Rowan University President Dr. Ali A. Houshmand didn’t have to look very far when considering the best way to stay busy during the early days of the pandemic. Gardening was already his hobby, a pastime that he had turned into a charitable initiative in 2017 by growing peppers for his own brand of hot sauce.
The product’s proceeds have raised $35,000—and another $3 million in donations—to support Rowan’s Student Emergency Scholarship Fund, but Houshmand knew he could help others in need. “We donated tons of vegetables to food pantries and shelters,” he says. “We hired students to help with picking, packing and delivering.”
In the early mornings, he would go to the campus greenhouse and 1-acre farm to water the plants and work from his phone. It’s here that Dr. Houshmand ruminated on the fall semester—students returned in late August with medical care, testing, PPE and even food delivery at the ready—and a bold plan to reimagine Rowan University in the age of COVID-19.
Five major committees made up of faculty and administrators will look at the academic institutions of the future by focusing on areas like infrastructure, pricing, diversity and the university’s mission. “It’s an opportunity to imagine, define, formulate and build it even though we don’t know what ‘it’ is,” he says. On the heels of a 10% reduction in tuition and fees for this academic year, Dr. Houshmand says that he feels good about the future of Rowan. “The time of disaster is the best time for opportunity. While everyone else is busy worrying about the present and near future, there is a chance to rise up and have a global view and identify opportunity.”