This is the first in our 2020 Year in Review series of lists that spotlights the top Harris news, accomplishments, and perspectives from across our community in a year unlike any other.

The COVID-19 pandemic derailed our best-laid plans, but across the Harris community, there were inspiring and insightful stories that the challenging situation brought to the fore. Here are some of those stories:

1. Those nerdy girls keep us informed – and separate truth from fiction

Lindsey Leininger, wearing a Dear Pandemic mask, is the chief nerd.

A Harris alum and her friends created Dear Pandemic, a vibrant education platform for an interdisciplinary team of female PhDs and clinicians. They sift through COVID-19 science, controversy, and confusion to dish out advice for staying safe and sane.

2. Dean Baicker’s guide to reopening

As governments pondered stay-at-home orders and shutdowns of parts of the economy, Dean Baicker and Professor Oeindrila Dube coauthored a piece in the New York Times which explored at what kinds of businesses lend themselves to transmission of the virus.

3. Changing course: from Catalonia to COVID-19

A screenshot.
Associate Professor Anthony Fowler shares his screen on a class on Zoom.

COVID-19 scratched a spring quarter Study Abroad Program—including the course in Barcelona with Professors Christopher Berry and Anthony Fowler. So days before the quarter started, Fowler and Berry shelved their course prep work and rolled the dice. Could they pivot from examining policy in Spain for three weeks with undergraduates to leading a quarter-long, guided research project on the coronavirus pandemic?

4. Harris alum works on next generation contactless delivery bots

The R2, Nuro's contactless delivery bot.
The R2, Nuro's contactless delivery bot.

Wanting to help in the battle against COVID-19, the team at Silicon Valley autonomous delivery startup Nuro — including Harris Alumni Council member Aidan Ali-Sullivan, MPP’17, MBA’17 — shifted gears. In a span of about two weeks, Nuro transformed its road-legal grocery-toting bot “R2” into a contactless transport vehicle for food and medical supplies at the coronavirus treatment facility that California created at Sacramento’s Sleep Train Arena.

5. The importance of leadership

A photo of Donald Trump wearing a mask.
President Donald Trump – who continues to downplay the importance of mask usage – wears a mask after returning from Walter Reed, where he was treated for COVID-19.

Research by Professor Konstantin Sonin and Assistant Professor Austin Wright shows that political messaging outweighs other factors in face mask usage. A paper and Chicago Tribune op-ed by Professor Ethan Bueno de Mesquita explains the need for consistent messaging and reinforcement from leaders to change social norms. And Professor Oeindrila Dube takes the lessons learned from the Ebola crisis to explain what’s needed in the present crisis.

6. Teaming up to slow the spread

Volunteers across the city work to find recommendations to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Researchers from the Poverty Lab teamed up with community partners to determine how to best slow the spread of COVID-19 across Chicago’s most high-risk communities.

7. A poverty decrease, then a steady rise

Professor Bruce D. Meyer

Monthly reports from Professor Bruce D. Meyer and Notre Dame’s Professor James X. Sullivan show that poverty briefly decreased as a result of government action at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, then gradually rose again – and more – as a result of subsequent government inaction.

8. Who do Americans blame?

More Americans say the actions of the United States government caused the coronavirus situation in the country than attribute it to the policies of foreign governments or the World Health Organization. Those are the results of a new UChicago Harris/AP-NORC Poll that was released in conjunction with the 2020 Pearson Global Forum,

9. The school’s pivot to digital

The Keller Center was abuzz with traffic and conversation one day and silent the next.

The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic forced the pivot from in-person to remote learning with remarkable speed in March. Practically overnight, Harris Public Policy students and professors were logging into Zoom from homes all over the world.

10. Maintaining a sense of community

A new way to maintain community.

After the Keller Center emptied out following the conclusion of Winter Quarter, Spring Quarter began at home. Throughout an unprecedented transition to virtual learning necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the sense of community that characterizes the Harris School of Public Policy has remained.