Creating celebratory events for far-flung participants

Emily Brady re-engineers Whiting School events from her Canton home

Kevin, Dean, and Emily Brady at home in Canton.

Image caption: Kevin, Dean, and Emily Brady at home in Canton.


As most every JHU employee who has been working from home since mid-March knows, some projects are less "Zoom-able" than others.

At the Whiting School of Engineering, the challenge of figuring out how to handle a slew of celebratory events when public gatherings are prohibited fell to Emily Brady, senior events coordinator, who normally works out of the Wyman Park Building on the Homewood campus. Now, she grapples with the challenges of a full-time stay-at-home job from the couch of the Canton rowhouse she shares with husband Kevin, a CPA in the crunch of tax season, and their 14-month-old son, Dean.

"The first job was to cancel everything that needed to be canceled, reschedule what could be rescheduled, and do the rest virtually," says Brady, who has worked at Johns Hopkins since 2012, when she started as an academic program coordinator in the Computer Science Department.

A good example is the Whiting School's annual Design Day, in which senior engineering students exhibit work—representing a year or more of effort—at an "expo" with members of private industry on hand to meet the next generation of innovators.

"That's a tricky one," she says, noting that this event is more adaptable than others to an online conversion. "We're working on a website with all available materials to showcase the projects our students have created."

An even trickier item that falls to Brady? The "hooding" of newly minted WSE PhDs. An annual and near sacred ceremony honoring those who have labored for the better part of a decade earning a PhD, the moment when they are draped with a velvet hood tells all the world: "I am a philosophiae doctor."

Had the coronavirus pandemic not turned the world upside down, the WSE hooding event would have taken place the third week of May at Shriver Hall in combination with newly minted PhDs from the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.

Brady allows that a virtual ceremony for up to 150 graduates would not do it justice. "And that's very hard," she says. "How do we honor graduates for their achievements? They've been working on these degrees for six years or more."

After consulting with a planning committee that includes doctoral candidates, decision No. 1 was made: No virtual ceremony "because everyone expressed Zoom fatigue," Brady says.

Instead, the soon-to-be-celebrated said that they would prefer something more tangible, perhaps something of a keepsake.

The solution will be a 45-minute-or-so video dedicated to the Whiting and Krieger graduates. They'll hear words from Provost Sunil Kumar, WSE Dean Ed Schlesinger, KSAS Dean Beverly Wendland, and all their department chairs and advisers.

Additionally, when they tune into the virtual universitywide Commencement ceremony on May 21, they'll hear their degrees being officially conferred by President Ronald J. Daniels and see their names on their screens.

Laptop and iPad in hand, Brady has been grappling with how best to move the parts forward from her living room, an end table stacked with documents and printouts, young Dean clambering about a floor spread with his toys. A kiddie gate separates the living room from the dining room, where her husband completes audits for clients.

Brady's work is daily, and the hours are longer and more erratic than the usual 9-to-5 in Wyman Park, she says.

"I start my day before my son wakes up, and sometimes I'm able to work in 30-minute intervals while he's awake," she says. "When my husband is done working about 5, I go back to work. It took a couple of weeks, but I think we have a rhythm now."

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