Advancement during a Pandemic

By Kent Barnds Executive Vice President of External Relations Augustana College  April 20, 2020. We had big plans this spring–a big day of giving planned, exciting initiatives associated with the closing months of a comprehensive campaign, an important capital project challenge and some new events to more deeply engage alumni. But, there will be no Thank You Mobile, stewardship receptions, scholarship banquets, spring or summer baseball outings, senior class focus groups or senior send-off picnics, alumni gatherings or deliberate lessons about the importance of generosity on- and off-campus. COVID-19 has disrupted everything for everyone and college advancement offices are no exception at all. I guess a global pandemic will have that effect.

For Augustana College the impact has included refunding $4.7 million in room and board to currents students, preparing for a loss in summer program revenue of $500,000 or more, ensuring all current students have the resources to continue with their education as we switch to distance instruction and striving to provide income security for our workforce. It is challenging, given most of operating costs (personnel, physical plant, etc.) have not gone away.

Like many others, we started with a degree of paralysis about what to do. Should we lie low and do nothing? Should we focus our attention on immediately helping students? Should we suggest that families receiving a refund choose to donate it to the college? Should we send pledge reminders? Should we continue with business with the clear knowledge that nothing about this time is usual?

When nothing is certain it can result in inaction—or it can be the catalyst that you need to try some new things. We’ve chosen the latter. Here are some recommendations based on what we are doing with our new blank slate.

Mobilize your entire community to show gratitude–We’ve used unanticipated changes in people’s employment and work from home as an opportunity to engage the entire community in stewardship and showing gratitude. Dining services employees, facilities and grounds workers, administrative assistants and many others have been hand-writing thank you cards to all of our donors to express thanks, on behalf of the college. Engaging different members of our community in thanking donors is an important moment in philanthropy education and makes a difference. It also makes a difference to a donor who receives, as I did, a note from a member of the facilities staff.

Think more intentionally about the Class of 2020–The process of celebrating seniors can be somewhat rote on a college campus and we can’t let it be that way this year. Those things that just happen on campus and help prepare students to be alumni are not happening and without picking up the slack we run the risk of losing the Class of 2020 forever. We need to be more intentional than ever before as we think about building a bond with the Class of 2020. In addition to the virtual Last Lecture and Champagne Toast, for which we will be sending a champagne flute to every graduate’s home address, we will be hosting a live online meeting to describe what it means to be an alumna or alumnus of this college, and showcase volunteer and engagement opportunities. We will use this online session as an opportunity to promote alumni engagement, generally, and the 0 year reunion at Homecoming. (Incidentally, voting for the professors to give the Last Lecture is 20% ahead of previous years and the event is on track to be a tremendous success.)

Introduce new services for alumni–Within days of going on lockdown, an alumna stepped forward to volunteer to provide a series of online career development seminars. We’ve always thought our alumni can be helpful to current students who are seeking internships or jobs, but we’ve never considered alumni-to-alumni career development. This expert knew that our alumni were likely to be impacted by COVID-19 and might be in need of sharpening their resumes, LinkedIn profiles and learning a bit about best practices in career development today. Within hours, rather than the typical days or weeks, we launched a series of four seminars exclusively for alumni.

Take your events virtual–We had several stewardship events planned for the spring, which obviously can’t happen as planned. Like others, we made the decision to go virtual with these events. Our first virtual event for giving society donors was a tremendous success and enabled us to engage donors from across the globe, rather than only those in the region where we choose to do the event. We will do more of these. Why hadn’t we thought of doing this previously? Virtual isn’t perfect, but it’s not a bad substitute.

Showcase how your alumni are making a difference–One of the easiest things to do right now is to celebrate your alumni who are on the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19. We sought out graduates working in public and global health, medicine and other career fields. We’ve been doing a series of stories for the website and for alumni newsletters and we’ve been very intentional about inviting those on the frontlines to share their experience during calls and online meetings with various volunteer boards.

Give everyone an opportunity to support your current students–During an online meeting with one of our volunteer boards, while brainstorming ways to engage alumni during this crisis, an alumna asked if she could write a note of encouragement to the students who receive her scholarships (she’s a generous donor who has a current and an endowed award). What a fabulous idea; think about it, here’s someone to whom we normally ask her recipients to write a thank you note! We took this kernel of an idea and put together an effort to attempt to ensure every single one of our currently enrolled students gets a handwritten note of encouragement from a graduate. And, yes, the donor who suggested this will have the opportunity to write a note of support to her scholarship recipients.*

Don’t stop raising money, but think carefully about your message–Fundraising is more important than ever before, given the economic impact of refunds that many colleges have offered for room and board, so we cannot stop fundraising. In fact, many people are inspired to give during times of crisis. Nevertheless, we need to be careful about our messaging. Many colleges have been very successful with Student Emergency Funds to assist with immediate needs students face, and others have re-directed annual day of giving efforts similarly. At Augustana, we are trying to raise unrestricted funds in response to a generous $1 million challenge offered by a trustee who wants to make sure the college emerges strong from this crisis. We are at the front end of this challenge, so I can’t report on the success of this initiative yet.

I have to say that after emerging from the immediate stupor that accompanied a realization that many of our plans were not going to come to fruition, I am incredibly proud of the creative and thoughtful ways in which my colleagues have responded. The need to re-invent what we do has resulted in many initiatives that will outlive this current crisis and improve what we do during the best of times.

*Augustana College developed a volunteer confidentiality agreement that all letter writers and volunteers must complete in order to participate in this effort. Completion of this volunteer agreement ensures compliance with FERPA .

Kent Barnds for web 1 copyKent Barnds is Executive Vice President of External Relations at Augustana College.  He joined the college in the summer of 2005 as vice president of enrollment. Today, Kent oversees the offices of admissions, financial assistance, communication and marketing, web services, development, alumni relations, athletic program fundraising, parent relations and WVIK — Augustana Public Radio.

As a consultant for higher education admissions offices, he lectures on a wide variety of higher education topics ranging from college admission interviews and essays to the value of a four-year degree from a private college. He has written about staff development, performance management in admissions and has developed a set of performance assessment tools to use in college admissions.

Kent received his B.A. from Gettysburg College and his M.S. in management from Regis University.

COVID 19 – How To and How Not To Interpret Data and Statistics

Senthil 2 copyBy Dr. Senthil Nathan, Managing Partner Edu Alliance Ltd, Abu Dhabi  April 13, 2020 Public health experts and economists work with data analysis to understand past trends, make decisions for today and create policies for tomorrow. Covid-19 has created an instinctive awareness for data even among the general public. But how to and how not to use data, statistics and probability in decision and policy making?

As a long time of practitioner of data driven decision making, I have always kept in view the very first words of my professor and thesis advisor Prof. Loren D Lutes at Rice University, Houston in my first class of his famous graduate course on Probability, Statistics and Decision for Engineers: “Probability and Statistics help us quantify our ignorance”.

The disciplines of data analysis, probability and statistics have a deep mathematical underpinning; mastery of these areas require mastery of a wide range of topics in mathematics. It is often tempting for an expert working in areas such as public health, economics, weather forecast and the like to get too carried away with intricate math and elaborate data analysis but miss the forest for the trees in the process.

It is absolutely essential for analysts and statisticians to develop and apply a deep understanding and appreciation of the subject matter under analysis – limitations, assumptions, common-sense observations, vagaries and unusual and specific situations surrounding the collection of data – in order to appropriately compile, analyze and interpret the data for relevant decision and policy making.

Current Covid-19 data set – that is updated daily – may be used to illustrate Prof Lutes’ assertion about quantification of our ignorance and some of the fallacies that may arise out of simplistic interpretation of data sets and statistics. Data from {a} as of April 11, 2020 GMT 16:00 is used in the illustrations below.

Number of cases / new cases: This is not even a laterally (from day to day) comparable statistics even within a country or a region within a country, leave alone comparing the stats between countries – as these stats depend highly on the number of tests done on the preceding few days. For example, India – the second most populous nation on earth – only has a total of 8,000 cases and 875 new cases in the past 24 hours. As compared to many other nations, on the first look – this may look like a highly intriguing but encouraging data for Indians. Even though experts are looking at the rate of growth, days taken to double the number of cases and the like – the real challenge in comparing these numbers for India and for many other countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America is in the number of tests being administered overall.

Number of tests per million: this stat is also attracting significant attention among government leaders and their critics. Number of tests per million population for the most populous countries as given below clearly speak for themselves in anomalies:

Number of confirmed COVID cases reported in these countries seems to be related to this number (inordinately low tests clearly show very low number of cases per million).

In comparison, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has tested 59,967 per million – one of the best in the world – yet only 378 per million cases have been confirmed in the UAE.

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Insights into workings of government machinery and transparency of information are essential for appropriate comparisons between countries. For example, total number of cases in Russia is given as 93 per million; in China as 57 per million; in the USA as 1,529 per million. Having a good understanding of the socio-political systems in the respective countries would help the experts appreciate the validity or otherwise of these stats. It may be more meaningful to compare COVID-19 statistics from open, transparent and democratic nations in Asia, Europe and Americas.

Incompetence and/or lack of resources may explain the reason for low number of tests in some of the other highly populous nations. Accurate reporting of illnesses and deaths due to COVID-19 should also be a major concern to WHO and similar organizations.

Ratio of number of deaths & number of cases to number of tests: Almost 20% of the tests in the USA have resulted in positive cases. In Italy it is 16%; Spain 46%; France 37%; UK 24%. Germany 9%; and South Korea 2%.

All these countries have comparable transparent systems – number of total cases are the highest in the world. So why are these ratios of number of cases to number of tests widely different? Insights from the front line practitioners – as to the practical policies on administering tests – would be important to interpret and appropriately compare such stats. For example, in the USA, in most of the states only those showing strong symptoms are administered these tests. In Germany and South Korea, these standards for administering tests may be very different.

Number of deaths out of the total cases is another ratio that has attracted attention from the public, media and the governments. It is 12.8% for Italy; 12.5% UK; 10.5% France; 10% Spain; and 3.9% USA. It has already been noted that the average age of the population is a factor. Where each country is in the spread of COVID-19 incidents are – in terms of timeline – is also important for death count, as patients move into critical stages in week 2 or later. Hence this ratio for USA cannot yet be compared with that of Italy and Spain.

Underlying Factors of Ignorance: While all of the above issues could be addressed to a reasonably satisfactory extent in data analysis, the fundamental unknowns of Covid-19 – at this stage – are significant enough. This should explain why public health experts in open societies are reluctant to give definitive timelines for recovery, projections of cases, deaths and the like. The virologists, healthcare experts and public health researchers are still working on several unanswered questions {b} : how exactly does the virus spread; Can people become reinfected?; how many cases are actually there in each country?; how deadly is the virus?; is it seasonal?; why children are not getting sick? What role the children play in the spread of this virus?; when will it end? And how? Will it become endemic?

Even the planned human interventions such as the discovery of a successful vaccine; drugs and antibody treatments are currently only gross estimates – which complicate medium term projections.

Conclusion: At present, Covid-19 datasets and statistical / probabilistic projections may seem imprecise and speculative to a lay observer. However, keeping the basic definition of probability and statistics in view – as quantification of our ignorance – this level of impreciseness in projections and estimates is directly proportional to the level of ignorance in the scientific community about this new and deadly public health menace.  More assertive inferences based on statistics can only be made at the risk of neglecting the lack of clarity on the underlying socio-political factors as well as the current gaps in the knowledge of epidemiology of Covid-19.




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