Dr. Ann Taylor was recently named the Butler-Turner Student-Alumni Engagement Award winner. The award is presented by the National Association of Wabash Men to “honor and recognize members of the Wabash faculty and staff who have made an outstanding contribution to Wabash College by distinguishing themselves through the investment of personal time and resources resulting in a significant impact on Wabash students and/or alumni.”
Taylor, Professior of Chemistry and Special Assistant to the President for COVID Planning and Response, talks about the challenges she faced and the lessons she learned from the past year.
Q: What does it mean to you to win the Butler-Turner Student-Alumni Engagement Award?
A: I'm so grateful for the support of our alumni and our students all the way through the past year. I think communities either rise to the challenge or fall apart under stress. Wabash has really risen to the challenge, and I appreciate all the support from the alumni association, individual alumni, and students as we've tried to find our way forward in a complicated situation.
Q: Can you walk through when you realized COVID was going to turn the world and Wabash upside down? What was that moment like for you?
I was doing an American Council on Education fellowship placement at Ball State in the spring semester. I had an apartment in Muncie, and one weekend I wondered how much stuff I should bring home? I had a conversation with (then) Dean Scott Feller and (former) President (Gregory) Hess about other things I could do here to help. The response was, "I will take every minute you can give me," which turned out to be about the right amount of time needed for the problem. It ended up being like an extension of my fellowship. That was helpful, because it meant I wasn't trying to teach at the same time as we were trying to do all this planning.
Q: What was the biggest challenge in trying to handle Wabash’s pandemic response?
A: One of the biggest challenges was that we were always dealing with incomplete information, and information that changed about every three weeks. There were definitely some pivot points where we were trying to decide, ‘Are we coming back? Are we going to require return testing? How are we going to handle testing?’ Those were different points where there was lots of inadequate information that we were trying to plan around, but trying to take advantage of the opportunities in front of us.
Q: When it came to your own mental health, how did you try to keep yourself above water and as level headed as possible?
A: A group of us put together a Great British Bake Off, since we had been living in England together during the fall semester of 2019. That was a fun way to have some community with some friends from outside of the area and to reconnect with people. I also tried to keep up with exercise and sleep as best as I could. I have three children, a senior in high school, a junior, and a sixth grader who was doing e-learning all year. It was really busy, and I'm very thankful for my family taking a lot of home responsibilities and getting everyone where they needed to go this year.
Q: Student compliance and their willingness to make sacrifices has been vital to getting to the point. What has it been like interacting with them and watching them navigate the past year or so?
A: I've been so impressed with how our students have stepped up to take on leadership roles in challenging circumstances. We've had a number of people from student government and fraternities and independent housing go above and beyond, and that's really been key to success on campus. I'm super grateful for that.
Q: What are you looking forward to most about things returning to normal?
A: I love being in the classroom with students and seeing them make connections with each other. That is so much easier to do when you don't have to be six feet apart with a mask on. I'm looking forward to being able to go back to more normal classroom operations and build those relationships with students myself, and watch them form among their classmates.
Q: How will the pandemic experience impact the way that you go about your day-to-day life?
A: One thing I think all of us have recognized much more acutely this year is the important emphasis on mental health. We're all more aware of that. I hope we understand a little better what it means to support each other and our community.
Taylor came to Wabash in 1998. Beginning July 1, she will serve as Senior Associate Dean of the College.