Mercyhurst Magazine Spring 2021

HEALTH AND WELLNESS Executive Director of Wellness Dr. Judy Smith and Sue Sweeney, associate athletic director for health and wellness, led the charge to create protocols that would keep returning students as safe as possible and prevent potential spread of coronavirus on campus. Symptom screening, mask-wearing, crowd limits and physical distancing, handwashing, and enhanced cleaning were all required. It was clear from the start that success hinged on getting students and staf to personally commit to safe behaviors. “It would only work if we could convince students and employees to make good choices and be willing to make sacrifces,” Zirkle said. A regular stream of letters, video messages, and social media posts focused on that shared responsibility. Students were required to monitor their own symptoms, including temperatures, before venturing out each day. They were encouraged to limit close physical contact as much as possible, to remain on campus, to avoid gathering in groups. That’s a tough sell with college students, but compliance was high. Mercyhurst assembled employees from several departments to create a Contact Response Team. Staf from Athletic Training and the Counseling Center completed training on contact tracing with Johns Hopkins University and were available around the clock to respond to potential new cases. Residence Life staf managed quarantine and isolation areas to house students who became infected or were exposed to COVID, with meals delivered, classes and activities available online, and support just a phone call away. A COVID hotline was created to feld questions about troublesome symptoms and everything else COVID-related. ACADEMICS In May, Mercyhurst announced its intention to ofer in-person classes in the fall, though it never stopped preparing to deal with any complication the pandemic might present. Provost Roberts and the Ofce for Academic Afairs prepared the faculty to ofer a full spectrum of class delivery options, from totally remote to totally in-person. The advantage, Zirkle explained, was that Mercyhurst was ready for anything. “At any moment we felt it wasn’t safe to have students in classrooms, we knew we could quickly adapt, and go 100 percent remote,” she explained. “Not only could we do what we had done in the spring, but we could do it much better.” In November, with COVID

cases spiking sharply in Erie and at Mercyhurst, the university returned to virtual class delivery for the fnal two weeks of classes. For most of the semester, though, Mercyhurst operated what was familiarly known as the A/B model. More formally, the centerpiece of the academic plan was dubbed the Socially Distant, Technology Enhanced, Hurst Hybrid Academic Model. Under COVID guidelines, fewer students than usual were permitted in any classroom. The A/B plan efectively doubled the capacity of each space to accommodate larger classes. Each class day, half the students enrolled in a class attended in person, while the rest logged in via Zoom, and the two groups swapped places for the next class session. Faculty members accepted the challenge of interacting with both groups simultaneously and worked hard to keep everyone involved. An added beneft: students who needed to isolate or quarantine could keep up with their classes virtually. While the A/B model handled most situations, some hands-on programs had to go to even greater lengths to keep their students engaged. See how Mercyhurst’s performing and visual arts programs kept creating and performing on page 6. ADMISSIONS For Admissions, the challenge was stark. How do you recruit and enroll new students when your biggest selling point – the beautiful campus – is closed to visitors? Vice President for Enrollment Joe Howard said his team had already brought in a larger-than-usual pool of applicants pre-COVID. When the pandemic struck, his staf quickly took its whole operation online. Within days after they were sent home to work remotely, the Admissions and Marketing teams had developed and launched more than 80 virtual sessions to connect with all those prospective students. More than 1,200 applicants attended one or more of those events, where they could interact with faculty, staf, and upperclassmen, ask questions, and learn more about everything from academic programs to campus life. Hundreds more signed up for virtual campus tours, complete with guides in their signature green Ambassador jackets. “What’s most important is that our representatives delivered these events with the same hospitality and care as they do in-person visits,” Howard stressed.


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