The last two years have brought challenges and opportunities that many of us never anticipated. As we reflect on the last two years, we at the Institute would like to highlight all of the new beginnings that came from planned – and some unplanned – changes. At the end of 2019, following 11 months in an interim role, I was named as the second Director of the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute. Little did I know at the time that our usual operations would be upended by COVID-19.
In March of 2020, like many organizations, we made a sudden transition to remote work. There were many challenges, but we were able to find new ways to work together and collaborate within the Institute, across the university through our virtual Autism Research Consortium, and with partners outside Drexel. We managed to pivot events, including our flagship Autism Public Health Lecture and several annual conferences, to an online model; although not what we would have planned, this allowed for an even bigger audience than we could have accommodated in person.
In 2020 and 2021, we welcomed many new staff members who were brave to start new jobs, some without seeing our campus or meeting face-to-face. Among these, Dr. Diana Schendel joined us to lead the Modifiable Risk Factors research program, Dr. Elisabeth Sheridan now directs the Clinical Core, and Kenneth Munroe leads the Finance and Administrative Services Team.
Our research remained active, even as we adjusted from in-person data collection to remote and then to hybrid activities. Despite the challenges of gathering remotely, we relaunched our Leadership Council, which grew to a diverse group of 17 parents, self-advocates, educators, clinicians, and community members who serve as a bridge between the community and the Institute.
Here at the Institute, we turned many of the challenges into opportunities. Over the past two years, we forged many new beginnings, and I'm proud to share them with you here.