In March 2020, the weekly Thursday Morning Roundtable Public Forum was nearing the end of its 54th year as a community institution at Syracuse and Syracuse University.
The charm of “TMR” had always been its personal touch: community members gathered at a Syracuse University site, enjoyed fresh coffee and pastries, and listened to prominent journalists discussing hot topics. in central New York and beyond. And after the presentations, community members could ask any questions they wanted.
But then the pandemic struck, lockdowns were ordered, and the staff at the University’s Community Engagement Office who host TMR knew they would have to get creative if they wanted to make it to season 55. .
“We’re always looking for ways to improve the TMR and make it more engaging,” says Emily Winiecki, community engagement coordinator for the Office of Community Engagement, which schedules speakers and facilitates question-and-answer sessions. . “In a strange way, the pandemic gave us the opportunity to implement the changes we envisioned as a way to expand the reach of TMR.”
In collaboration with University IT staff and in coordination with Cydney Johnson, Vice President for Community Engagement and Government Relations, and Mark Jackson, Executive Director for Community Engagement, the Office of Community Engagement has transformed TMR into a weekly Zoom session that remained open to the public. through a simple registration process. Participants were still able to ask questions via the chat function, so the question-and-answer session remained a staple at the end of the forums from 8am to 9am.
With TMR now on Zoom, participants didn’t have to wake up so early, drive in the snow, or miss work because they could watch from their home or office.
“They have done a fabulous job with TMR on Zoom this year,” says Jeanne Jackson, a regular TMR participant from Manlius and retired vice president at Feldmeier Equipment in Syracuse. “Many of us who don’t work anymore love having it on Zoom so we don’t have to get up, get dressed and get out of the house early. Zoom works great for us. “
Another by-product of the Zoom forums was that speakers did not need to be physically present, which added flexibility to Winiecki’s search for guests. The result was a 2020-2021 speaker lineup that included leading players such as US Representative John Katko, R-Camillus; Assembly Member Pamela Hunter, D-Syracuse; Ryan McMahon, Director of Onondaga County; Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick; The mayor of the city of Syracuse, Ben Walsh; and Syracuse City School District Superintendent, Jaime Alicea.
“Not only are we getting more attendees, but we’re able to bring in different speakers from local, state and national politics because they can connect from anywhere,” Winiecki says. “We hope to use this technology to continue to expand the reach of TMR and continue to connect speakers to the general public to spark more discussion on the important topics of the day.”
The timing of the speakers was as remarkable as their importance: Katko appeared on TMR just weeks after he became the first Republican congressman to announce support for the impeachment article against President Donald Trump; Hunter appeared just two days after Derek Chauvin was convicted of the death of George Floyd and she provided a national perspective on the police; and Commissioners Dustin Czarny and Michele Sardo of the Onondaga County Council of Elections presented ahead of the Nov. 3 election and made wise comments on electoral reform, as the fairness of the elections would soon be called into question.
“The Thursday morning roundtable did a great job directing their weekly conversations to a virtual forum that allowed community leaders to deliver their presentations and messages with as much impact as before the pandemic,” says Calvin Corriders, participating in TMR, responsible for the economic development of the district. at CenterState CEO in Syracuse.
In addition to following the ever-changing news cycle of the past year, TMR recognized many important celebrations with presentations on:
- Native American Heritage Month in November with ombuds from Neal Powless University, who discussed the history of the relationship between the Onondaga Nation and the surrounding community.
- Black History Month in February with poet Cedric Bolton, Student Engagement Coordinator at the University’s Office of Multicultural Affairs and Adjunct Instructor in the Honors Program at Renée Crown University and the College of the Arts and Sciences.
- Women’s History Month in March with Sally Roesch Wagner, Founder and Executive Director of the Matilda Joslyn Gage Center for Social Justice Dialogue in Fayetteville and adjunct faculty member of the Renée Crown University Distinction Program.
During TMR’s 25 presentations over the fall and spring semesters, attendees also learned about, among other things, the new Salt City Market Food Hall in downtown Syracuse; Blueprint 15 plan for the comprehensive redevelopment of the East Adams Street neighborhood in Syracuse; and COVID-19 early warning platform for wastewater monitoring developed by a local team of scientists led by David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics, Professor of Public Health, David Larsen.
And naturally, the 2020-21 TMR season kicked off with “The Reopening and Response of Syracuse University to COVID-19” with guest speaker J. Michael Haynie, Vice Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives and Founder and Executive Director of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, which continues to lead the University’s COVID-19 response.
The 2020-2021 TMR Forums attracted nearly 1,450 attendees, an average of 58 attendees per forum, which was higher than the previous in-person average. The forums were also amplified through media coverage of syracuse.com, Channel 9 news, CNY Central, WAER radio and other local media.
The forums were registered on Zoom and viewed frequently via the Office of Community Engagement webpage. They were also recorded through a partnership with WCNY radio, and audio versions can be found at WCNY Thursday Morning Roundtable Webpage.
Regarding TMR’s 2021-22 season, Winiecki says the safety of attendees and guests will remain the top priority, but she envisions a time when members of the campus and community can attend via Zoom or in person, whichever works best for them. And for those who cannot attend in real time, the forums will continue to be accessible through the community engagement and WCNY websites.
“We want to continue to focus on ‘Thursday’ during the Thursday morning roundtable, but we also understand that times have changed,” says Winiecki. “Through our various platforms, you can participate live or watch or listen later any day of the week.