forced to adapt our lives to an unpredictable virus that has claimed millions of lives and disrupted many more. Although it is too soon to declare victory, as I write this in April, we are now filled with hope as more of us begin the vaccination process and begin planning for more normal operations this fall.

President James E. Ryan

As I look back over this year, I am also filled with gratitude for the many members of our community who have demonstrated extraordinary grace and determination, even as they faced daunting personal circumstances. To be sure, I am incredibly grateful to those who developed and implemented an innovative prevalence testing system, moved classes online, and organized vaccination centers that have served Charlottesville and the UVA community, just to name a few headline accomplishments. But in this letter, I would like to highlight some unsung heroes whose acts of generosity and dedication have been beacons of hope and inspiration during the past year.

When I asked my senior team for a few examples of people who went above and beyond to help others, I received literally dozens of stories. 

Take, for example, Christine Haines and Betty Butler, employees of the University Police Department, who used their own time, money, and materials to make masks for their first-responder colleagues during the early days of the pandemic. Lela Marshall (Engr ’91) and Preston Godfrey of the Information Technology Services team were responsible for reconfiguring 170 classrooms, taking care to ensure faculty members had updated technology and that students were protected with plastic shields. Meanwhile, the UVA Dine team, including chefs, drivers, and support staff, worked long hours to convert the catering department into a feeding operation for those in quarantine and isolation, delivering meals and snacks late into the evening.  Will Schnorr of Facilities Management’s Health System Physical Plant group found a novel engineering solution to make COVID-19 patient rooms safer, devising a plan to enable crucial negative pressure treatment rooms, which benefited hundreds of patients and created a safe environment for the clinical staff in the Special Pathogens Unit.

Medical students Jeffrey White (Med ’22) and Julia Preziosi (Med ’22) created a trivia game show, raising funds for local shelters, food pantries, and mask distribution efforts. Hundreds more students volunteered through the VMED COVID-19 Initiative, which organized mask sewing, card-writing to senior citizens in isolation, and thank-you deliveries for medical staff. 

Third-year student Isabelle Anderson (Col ’22), noting a lack of health care personnel available to serve patients, searched for nursing assistant classes and obtained her nursing assistant certification. She immediately began working as a floater in the UVA hospital, moving to whichever unit most needed her. Meanwhile, many third-year nursing students have been trained to administer vaccines as part of the “Community and Population Health” course led by professors Bethany Coyne (Nurs ’94, ’99), Sarah Craig (Nurs ’10, Grad ’14), Tomeka Dowling and Emma Mitchell (Nurs ’08, Grad ’11). 

Other faculty members have embraced creativity in teaching. Michelle Kisliuk of the Department of Music created an outdoor scavenger hunt for her students. Manuel Lerdau took students outside for his Agroecology course just as the spring foliage bloomed. And Economics professor Lee Coppock figured out a way to safely teach 800 students in Old Cabell Hall. 

In meetings with UVA alumni, the most common question I received was, “How can I help?” Generous alumni and friends contributed $2 million for the UVA Bridge Scholarships, aimed at helping families with temporary, need-based scholarship aid for the 2021 academic year. And more than 14,800 donors contributed $1.2 million to support students and employees. 

Still others saw new opportunities to help. Last spring, Merrill (Col ’98, Educ ’98) and Jaffray Woodriff’s (Com ’91) Quantitative Foundation made a $1 million grant to support the expansion of COVID-19 testing in the Charlottesville community and across Virginia. Paul Manning and his family gave nearly $2 million to support UVA’s COVID-19 research efforts, and the Charlottesville-based Ivy Foundation committed $2 million to accelerate biomedical research focused on COVID-19 at UVA. 

These are just a few examples that reflect UVA’s character and values as a place of caring, integrity, and leadership, and they are contributions that will not soon be forgotten. I am incredibly grateful for the efforts of so many across our community, which inspire and encourage us to continue looking out for one another, even after the pandemic is long behind us. This is the mark of a University at its very best.


Signature of Jim Ryan
James E. Ryan (Law ’92)
President of the University of Virginia