President Grant Cornwell discusses Rollins’ response to a once-in-a-generation challenge and looks ahead to the College’s post-pandemic future.
Photos by Scott Cook
Q: You’ve said a few times this year that you could take all of the challenges and crises that you have faced in your more than 20 years of higher education leadership and it wouldn’t touch what we’re dealing with. How has Rollins responded to this monumental challenge?
A: Everyone—from our students, faculty, and staff to our trustees, alumni, and friends—has risen to this enormous and novel challenge with conviction, creativity, and goodwill—all without a moment of complaint or despair. Our response has been one of resilience and resolve. From the beginning, we’ve said, ‘We’re going to do this. We’re going to solve this problem while retaining our most important values and the integrity of our mission.’ I could not be more proud of how our entire community has come together to meet this moment.
Q: Why do you think we’ve been able to weather what can only be described as a perfect storm of challenges?
A: I think one answer is that we’ve developed a strategic mindset at Rollins. We have built a culture in which we’re in a constant mindset of facing a problem, understanding its causes, creating possible solutions, assessing and analyzing those solutions, and then creating and executing a plan. Every person at Rollins has been involved in this ongoing and systemic endeavor to improve our organization, and in our response, we were able to lean on the apparatus that we have been building for the past six years.
Another answer is that we benefited from a combination of luck, leadership, and culture. The luck part of that is Lakeside Neighborhood. When we committed to that project, it was on nobody’s radar that we’d need single rooms with private bathrooms arranged in apartment suites for a pandemic isolation unit. Yet we opened Lakeside right as we needed a facility to isolate and care for COVID-positive students, and now we have the best facility in the country for that.
From our Emergency Operations Center team to every corner of our campus, so many members of our community have demonstrated incredible leadership. One cannot say enough about our own Dr. Fauci, [Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost] Susan Singer. Susan has been on top of this in a way that is objective, scientific, compassionate, and unflappable. Meanwhile, our alumni and donors have rallied around our students at a time when their need for support has never been greater. In fact, our Office of Financial Aid has seen an increase in financial need this year, and we’ve been able to award nearly 10 percent more in Rollins grants and scholarships thanks in large part to our alumni and donors’ support of The Rollins Annual Fund. The aftershocks of the pandemic will only increase that need. Coming out on the other side of this, we want to make sure that every deserving student has access to a Rollins education, and that’s going to require an ever-increasing commitment to scholarships and financial aid.
The last piece is culture. Our mission to educate students for global citizenship and responsible leadership is at the heart of everything we do at Rollins, and we make that commitment very clear from before a student arrives at Rollins to well after they’ve gone out into the world. We’ve called upon our students to behave as global citizens and responsible leaders throughout this crisis, and by and large they have been extraordinary.
Q: Even with the advent of vaccines, the pandemic will continue to impact the College through at least the spring and summer. Let’s look past the end of the pandemic, though. What do you see?
A: I’m very optimistic about the future of Rollins. I think over the next five years Rollins will make marked progress in advancing our mission and delivering on our promises. We are really poised to thrive because of the incredible progress that we’ve made through strategic planning. We have all of these strategic initiatives on the launchpad ready to go. We just need a clear window to really fire them.