2020: An Unprecedented Year in Review

Retired president Wendy Libby sits beside the John B. Stetson statue on campus while current President Christopher Roellke stands behind her.
After 11 years, President Wendy B. Libby, PhD, retired in 2020 and Christopher F. Roellke, PhD, arrived amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Stetson University/Ciara Ocasio

The year 2020 will be remembered for years to come as a time of unprecedented challenges and changes for Stetson University, its students, faculty, staff and newly arrived President Christopher F. Roellke.

Roellke, PhD, became the 10th president of Stetson University on July 1 amid a pandemic that forced the university to move spring and summer classes online to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Stetson would face even greater challenges to reopen and safely bring back thousands of students, faculty and staff to the DeLand campus and College of Law when in-person, hybrid and online classes began in August.

A Facilities crew member uses a fogger to disinfect a classroom.
Stetson’s Facilities staff disinfect classrooms after every use with handheld sprayers that apply a hydrogen-peroxide disinfectant to desks, chairs and other items, coating them with an EPA-approved product for use against COVID-19.

Multiple layers of safety precautions were required, including face coverings on campus, physical distancing, daily wellness checks and isolation or quarantine, if someone tested positive for the virus or was exposed to someone who had. Residence halls in DeLand switched to single occupancy and a lengthy checklist of cleaning protocols were carefully followed.

“This has been a semester like no other at Stetson University,” Roellke said in late November in a video for his monthly Rolks Report to the Hatter Nation. “I’d be willing to say that not since 1883 have we had a semester like this. …

“If there’s something that I’ve learned during my early time here at Stetson is that our Stetson community is, in fact, very resilient. We have plowed through these challenges in an extraordinary fashion this year and I cannot be more grateful for all the efforts that have taken place throughout this semester.”

As 2020 draws to a close, Stetson Today looks back on a year that gave little warning of what was to come.

In early January 2020, residence halls had just started opening for the spring semester. A new exhibit was set to open at the Hand Art Center on “Camera-less photography.” And President Wendy B. Libby, PhD, would retire in June.

Students walk out of a residence hall carrying their belongings
Students pack up and head home shortly after the university announced March 12 that courses would move online.

Then, in a matter of weeks, China reported the first deaths from COVID-19. The United States reported its first confirmed case and, as more cases popped up around the world, the World Health Organization officially declared a “public health emergency of international concern.”

In early March, the virus reached Florida and on March 12 President Libby announced classes would shift online as a proactive measure, “given the rapid changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, even within the last 24 hours.”

Here is a look back on a year that will be remembered for the pandemic but also was defined by the enormous effort of Stetson’s Safer Campus Task Force, the Facilities staff and many, many others who devoted themselves to Creating a Safer Stetson during COVID-19.


Tra Thomas has the microphone and walks through the crowd
Former Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Tra Thomas addresses the crowd at the MLK Breakfast in the Rinker Field House.

Former Pro Football Star Tra Thomas tells MLK Breakfast “get up and push through it.” Tra Thomas, who grew up in DeLand and played 11 seasons as an offensive tackle with the Philadelphia Eagles, inspires a crowd of more than 500 people at the annual DeLand MLK Celebration’s breakfast, hosted by Stetson in the Rinker Field House.

Stetson Law wins Chester Bedell competition for 24th time in 38 years. Stetson triumphs again in the annual statewide competition, conducted by the Trial Lawyers Section of the Florida Bar.


Stetson Football Sets a Team Record — Off The Field. The Stetson University football program is one of five members of the Pioneer Football League to place at least 60 members of the 2019 squad on the annual PFL Academic Honor Roll.

Introducing the Dr. Wendy B. Libby Scholarship. Stetson’s Board of Trustees creates and endows the Dr. Wendy B. Libby Scholarship for Stetson Law students who have a Stetson undergraduate degree and a devotion to social justice.

A big group shot from Hatterthon with people holding signs showing the amount raised.
Hatterthon raised more than $84,000 to benefit Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.

Hatterthon raises record $84,407.20 for ‘Miracle Kids.’ The fourth annual fundraiser, organized by students on campus, benefits the Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.

Stetson Board of Trustees Approves Naming of New Health and Science Facility. The facility will now bear the names of two longtime Stetson supporters, Cici and Hyatt Brown, in honor of their generosity and support.


Stetson University Moves All Classes Online, Beginning March 18. Reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic, the change takes effect for the remainder of the spring semester.

a screenshot of a videoconference call with a dozen students and the professor
The rapid move to online classes in March posed challenges for faculty, who had to Learn to “Innovate Quickly.”

Stetson Postpones Commencement Ceremonies. Recent guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, restricting gatherings to no more than 10 people and requiring social distancing, makes it impossible for the university to celebrate its new graduates.

Stetson Law ranks No. 1 for Trial Advocacy in the U.S. for 22nd time. Stetson again leads the way, according to the U.S. News & World Report, with Stetson also ranking No. 3 for Legal Writing.

Student Hannah Churms shares her story of contracting COVID-19, which left her at “death’s door” in a hospital intensive-care unit, to warn other students to take precautions against the virus.


Stetson University Outlines New Measures for Business Continuity. Stetson continues to adjust its services and hours, following a stay-at-home order from Florida’s governor that is aimed at slowing the coronavirus outbreak.

Showcase 2020: The Vision Endures. Despite the pandemic, the university continues its annual tradition of showcasing student research with a customized online presentation.

$404,000 Grant Funds Stetson’s Water Institute and South Atlantic Region Project. Stetson collaborates with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and others to evaluate green infrastructure interventions for reducing flood risks.


Stetson Entrepreneurship Team Scores 2nd in Startup Simulation Competition. A team of business students excels during an inaugural Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization online student marketplace event.

Stetson Accounting Program Ranks in Top 5% Internationally for CPA Exam Pass Rate. The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy reports Stetson’s excellence among medium-sized university programs worldwide.

“The Power of Community:” Michele Skelton, PhD, associate professor of Health Sciences, presents a bag of ear guards to her former student Chris Riccard, MD, at AdventHealth in Daytona Beach. Skelton reached out to the duPont-Ball Library and its Innovation Lab volunteered to make thousands of ear guards with their 3D printers for health care workers, first responders, Stetson students and others, reducing the strain on their ears from wearing masks.

Stetson Board of Trustees Approves $12 Million in Capital Projects. The Board of Trustees confers President Emerita and Professor Emerita status to retiring President Wendy B. Libby, PhD. The board also heard about the planning underway to address COVID-19 issues. Both the university chief financial officer and the chair of the board finance committee reinforced the university’s “excellent” liquidity position during the pandemic, and its continued ability to support business continuity.

Hatters Excel Off the Field in New NCAA Report. Ten Hatters sports programs earn perfect single-year scores, and two programs earned perfect multiyear scores in the 2018-2019 NCAA Academic Progress Rate Institutional Report.

Two students walk on campus in masks during the pandemic
Stetson adopts a Face Covering Policy in June, requiring the wearing of a cloth face covering on all Stetson University campuses, including all indoor and outdoor spaces.

Stetson Launches 21 New Online Professional Development Courses. Stetson’s Professional and Corporate Education program responds to the evolving needs of business professionals.


CUB Receives Facility Design Award. The Carlton Union Building is honored by the Association of College Unions – International for renovation and expansion excellence.

College of Law Receives $10 Million Planned Gift. The gift establishes 10 annual full-tuition scholarships within a Distinguished Scholarship Program.

a protester holds up a sign
Protests erupted across the country after a police officer killed George Floyd in Minneapolis, including a march in downtown DeLand in June.

Stetson Announces $3.2 Million in Welcome Back Grants, Credits. The donor-funded financial assistance helps qualified, full-time, returning undergraduate students who are concerned about the current economy and impact of the pandemic in continuing their studies.

Stetson, AdventHealth University Offer More Pathways to Health-Care Careers. Under a partnership between Stetson and AdventHealth University, Stetson students will find it easier to move into AHU programs to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing or Nuclear Medicine Technology.


screenshot of webinar
President Christopher Roellke, PhD, lower right, hosts one of his weekly webinars to update the community on issues related to COVID-19, including this one in August highlighting health resources in the community.

Meet the New President. On July 1, Christopher F. Roellke takes over the reins of mostly empty campuses, following the move to online classes. “I do believe that Stetson and institutions like us are being confronted with a ‘once in a century’ set of challenges,” he told Stetson University Magazine, referring to the pandemic and social unrest sparked when a police officer killed George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who was handcuffed and pinned to the ground at the time.

Stephanie Hanson wins Udall Scholarship

Stephanie Hanson wins a prestigious Udall Undergraduate Scholarship, one of only 55 sophomores and juniors to be selected as a 2020 Udall Scholar nationwide. An environmental studies major, she is minoring in biology and creative writing, and hopes to integrate the arts and eco awareness.

screenshot of photo on Safer Stetson website
Stetson launches the Safer Stetson website in July to provide health and safety plans, updates, resources, testing results, FAQs and more during the pandemic.

ASUN Recognizes Record 250 Hatters for Academic Excellence. A record 250 Stetson student-athletes received ASUN Honor Roll accolades for posting a 3.0 grade point average or better during the 2019-20 academic year.

Stetson’s Bartram Gardens & Trail Educates Community about Natural World. The Bartram Gardens & Trail opens at the Sandra Stetson Aquatic Center on Lake Beresford. Named after the renowned environmental explorer, the garden includes a tree-lined path with interpretive kiosks, showing the plants and animals that William Bartram found on his travels.

Michèle Alexandre


The state’s 12 law schools form Florida Law Schools’ Consortium for Racial Justice. In light of longstanding and recent acts of racist violence, the Deans of the 12 law schools in Florida form the Florida Law Schools’ Consortium for Racial Justice. The collective will leverage the strengths and educational roles of every law school in the state to assist community organizations fighting for racial justice, according to an announcement by Michèle Alexandre, Dean of the Stetson College of Law.

Two students stand beside a vehicle, talking to a mother. Everyone wears face coverings.
Students and their families arrive for move-in day in August. Stetson provided appointment times and drive-thru check-ins to reduce crowd size and provide physical distancing during the pandemic.

Students Move into Residence Halls and 4 Local Hotels. Residence halls open for new students, who this year were given appointment times for a drive-thru check-in to reduce the crowd size and maintain safe physical distancing on campus. For added safety, Stetson switched to single occupancy for its approximately 1,250 rooms on campus and will house some students in four area hotels.

Rajni Shankar-Brown, PhD

Rajni Shankar-Brown, PhD, wins Stetson’s Most Prestigious Faculty Award. The William Hugh McEniry Award for Excellence in Teaching recognizes excellence in classroom teaching. This year’s nominations “were effusive” for Shankar-Brown, associate professor and Jessie Ball duPont Endowed Chair of Social Justice Education, citing her dedication to social justice and helping the homeless.

A Terrifying Tornado, followed by an Outpouring of Support. An EF2 tornado barrels through DeLand, packing wind gusts of 111 mph and higher. No one in the Stetson Community is injured, although about a dozen students were impacted, including two Hatter football players whose off-campus home sustained significant damage.

Stetson University Named One of Best 386 Colleges in the U.S. by The Princeton Review. For the sixth consecutive year, Stetson is recognized as one of the leading undergraduate institutions in the country by Princeton Review. The honor is given to only about 15% of four-year colleges in the United States, and appears in the 2021 edition of The Best 386 Colleges.


Stetson Religious Studies Professor Greg Sapp passes away. D. Gregory Sapp, PhD, the Hal S. Marchman Chair of Civic and Social Responsibility and professor of Religious Studies, passes away suddenly. Known as a passionate advocate for social justice, he traveled with Stetson students on the Freedom Riders summer program, retracing Civil Rights history.

Stetson Welcomes 859 New Students This Fall. Total enrollment on all Stetson campuses, including for undergraduates and graduate students on the DeLand campus, and at the College of Law in Gulfport, reaches 4,462, slightly up from Fall 2019’s 4,429 enrollment.

President’s Campus Climate Webinar Details Survey Results. The 2020 survey, a follow-up to one conducted in 2016, provides a snapshot in time, showing how students, faculty and staff experience their education and social life, teaching and research, and jobs and careers at Stetson. The survey reveals issues, including with the climate for people of low socioeconomic status and various political affiliations.


Stetson Law approves Antiracism Resolution. Stetson College of Law faculty vote to approve an Antiracism Resolution that declares their commitment to “dismantling all forms of oppressive power dynamics and challenging any assumptions that diminish human dignity, including those that rely on racist assumptions.”

President outlines commitments after Campus Climate Survey Report. President Roellke will create a “very high-level President’s Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion” and will commit funding over the next three years to diversity and inclusion efforts at the university. He outlined the moves during an Open Forum on the 2020 Campus Climate Survey Report and amid unrest over racial injustice nationwide.

A nurse prepares for a COVID-19 test in the Rinker Field House at Stetson.
Stetson and its community partners provide frequent COVID-19 testing on campus to identify asymptomatic cases, with test results back in 15 minutes.

Stetson Launches New Graduate-Level Data Analytics Tracks in Accounting and Business. Responding to corporate needs, Stetson’s Master of Accountancy (MAcc) and Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs announce they will begin offering online data analytics tracks.

Stetson Moves Up to No. 4 in Rankings by U.S. News & World Report. Stetson moves up a notch to No. 4 on U.S. News & World Report’s 2021 Best Colleges list of Best Regional Universities – South. In addition, Stetson appears on four additional lists in the same category: Best for Veterans, No. 2; Best Undergraduate Teaching, No. 8 (tie); Best Value Schools, No. 15; and Most Innovative Universities, No. 16 (tie). There are 133 universities in this category.


screengrab of fundraising website
The Hatters Care (COVID-19 Emergency Fund) has raised more than $125,000 to help students and their families struggling with financial and medical challenges during the pandemic.

Homecoming Awards. Homecoming goes virtual for 2020, including a celebration for the Distinguished Alumni Awards, Outstanding Young Alumni Award, Doyle E. Carlton Award, George and Mary Hood Award, and Distinguished Service Award.

Worthy Salute: Air Force ROTC program part of ‘best large detachment in the nation.’ Air Force ROTC Detachment 157 — including Stetson, Bethune-Cookman University, Daytona State College, University of Central Florida-Daytona and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University — receive the Right of Line Large Detachment award, recognizing it for “best detachment in the nation.” 

Two Stetson Professors Receive Second Fulbright Awards. Eric Kurlander, PhD, the William R. Kenan, Jr. professor of history, and Nathan Wolek, PhD, Lydia Pfund endowed professor of digital arts and music technology, each receive a second Fulbright Scholar Award to continue their research around the world.

Hatters Ink Indiana Scoring Champ Luke Brown. Two-time Indiana high school scoring champion Luke Brown signs a National Letter-of-Intent to continue his basketball and academic career at Stetson in Fall 2021.

Stetson, American University of Antigua offer expedited pathway to medical school. Stetson and American University of Antigua College of Medicine announce a partnership to offer undergraduate students an expedited pathway to medical school.


Stetson Vice President for Development and Alumni Engagement, Jeff Ulmer, Retires. Jeff Ulmer will retire, effective Jan. 8, 2021. Among his many accomplishments, he led the hugely successful, “Beyond Success – Significance” fundraising campaign, which raised $218 million.

Graduates walk to Commencement in caps, gowns and face coverings.
Stetson’s 2020 Commencement is rescheduled from May to December, due to the pandemic, and takes place with health and safety precautions for the virus.

College of Law Recognizes Nearly 300 during December 2020 Commencement. Stetson College of Law celebrates three separate commencement ceremonies recognizing graduates from three classes: December 2019 Class, May/August 2020 Class, and the December 2020 Class.

1,022 Graduates Celebrate 2020 Commencement In Person, Virtually. Stetson hosts six Commencement ceremonies on the Stetson Green Dec. 12-13 to allow for smaller events and physical distancing during the pandemic.


As the final days of 2020 approach, vaccines are being distributed around the world, raising hopes for a healthier New Year and a time when the pandemic is over and everyone in the Stetson Community can say they made it through.

-Cory Lancaster and Mike Candelaria