As I write these words, we are busily preparing for the start of the academic year, an opening unlike any we have ever experienced. Students from “red states” are gradually arriving on campus, submitting to a COVID-19 test, and settling in for a two-week quarantine. Our department’s physical space in Rush Rhees has re-opened, after the entire library’s closure in March. Department faculty are working on the best ways to teach our students in these trying circumstances, whether online or in a socially-distanced face-to-face format, as a number of us have elected to do. Despite the stresses, there is much to celebrate in the department. We graduated a record number of PhDs in 2020, and two of those students, Jonathan Strassfeld and Andrew Kless, were awarded national prizes for their dissertations in their respective fields of study. Faculty members Ruben Flores and Pablo Sierra-Silva were awarded tenure earlier this summer. Dedicated alumni, working together with department faculty, raised over $3000 in a short few weeks to help with graduate students’ emergency expenses over the summer. And our undergraduates continue to inspire us with their positive, upbeat attitudes. So, behind my UR-color-coordinated mask (a handmade gift from my honors thesis student for this fall!), there’s a smile on my face, as I feel all the excitement that builds every August in anticipation of welcoming new and returning students into our classrooms—and our hearts.
-Professor Laura Smoller, Department Chair