When Eastern Kentucky University president David McFaddin was named interim president in Dec. 2019, he could have never predicted that his first year as president would be challenged with a pandemic and virtual instruction.

“A lot of people would say ‘boy what a terrible time to become a first-time president, to step into this role with COVID and all of these things,” McFaddin said. “It’s been the most challenging year of my career, but it has also been enlightening in a lot of ways.”

McFaddin said he has learned a lot about his leadership team, campus and the value system of the student body.

“It has allowed me in year one to be more internally focused. The nature of a president’s job in a normal set of circumstances is running with their hair on fire from this meeting to that meeting, to this event to that event. There's not a lot of down time to really think and to be strategic and to do some of the things that we have been allowed to do the last year.”

McFaddin considers this pandemic a challenge but it has also given him and his leadership team a chance to grow closer together and prepare for the future post COVID-19.

“We have made some big decisions about our future,” McFaddin said. “Everything from the overall Eastern Experience … What fall is going to look like and some of the exciting things we have on tap for our students, faculty and staff, to changing athletic conferences next year and make a move away from the conference we’ve always been in since there've been athletic conferences.”

Even with the challenges of COVID-19, EKU has been able to operate with students living on campus and some classes being conducted in person.

“We have found innovation and opportunity amongst all of this chaos and for that I’m grateful and I think it’s been a successful first year,” McFaddin said. 

With the pandemic causing classes to be moved online during the Spring 2020 semester and many classes still being conducted virtual over the last two semesters, McFaddin learned that there’s nothing we can’t do online. 

“We learned a lot about virtual work and virtual learning,” he said. “We learned just how important the college campus experience is. I think there is a yearning to return for students, faculty and staff. I know what it feels like to be zoomed out.”

The biggest point McFaddin has reaffirmed over the past year is that it’s all about the people. 

“We are a community of individuals who care about one another and we have a commitment to one another to do the hard things to lift each other up to make sure we get through the hard moments,” McFaddin said. 

Interacting with the campus community and getting daily work accomplished has been easier for McFaddin with help from town halls and virtual meetings, but it has not been as meaningful and personal as normal in-person interaction. 

“We have to be the example too so we have lived by the rules and led from the front in that way with social distancing and masking and good hygiene and staying home when your sick, but on the other side of vaccinations of 1C starting now and having a clinic here on-campus we think that return to normal is really right around the corner,” he said. 

McFaddin thinks the university has had a favorable experience with the pandemic and the spread of COVID-19 on campus.

“We’ve seen a deep commitment to doing this the right way,” McFaddin said. “I think it’s shown itself in the fact that we’ve had zero cases of transmission in an instruction or university event environment. Yes, there has been COVID on our campus, there’s been COVID everywhere. So we have done everything we can to lift up those students and support those students who have been affected and our faculty and staff who have been affected.”

The university has provided on-campus testing to EKU students, faculty and staff at the beginning of the spring semester and now with a partnership with Baptist Health Richmond, EKU has opened a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Perkins Building. All ways in which McFaddin said he hopes to limit the spread of COVID-19 and keep everyone safe and healthy. 

McFaddin credited students for stepping up and taking some self responsibility to follow social distancing guidelines and masking requirements so in-person classes could continue over the past two semesters along with sporting events, on campus housing and other daily in-person interactions. 

McFaddin hopes to finish this semester strong while finding more ways to bring back the traditional college experience for students. 

“We’re trying to make the spring better than the fall. We’re trying to do some things programmatically, resident life to make that a little better. We got an eye toward opportunity and innovation beyond this semester. We’re really focused on the student experience and what that looks like in a post-pandemic environment in the fall of 2021,” he said. 

McFaddin is excited to bring back a BigE Welcome that is bigger and better than previous ones. More student events are in the works for the fall semester so more students and the campus community can get together in a safe way. 

Since McFaddin took over as the 14th president, many new programs have been added to make EKU the “School of Opportunity.” The EKU Booksmart program will start in the fall which will provide undergraduate students with free course materials and textbooks. Multiple new scholarships have also been added to make school more affordable for students.

McFaddin takes pride in his role and even more since he is a graduate of EKU.

“For me I’m humbled to be only the third alum to serve in this capacity, the first from the service region to be in this position. I consider it an honor and privilege,” McFaddin said.

Embracing innovation and opportunities is an aspect McFaddin has been working on since he took over. The president hopes to convey the message to be bold, committed and strive for excellence in anything you do.

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