I accepted the position as dean of the Susanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies on Friday, September 29, 2017, just one month after Hurricane Harvey ravaged the Texas Gulf Coast. The interviewing process had been ongoing in the months prior, though, and in reflecting on that time, I recalled a conversation with Rice’s former provost, Marie Lynn Miranda. Just days after Harvey, we discussed the impacts to Rice and to the Houston area and what the school was doing to help. I sent her this email the day after that phone call:
Dear Marie Lynn,
I continue to think about our discussion yesterday--the assertion that Rice, specifically the Glasscock School, could and should take a primary role in helping the Houston community not only survive, but thrive in the wake of Harvey. That type of service and call to action is a perfect, mission-driven charge for the Glasscock School and reinforces my interest in Rice and the Dean position."
I officially started in November 2017, which means I just celebrated my 3-year anniversary as dean of the Glasscock School. Like my first year, we once again find ourselves contending with catastrophic storms, both figurative and literal: COVID-19, record unemployment, systemic racism, income inequality, political division, wildfires, hurricanes. The list could and does go on. However, just like in the case of Harvey, the Glasscock School has had the opportunity to help Houston weather these storms. As a school, we have had our own share of difficulty this year. Some of it as simple as the annoyances of working from home, and others that make mentioning minor annoyances unfathomable. Yet, there have been watershed moments of service and inspiration in the midst of the challenges.
- Online Migration. We serve a diverse student body, many of whom are considered the most vulnerable population. This spring, in a matter of weeks, we moved 135 credit and non-credit spring courses online. As the virus continued to progress, we formulated and executed plans for an entirely online fall semester. These efforts have allowed our students to stay on target with their goals, moving themselves and our city forward, even as so much of the world seems to have stopped.
- OpenRICE. At the onset of the pandemic, we launched this initiative to offer Rice-quality online education opportunities, free and online, to the Houston community. An educational supplement, these short sessions cover a variety of subjects and serve as a primer into deeper education programs. Initially, our sessions respond to the current health and economic crisis as related to COVID-19, but over time, we will shift content in response to other issues facing our community. With coronavirus cases spiking nation-wide, the need for this only continues to grow. Supporting this effort is a great way to contribute beyond your own home.
- Price Reductions. Almost all of our offerings have been discounted this year to make our offerings more accessible during this difficult time. By adjusting our pricing, we can continue to help our students with their career aspirations or by offering socially distant opportunities. These efforts are only possible because of the financial support provided to the school, which in turn creates opportunities for our community.
- Back in Business and Back to Work. This spring, we partnered with the ION to provide education and insight to small business owners, helping them return to normal operations and recover from the closures. The Back in Business initiative provides low cost online short-courses and one-on-one consulting for local business owners. This was followed with our Back to Work initiative, which offers five innovative, reduced-cost workshops to help prepare individuals for re-entering the workforce. Our instructors either donated or offered their time at drastically reduced rates as their part to help our community.
- Teacher Professional Development. As the pandemic took hold, many teacher professional development opportunities were canceled around the United States. In partnership with the College Board, the Glasscock School was able to offer Advanced Placement professional development entirely online, serving 2,154 teachers, ensuring that they were able to receive this critical training. For every teacher we train, they are, in turn, impacting 150 to 180 students annually. Knowing the challenges teachers face during this ongoing pandemic and knowing the impact they have on our communities made this a top priority for the Glasscock School and an effort we are incredibly proud to be a part of.
These are just a few of the many efforts we’ve undertaken as a school, and this list doesn’t even begin to touch on the countless hours and personal sacrifices made by our staff and instructors to pull these initiatives off on top of all of their regular duties. It was, and is, truly humbling to watch.
The common foundation that holds all of these efforts together through these storms is our students, who have been resilient in both the pursuit of their goals and in driving our service forward. This year, through our regular offerings and the additional initiatives, our enrollments exceeded 18 thousand. Enrollments aren’t the only impressive number, however. Philanthropy also plays a large role. On May 5, the Glasscock School participated in GivingTuesdayNow--an international day of charitable giving aimed at funding efforts around the pandemic. As a result of our students, alumni and funders, we had the single largest grassroots day of donations in the Glasscock School’s 50+ year history. Where one chooses to invest their time and their resources is a tremendous indicator of what they value. Knowing that, it’s clear that our community values the mission and purpose of the Glasscock School, and we are so, so grateful.
In this holiday season, I would like to humbly ask that, if you are looking for a charitable cause, consider a gift to the Glasscock School. Your generosity allows us to continue the efforts listed above, and to meet the evolving needs that we are sure to face in the future. Your gift today, on this GivingTuesday, will be both thoroughly appreciated and judiciously utilized in making a continuing impact in our community.
As every Houstonian knows, the eye of the storm means you are only through half of the struggle. However, it also means you know what to expect next, and you are ready because you’ve already been through this before. The struggles we have come through this year are not over. There is much work yet to be done, but looking back over what we have accomplished this year, we face the next with confidence and even greater resolve.
Warmest regards and best wishes for this holiday season and for a bright new year,
Dr. Robert Bruce
Dean, Susanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies