By Mateo Gomez
Dr. Mike Allen has been the president of Barry University since July 2019 and it is safe to say that he had no idea what he was in for — no one did. The 2019-2020 school has been a year of adjustments and hard decisions. Allen spoke to The Buccaneer to reflect on the past year as the first male, first COVID and first hybrid-online president of Barry University as well as cast vision for the bright future ahead.
Mateo Gomez: Other than COVID-19, how can you describe the past year?
Dr. Allen: It has been an incredible experience to get to know the Barry community and learn about our students… their stories, dreams, and aspirations. But also to see Barry University up close and personal, and appreciate what we do here, how we do it, who we do it for, and the outcomes it delivers.
Mateo Gomez: Your inauguration was a highlight but what other events from the last year will you always remember?
Dr. Allen: The one event that stands out more than any other is the December graduation. Only because it was the only in-person graduation I was able to experience my first year. But to see what it meant to the students and families… it’s very special...One of our prouder moments was when we were able to graduate several of our anesthesiologists and cardiovascular perfusion students early. These were folks that were directly able to help COVID-19 patients… I loved the Spring graduation too because it was an outcome of a community coming together to make something happen. We pivoted a thousand in person classes to online. Students, faculty, and staff sacrificed in every way and adjusted. And the first day of the Fall semester. So much went in to making that happen… it was all day, every day planning.
Mateo Gomez: I was going to ask if there was anything you didn’t expect. But just with COVID, we didn’t expect it at all. You had your first exciting semester and then you were put to the test.
Dr. Allen: I feel very lucky for those 7 or 8 months before this hit. We spent a lot of time building relationships, trust, and respect. Without that, this would have been so much harder. When we had to make hard decisions, decisions that were right to some and wrong to others, you need that trust.
Mateo Gomez: You have been focusing a lot on students and alumni. You are really trying to have that bond with them.
Dr. Allen: When you are a new president, it is a lot of relationship building that needed to happen. I have been a big believer in that. It is important to hear from our students. When we declared that we were going remote, we brought in our student leaders and had a real conversation. We took a pause, talked to them, we discussed what we knew, what can be expected, and what we didn’t know.
Mateo Gomez: Because of this, were there any plans that were delayed or cancelled?
Dr. Allen: One of the things I try to do is never stop thinking about the future. Every time I talked to the university community, I knew that we were worried about COVID and we are dealing with COVID but this is going to end. When it does, we will be ready to continue making significant strides as a university. We have continued to move forward on important fronts. It is harder to build on those external relationships. In many meetings, you make connections with the side conversations at a lunch or by the desert table. You don’t have that anymore. But at the same time, many more people are saying yes to the events because they just have to go on a Zoom call.
Mateo Gomez: How will Barry look like in 5 or 10 years then?
Dr. Allen: There is something called the strategic enrollment plan. Among other things, this process involves finding the right mix of academic programs and making important decisions on how the university will look going forward. We also have a lot of vacant land and we are exploring options for development. The spaces in the area around campus may look different around that time.
Mateo Gomez: Is there anything else you would like to tell readers?
Dr. Allen: An enormous amount of gratitude to our students for their flexibility, their patience, creativity, and especially for sticking with us. Honestly, they have embraced our approach here at Barry, I think knowing that we are making the best of a very difficult situation for everyone, and we are very grateful for that. They believe in what we are doing here at Barry. We are on the back end of this and things are going to be looking up very soon. Better days are ahead of us together.