The average "workplace" in the U.S. has undergone significant changes in the last 100 years, and we are in the midst of one of these more significant changes. Faced with a perpetually changing virus, local and federal COVID-19 restrictions and employers’ reaction to both the former and latter, college students are entering a job market completely different than they would have in early 2019. Harvard Business School assistant professor and behavioral psychologist Ashley Whillans noted in a February 2021 Harvard Gazette article: “The pandemic has jolted the foundation of a workplace model that had been relatively unchanged since the late 1920s: employees traveling from home to a workplace five days a week, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., to complete their obligations” [1].

Whillans’ observation leaves in question the loss of job market opportunities caused by COVID-19, in addition to government mitigation efforts. A total of 37 percent of Boston’s small businesses closed their doors since the start of the pandemic, some now beginning to open their doors again, with many others permanently shuttered. The "work from home" model has left office buildings empty, leases dormant, and though Boston continues to fill back up with casual shoppers, commuters and a buzzing sense of activity, the city has been dealt a blow often overshadowed by media coverage of the virus itself.

As of Monday, March 28, the city reported 168,260 total COVID-19 cases, with 164,935 recovered and 1,439 deaths [2]. The U.S. Census Bureau lists Boston’s current population at 684,379 residents, which equates to a 0.21 percent total loss of life among Boston’s residents. These statistics are not to discount the extremely real danger and fear the UMass Boston community has managed over the course of the last two years. School leaders’ steadfast communication, clarity and sense of direction through the pandemic has and should be recognized as invaluable.

However, hard tasks are seldom perfected the first time around, and managing the COVID-19 pandemic response at all levels of official office must have been difficult. Will there be future jobs in public management of future outbreaks? Currently, UMass Boston offers over 200 undergraduate and graduate programs in ten colleges, but none specifically tailored to the kind of hybrid working model we saw many politicians and public health experts adopt over the course of the pandemic. The closest, perhaps, is UMass Boston’s Public Policy graduate program. The course track lists its first Public Policy Learning Outcome objective as teaching students to “display scientific literacy, which includes understanding the scientific method, quantitative and qualitative research methods, the ability to evaluate scientific literature and critically apply theories, methodologies, and knowledge to address fundamental questions in public policy” [3].

Perhaps, in the unwelcome event of another pandemic or similar disaster, a UMass Boston graduate will lead the charge in protecting public safety in a way that is minimally invasive to the social, economic and personal wellbeing of Boston’s residents. The mistakes of public officials’ handling of the current crisis could serve as a great teacher in future trials the nation may face. COVID-19, of course, is far from “over.” Variants continue to spread globally. The nature of a pandemic may be one of the most unique and insidious attributes when compared to other disasters. After a devastating flood or hurricane, the damage can be quantified, and cleanup can begin. Despite masking, vaccines and other defense tools adopted since March of 2020, COVID-19 continues to harm our communities. However, with applicable education—hopefully starting here at UMass Boston—future generations will not have to endure the same uncertainty of our current time.

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