Beyond the Call: Connecting, planning for remote teaching

Editor’s note: Beyond the Call is a new section in Around the O Workplace that highlights the exceptional work of UO employees during COVID-19. Each story features an interview with one employee, in their own words, with light editing for clarity and length only.

Nancy Cheng
Associate professor and department head of architecture

Q: How long have you worked at the UO
A: Twenty-four years.

Q: Tell us about your work:
A: The major thing I have is to figure out is who is going to teach what for the year. Right now, we have 22 tenure-track faculty and about 30 part-time instructors in any term, some of whom are in Portland.

So, there’s planning the teaching and then there’s managing what’s happening in our department in terms of troubleshooting problems and getting communication from the students to their faculty. Right now, we have a new system of advisers that’s been very strong, so they’re on the frontlines working with students to help them not only schedule their academic needs and understand about career opportunities but also access university resources.

I also have some teaching that I am doing. This term I’m mostly coordinating the first-year design studio, rewriting some of the briefs as well as scheduling and doing some of the talks.

Q: What does your workday look like during COVID-19?
A: My role has been to help everyone make it through this transition. We didn’t think it would look like this at this moment. It’s all about figuring out how we can make the best of what we have and working with our resources.

There’s a feeling of empathy and compassion in our department, and all around everybody is thinking about how they can support the community. Our faculty are hugely dedicated to their teaching. Studios are scheduled for 12 hours a week and a lot of them are doing 12 hours with their students on Zoom. They might do the first one-and-a-half hours with the whole group to set the tone and then do small group or individual tutorials. There’s a huge amount of effort that has been put into this transition.

Q: What is keeping you motivated during this challenging time?
A: We have this really great chocolate cake recipe, Mollie Katzen’s mix-in-the-pan chocolate cake. It was very funny. I led my husband to making it. I put out all the ingredients and he was mixing it up and he was like, “This is really like dry and sandy.” And then I looked again and I was like “Oh, I forgot the water.” For a cake that has no egg, it was super easy and delicious. I highly recommend chocolate cake as a way to get through it.

Every day before the sunset, my husband and I go on our walk. We go through different neighborhoods in Eugene and inspect all of these beautiful gardens that look much better than ours and get inspired. So that has been helpful too.

Nancy Cheng is a faculty member in the College of Design’s School of Architecture and Environment. She was also a member of the UO Leadership Academy’s 2018-19 cohort.

Do you know someone who has gone beyond the call? Nominate a UO employee.