Enormous Changes at the Last Minute

The alumni association shifts gears to address the pandemic.

Masked pedestrian walks through empty campus

A masked pedestrian navigates a nearly empty campus after most students departed in March due to the coronavirus threat. Brian Huynh

In an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association (WFAA) canceled all of its in-person alumni events, including 2020 Founders’ Days. Grandparents University was postponed until summer 2021, and travelers who had signed up for alumni tours were offered the option to rebook at a later date. Internally, WFAA canceled employee business travel and required all staff to work at home starting March 16. The organization created a virus-related information website and reacted quickly to convert its UW Now events (or “Super Founders’ Days”) to livestream.

The first livestream event, on March 31, featured a brief talk by a faculty member on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19. Nasia Safdar MS’02, PhD’09, professor in the UW’s Division of Infectious Diseases, vice chair for research in the School of Medicine and Public Health, and medical director of Infection Control at UW Hospital and Clinics, shared her outlook on the pandemic. Afterward, WFAA CEO Mike Knetter moderated a Q & A via live chat. Viewers submitted a steady stream of questions, and Safdar addressed as many as possible, generating effusive thanks. More than 5,000 people watched the live-stream, and as of press time, the site had 10,397 views.

A second livestream the following week addressed the financial impact of the pandemic. Page views topping 9,800 highlighted the hunger for COVID-related information as listeners struggled to deal with the crisis. Phill Gross ’82, MS’83, founder of Adage Capital and a health care analyst, shared his views on the prospects for new COVID-related medical interventions. Ricky Sandler ’91, founder and CEO/CIO of Eminence Capital and an adjunct professor of finance at UW–Madison, conjectured on what the financial recovery might look like. And Julie Van Cleave ’81, MBA’83, WFAA’s chief investment officer, spoke on  implications for the financial markets. WFAA planned to continue hosting The UW Now online series at least through May. See allwaysforward.org/uwnow to view the events.

Meanwhile, leaders in the Wisconsin Alumni Association’s China chapters set up a fundraising site via WeChat to provide UW Hospital with needed supplies. Domestically, numerous alumni pitched in to raise funds and volunteered in their communities to help mitigate the impact of the virus.

Published in the Summer 2020 issue

Tags: Alumni, COVID, Faculty, Research

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