By Abe Danaher | March 20, 2020
In this time of uncharted territory, individual faculty members had messages for their
students, both past and present. They know students are feeling a lot of different
emotions and wanted to offer advice, support and guidance. Their messages centered
on remaining hopeful, staying informed and remembering what is important in life.
Our faculty know that this is an extremely difficult time for students. We hope that you find comfort in their words.
1) What advice would you give to your 20-year-old-self if you had experienced this situation?
Juan Caicedo: Take the time to reflect on these events. I was talking with my father-in-law not long ago, and he mentioned that he has never seen anything like this before. Without a question, this is a historic event, and there is much to learn and reflection is needed. And Juan… don’t do anything dumb :-)
Tony Dillon: Be conscious of those around you. Your attitude and actions will impact numerous individuals, even if it may not have an immediate impact. During a crisis and time of need, you need to be courteous and kind. This is your time to show leadership and compassion for humankind.
2) If you could give one message to a classroom of your students right now, what would it be?
Mark Uline: As students and alumni of the CEC at UofSC, you are probably (and rightly so) being looked upon by friends and family members to be a reliable distributor of trustworthy information, so please stay vigilant on acquiring and distributing accurate news and data. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a great resource, and if you want more info, then stay with established experts in public health and infectious diseases.
Charlie Pierce: We are here to help. Your faculty, your instructors, all other people that you deal with at the university – we are all here to help. Now, students are going to have to take the initiative to reach out and ask for that. But we are here. We are all here to help. And I think that’s the most important message that I would want to give to my classroom.
Ramy Harik: All storms run out of their water. It is a major event and a very serious one, but we’ll adapt and push forward. So do the right thing for your loved ones, and don’t worry as this storm will pass (as shown in my LinkedIn Live video).
Hossein Haj-Hariri: Watch this YouTube video to learn why it is you are being asked to stay home. First off, it is a very simple conversation about the exponential function and the logistic curve, but second, it shows the importance of reducing the probability of spreading the disease.
Juan Caicedo: I do not think I would give a message. I would ask how they are feeling – and listen. Let them talk, share experiences, and answer questions. Perhaps, I would share about difficult times that I had as a young adult and how that shaped the person I am. But mostly, I would listen.
3) In your professional career, there have probably been times where you didn't know the answer to a problem or you were unsure how to respond. In moments of uncertainty, how should an engineer or computer scientist respond?
Juan Caicedo: On a daily basis engineers need to make decisions with incomplete information and with large levels of uncertainty. I think this situation is different because it is not about engineering a solution (although engineering can play a role in helping people with specific problems right now). I think the challenge now is about being calm and staying alert at the same time. Do not overreact but make sure that we are alert and responding to what is required of us as a community. It is about caring for each other while social distancing at the same time. These are definitely odd times.
Charlie Pierce: In a lot of ways, this is preparing students for an engineering career. What do I mean by that? I mean that a lot of what we do as engineers is attempt to solve problems we have not been faced with before. There is a lot of routine practice that engineers do, but really the exciting part of being an engineer is being faced with new challenges and then saying, ‘okay, what do I know? What don’t I know? How do I figure out how to solve this problem?’ And attempting solutions knowing they may not be good ones.
4) Relating specifically to social distancing and the guidance being released by the CDC, is there anything you want to emphasize to students?
Mark Uline: There are many instances throughout history where the public has been called upon to sacrifice for the greater good. Considering most of those situations, the fact that we are only being asked to social distance, wash our hands, stay away from crowded places, cough into our elbows, and not touch our faces is getting off pretty easy. Yes, you may get bored, but remember you are bored for the safety of yourself and others. Plus, students should not be bored with all the classwork for which they are still responsible!
Charlie Pierce: It is interesting that on the one hand, face-to-face contact absolutely needs to be minimized. I mean, there’s no doubt that that’s where we are at in terms of combating the virus. But on the other hand, I almost feel like we need to bring ourselves closer together in a virtual way. So, we have this social distancing physical space, but in terms of our virtual space, we have to come closer together. Students have to realize that they have a lot of people they can tap into.
Juan Caicedo: Social distancing is easy. So, why not do it? We are not being asked to exercise, give money or give our time. We are asked to be home, watch TV, and let time pass. Easy. So, why not do it? If not for you, do it for those around you.
5) A lot of people in the university, state of South Carolina and the country are nervous right now. What would you tell someone who is panicking?
Mark Uline: As an educated member of society, it is very important in times of uncertainty to be scared into your wits as opposed to being scared out of your wits.
Ramy Harik: It helps taking care of others virtually. There is an elderly couple in my neighborhood that I call daily – this releases some of my anxiety in these harsh times. Another thing is following the news less. It’s very stressful to do so around the clock. I am limiting myself to an hour or so of news per day.
Juan Caicedo: It is important to know where information is coming from. Please read information from reliable sources so you are not panicked for no reason. Ask, where is this information coming from? And is the source of information a person or institution that has a record of dealing with these situations? That have studied and know about this? Are other sources of information saying the same? Or something different? Think about this – you have particular skills and knowledge. You might know how to golf, fish, hunt, cook, etc. Wouldn’t you ask others to trust your advice as related to things that you are passionate and know about? If so, why not trust those who know about infectious diseases?
Tony Dillon: The pandemic is impacting the world and we need to prepare for the changes that will take place over the next few weeks or months. We all need to think about the long-term impacts that can be avoided by working on short-term gains. For those who are nervous and panicking we are here for you to lean on and our support is everlasting.
6) Is there anything else you would like to add?
Mark Uline: If you are a stereotypical member of the CEC "nerd" population like me, then you have been training for social distancing your entire life. Just put all of your life experiences into practice.
Ramy Harik: Life as we know it has changed, whether we want it to or not. Lessons learned from what happen will outlast the pandemic. Let’s make sure we don’t forget them, and we keep on valuing what must be valued.
Charlie Pierce: You’re not alone. You are definitely not alone. I am going to encourage my students to take advantage of reaching out and communicating with their instructors, fellow students, classmates and their friends, and really keep that up and maybe, in fact, elevating how much they are communicating with each other. Keep talking to each other.
Juan Caicedo: I would like to tell people to not be afraid. Fear can re-shape our social fabric. I hope this affects us in a positive way and not in a negative way. I hope once all of this is over, we are not afraid to go out for dinner on a cool spring evening because we are afraid of getting sick. Instead, I hope we are more cognizant of the interconnectivity of the world. I hope we care more about each other.
Hossein Haj-Hariri: Do take this staying-at-home piece seriously, and wash your hands, and keep distance socially. We will get through this together and be better off for it, and we will regain a sense of community.
The University of South Carolina is working with the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to actively monitor the novel coronavirus outbreak and any potential impact to our campus community. For all university updates, visit the UofSC COVID-19 page.