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President Martha Pollack and Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Mary Opperman discuss StayHomecoming and resources available for parents and adult caregivers.

Cornell Leadership Sessions: family resources, limiting travel

Cornell Leadership Sessions is an ongoing video series in which members of the administration discuss university efforts related to the campus reactivation and the COVID-19 pandemic. Visit for the latest information and resources.

In the fourth installment of the series, President Martha E. Pollack and Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Mary Opperman discuss StayHomecoming; resources available for parents and adult caregivers; and the importance of limiting or avoiding travel to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Martha E. Pollack: Hello. I appreciate the opportunity to connect with everyone again virtually. I had the opportunity to do that last week with so many alumni around the world when we had this year’s version of Homecoming. We called it StayHomecoming. And while I know we all would have preferred to be in Ithaca together, there were a remarkable number of online events.

And I was so happy to be able to announce that we’re naming two of our new dormitories after two women who represent the very best of Cornell and who sadly both passed away within the last year and a half: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Toni Morrison. They were amazing alumnae.

Our campus, our faculty and our staff, and especially our students – you all continue to behave in the ways that are safe and responsible, and because of that, we’re continuing to have a successful in-person semester. But please, please keep it up. In communities around Ithaca we’re seeing, actually, troubling increases in the number of COVID-19 cases. So we really need everyone to continue to be careful and to be safe.

And I’m really pleased that today I’m joined by Mary Opperman, our vice president and chief human resources officer. Mary has been an incredible advocate for all of our employees during these stressful and challenging times.

Mary Opperman: Thanks, Martha. I’m so pleased to be here with you today. And I do want to say, it’s my privilege to support such a wonderful staff and faculty population.

What I wanted to talk about today was some of the resources that we have available for our families. We know that this very difficult time and challenging time has created some special needs. Our list is just far too long to go through today, so I’d encourage you to go to the HR website and look at the Well-Being and Family Services areas. You’ll see just a wide variety of things.

But I’m just going to highlight a few of them. We’ve worked on the childcare grant programs, both for employees and students, and made those more flexible to respond to today’s needs. If you have particular needs, go to our work-life consultant, Diane Bradac. She’s just a terrific help.

Don’t forget It’s a great program. We’ve also got a supplemental directory of local tutors. I think you’ll find that helpful. And Student Agencies has a tutoring program as well, and they’re giving a 20% discount.

And finally, for our faculty families, we have extended the tenure clock, and we’re working on new guidelines for promotion and evaluation. And those should be out shortly.

MEP: And Mary, you know, I know that you did a really important survey where you found that the thing people prized the most was flexibility. And so I know I really appreciate that as you’ve put these programs together, that’s been a priority for you and your team.

MO: Absolutely. When our survey came back, one of the most important and consistent things we heard was, we need our supervisors and our colleagues to understand that we might need flexibility we wouldn’t otherwise ask for. And I’m so grateful to hear that that’s happening in most quarters of the university.

MEP: There is currently one off-campus [COVID-19 testing] site in Collegetown, and it’s pretty highly utilized, mainly by undergraduate students who live in that area. But later this month, we’re going to open another site in downtown Ithaca. And I hope we’ll be able to announce the details of that within the next few days.

This site is going to be open to all faculty, staff and students who are part of the surveillance testing program, but we think it’s going to be especially convenient for the graduate and professional students who live downtown and who don’t travel into campus as frequently.

Well, first of all, I want to remind everyone that travel outside of Ithaca is strongly discouraged. As I mentioned, we’re continuing to see COVID cases in neighboring counties. And of course, across the nation, we’re seeing increases in COVID cases.

And look, I know it’s hard. We all want to see our families. But please, if you at all can, please, this year, avoid travel. And if you have to travel out of the region, if you just have to do that, you’ve got to familiarize yourself with travel and quarantine restrictions, both in the places you’re going to and here in New York state, because when you come back, if you visited one of the states that’s on New York’s travel advisory list, you’re going to be required by the state to quarantine for 14 days.

And along those same lines, it’s really important to limit the number of guests coming into the Ithaca area. And again, remember that New York state-mandated quarantine. If visitors are coming here from states on the travel advisory list, they’ve got to quarantine for 14 days before they have that Thanksgiving dinner with you.

Mary, do you have anything to add to this?

MO: Yes, thank you. I just want to reinforce Martha’s message about continuing vigilance. There are two areas where we have a particular risk of infection. One, as Martha said, is travel – travel into our area and travel out of our area. And the other is social gatherings.

Be mindful of the size of the gathering. Be vigilant about the use of your masks. If you are indoors, please, please be sure you ventilate the room. If you can possibly stay outside, do that. Stay distant, even from those people you really want to hug.

MEP: Our campus will remain open after Thanksgiving. Many of our students, of course, are going to go home at the break and stay there, finishing their classes online through the rest of the semester. But many students who are living in the local community, as well as some who are living on campus, are going to have to remain in Ithaca.

Business operations are going to continue for everybody working on and off campus. And importantly, surveillance testing will continue, for faculty, for staff, for students. As long as you’re here in Ithaca, your current testing schedule is going to remain in place.

I want to end by again saying how grateful we are to our students, our staff, and our faculty for the cooperation and really the sense of community that you’ve shown. Because of this, we’ve so far met this challenge. Keep it up.

MO: And I’d add, take care of yourselves. This is a time that none of us has been through. It’s been a while. Be kind to yourself. Get your rest. Do the things that you find rejuvenating and healthy. Be present in the things that balance you. And know how much we appreciate each and every one of you.

MEP: I’m happy we had a chance to share these updates with you, and we’ll see you again soon.

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Abby Butler