Elizabeth Davis, President, Furman University

    “Pivot” is a word we’re using a lot these days. It may not feel like it now, but it wasn’t long ago that COVID-19 was an abstract disease happening halfway

    around the world. It has since hit Americans and American culture and business with a force we won’t fully understand for years.

    So, we pivot, keeping one foot grounded in our typical worlds—work, school, family and friends—while swinging the other around to adjust to new challenges until we find a toehold to do our work and make connections in the most effective way possible.

    Countless times over the past several months, Furman University, like you and your organizations across the Upstate, faced challenges. Like you, we kept one foot in our guiding principles and pivoted the other. Professors figured out how to teach remotely, students adjusted to learning from home, and our staff answered myriad new challenges.

    Commencement is possibly the most exciting time at Furman, with numerous ceremonies and traditions that celebrate our graduating seniors. Without students on campus, we were faced with how to make our seniors feel special. We pivoted, and last Saturday I did something I never imagined would happen: I conferred degrees to Furman graduates virtually, through a video we emailed to the Furman community and posted on our website.

    It is impressive and encouraging to see others in the Upstate respond so deftly. Prisma Health, our campus medical partner, quickly set up drive-through COVID-19 testing and launched technology to help people determine if they needed to be tested.

    Humimic Medical, a Greenville company that recently hired one of our students, switched from producing medical simulation materials to making face shields that nurses and doctors use as part of their protective equipment. Heath Hawkins, a new Furman alumnus and Humimic’s new employee, joined the company in the fall as an intern. Heath pivoted in a major way; he now leads the company’s sales and marketing strategy for its new product.

    Danny Merck, superintendent of Pickens County School District and a fellow in The Riley Institute’s Diversity Leaders Initiative, mobilized his food service workers and his school bus drivers to deliver 12,500 meals a week to students far and wide who depend on school for a nutritious meal. In an interview with The Riley Institute, Superintendent Merck reminded everyone that caring for people is every organization’s primary responsibility. “It’s about ‘who,’ not ‘what.’ If you protect the people you hire, they’re always going to be more motivated to serve the people they work with, the students. We have made sure that our plan was not built on the production of the employee, but instead on the well-being of the employee.”

    Furman Innovation and Entrepreneurship pivoted, too, moving their popular Summer Business and Entrepreneurship Bootcamp to a virtual format, accommodating 50 students from eight universities across the Southeast. For more than two weeks, students will hear from business leaders and entrepreneurs, engaging in a mentoring program and delivering a capstone project. Thanks to the Greenville Local Development Corporation, more than 10 students will have paid virtual internships with NEXT partner companies following the bootcamp.

    I’ve also been inspired by stories of Furman alumni, those who had no choice but to pivot and those who chose to do so despite knowing the dangers that awaited. Anna Downs was a fourth-year medical student in Kentucky who contracted COVID-19 and spent nearly 10 days as a patient. She recently graduated. The CEO of KershawHealth, Sue Shugart, was in her position less than six months when her hospital became ground zero for COVID-19 in the state. Jonathan Davis is an emergency medicine doctor in Georgia, and his friend Ben Daxon is an anesthesiologist at the Mayo Clinic; they each volunteered to work a week in New York City hospitals, caring for patients dying of the virus.

    There are countless other examples that make me proud to be the president of Furman and a citizen of the Upstate.

    At Furman, we’re working through plans for a safe and successful return to campus in the fall. While none of us knows what the future looks like for our respective organizations, we should all know that we have the skill and talent to figure it out. The pandemic has shown all of us that we can pivot to adjust to whatever challenge comes our way.




    Elizabeth Davis, President