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Written by Allison Nitch and Tina Potterf
March 9, 2021
It’s been a year of at-home classrooms, get-togethers by way of Zoom, supercharged handwashing, the wearing of face coverings and staying connected with friends and family, colleagues and classmates through virtual hugs, meet-ups and happy hours. For many, it’s also been a year of unimaginable loss, of uncertainty, crippling financial and emotional hardship and deep loneliness. As we mark 365 days since Seattle University officially began remote instruction—one of the first universities in the U.S. to make this move—with students and most faculty and staff learning and working remotely, there is reason for hope. There is a growing sense of better days ahead, including a planned return to campus with in-person learning and activities expected for fall quarter 2021.
At Seattle U, the past year has been marked by unprecedented challenges faced by many but also moments of progress, of adaptation and innovation, outreach and openness—guided by the mission and the care of students. It has been said that “Jesuit education was made for this moment.”
As President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., at a virtual community forum on September 24, 2020, said in addressing the challenges of the moment, “Despite it being an extraordinary year, we are in remarkably positive spirits. When we needed to be creative, we have been creative. When we needed to be greater colleagues and collaborative with one another, we found out the way to do it. When we needed to learn how to use the technology and a phenomenal way to deliver our education and engage with our students, we learned how to do it that way.”
Here are some of the highlights, challenges, reflections and successes of the past year:
March 9, 2020: Beginning of remote instruction and work-from-home for students, faculty and staff. Seattle U is only the second university in the U.S. to announce this decision.
March 17, 2020: Student Emergency Needs Fund launches and is leveraged as a way to support students impacted financially by COVID-19.
April 7, 2020: Student Support Center website launches, providing a one-stop spot for information, from COVID-19 testing sites to technology and tools for remote learning to health and wellness resources.
August 4, 2020: Safe Start Health Check is unveiled, with a required online health check Q&A for all members of the Seattle U community, visitors and guests to campus.
September 9, 2020: Fall quarter begins—continuing remote instruction—and with it the opening of the Safe Start Welcome Center.
October 2020: Class of 2020 virtual commencement.
January 7, 2021: WAC Conference play begins with updated conference schedule formats announced for men’s and women’s soccer, women’s volleyball and men’s and women’s cross country in spring.
January 12, 2021: Swedish Community COVID-19 Vaccination Clinic at Seattle University opens in Campion Hall.
February 2021: Announcement of plan for return to campus and in-person learning and activities for fall quarter 2021.
Seattle University faculty employed a host of creative and innovative measures in the move to remote instruction.
Take Albers Professor Greg Magnan, PhD, who was ahead of the curve—and the times—when it came to the move online. For several years Magnan, who teaches operations management courses in the marketing department at the business school, has been involved with Seattle U’s Center for Digital Learning & Innovation (CDLI) in converting courses to hybrid and fully online courses.
And in the past decade, he has offered hybrid courses—a mix of in-person and remote instruction—and says this transition to fully online learning was the next logical step, a step accelerated and widened in scope across campus because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our campus resources and experts in CDLI have supported faculty on this journey for several years and, in this crisis, have been instrumental in shifting our courses to fully online,” says Magnan. “After having this year behind us, faculty across campus have voiced their thanks and gratitude for the support from CDLI.”
Professor and Chair Teodora Rutar Shuman, PhD, says Mechanical Engineering faculty have done an “outstanding job” of transitioning to online learning.
“Before the outbreak, we were already on the forefront of engineering education with flipped classrooms, experimental design, incorporating technology and other innovative teaching practices.”
“Industry professionals throughout the country have given talks to our students in seminars that would not have been possible if we were not online.”
Some of the noteworthy faculty innovations in the three new vertically integrated project courses include:
Successful Zoom class meetings with students
Design projects aimed at solving COVID-19 problems
Mandatory weekly mentoring by industry professionals via Zoom for freshmen, sophomores and juniors
Other innovations were made with remote labs. For example, lab platforms were sent to students’ residences so they can complete weekly assignments; other students remotely program the “robot,” which is then sent to faculty who tests the program on the robot via an interactive Zoom class.
There have been some positive and unexpected outcomes that were made possible because of the flexibility of remote instruction, says Shuman.
“Industry professionals throughout the country have given talks to our students in seminars that would not have been possible if we were not online,” she says.
For example, students sat in on lectures by a professor from Stanford on the “limitless mind,” a Forbes “30 Under 30” entrepreneur in another state and the director of sustainability at Covanta waste processing facilities in New Jersey. They also were a part of a mentoring session with a director at Boeing.
Dividing the delivery mode of content allows for more impactful learning. College of Nursing Associate Professor Patrick Murphy, PhD, explains, “I’m using asynchronous learning methods, such as narrated podcasts, to provide the ‘me-talking-to-you’ in a way that is most suitable for the students’ schedules. This allows our synchronous time, when we meet as a live class, to be filled with engaging class activities. Students take a more active role in their learning and ownership of our course content.”
Professor Naomi Kasumi, MFA, who teaches art and art history (digital design), had particularly unique challenges adapting a class largely dependent on a hands-on experience to a virtual format. Once every two years Kasumi teaches the ART 3910 Artist’s Book course and 2020 was the year she was scheduled to teach this again. This course is about creating artistic works of book art, along with different kinds of professional book-binding methods, in a traditional studio art setting. “This course is designed for the heavily hands-on, in-person learning model as many other studio art courses,” she explains. “I made the course a three-hour synchronous ‘hands-on’ instruction via Zoom and Canvas.” All of this entailed live instruction sessions using a trio of web cams, switching the cameras simultaneously during the course instruction to show multiple angles of the book-binding technique, for example.
“Even though my class was a long, three-hour hands-on synchronous instruction, all students … had perfect-attendance for the entire quarter. Many students told me that they are looking forward to coming to the class every week,” says Kasumi. “That was impressive and I was appreciative for their commitment and engagement.”
For Kasumi, one of her biggest takeaways from the past year was an even greater appreciation for in-person teaching, she says. “I am reminded of the importance of human touch/connection in teaching. Existing in a same room with students are my fuel and meaning for being a teacher,” says Kasumi. “A traditional way to deliver studio teaching cannot be fully replaced with online text or copying from pre-made online video instruction through a monitor.”
In the Kinesiology Department, chair and associate professor Sarah Shultz, PhD, says that the move to remote instruction opened up an opportunity to reexamine the existing curriculum.
Remote courses consist of eight- to 10-minute lecture modules that students watch before class, along with activities, self-quizzes and videos for application and discussion.
“While I think that SU will always value the in-person classroom experience, I think the success we have seen with remote learning has demonstrated the other ways students can have valuable experiences,” says Shultz. “We can’t call it a true online course design, but a lot of the elements that we are using this quarter will only benefit our curriculum as we move forward.”
Ahead of the start of the fall quarter in September 2020, the President’s Reopening Task Force announced the creation of the COVID-19 Containment and Prevention Working Group (C-CAP). Co-chairs Josh Halbert and Tara Hicks, ARNP, offer their assessments of the value and work of C-CAP over the past 12 months.
“The development of the safe start plan was one of the most complex projects that I have ever been a part of,” says Halbert, assistant director for Public Safety. “So many outstanding colleagues from all over the university worked incredibly hard to get us to where we are today.”
“We established best practice based on public health guidelines and recommendations, as well as working with an infectious disease physician consultant,” adds Hicks, director of the Student Health Center and nurse practitioner. “In addition, we reviewed recommendations from professional organizations for health care and higher education.”
During this time, the university also opened the Safe Start Welcome Center, which mimics a streamlined clinical setting outfitted with a computer station, temperature reader and personal safety supplies. The center’s staffing includes College of Nursing students.
It is “providing a very rare opportunity for nursing students, during their education program, to learn about and respond to a population health emergency,” says Assistant Professor and Population Health Coordinator Jennifer Fricas, PhD, MPH, RN.
For cell and molecular biology student Jessica Albert, ’23, the move to remote learning was not without its challenges, not the least of which was social isolation.
“I stay connected with my friends by setting aside time to jump on Zoom and study or hang out for a while. I try to do this at least twice a week,” she says. “I also try to call friends from home and my family more often than I did when we were in person.”
Doing research and lab work remotely did prove to be rewarding both personally and scientifically, says Albert, who was part of team doing research in Associate Professor of Biology Kristin Hultgren’s class.
“…Because we had to collect data without being able to meet in person, I wasn’t sure how much data we would be able to collect and if it would lead to a significant result. However, we were able to get quite a few significant results from our data that we are excited to continue researching next quarter.”
Over the past year, it has been very important to be flexible and compassionate. I think everyone—including professors who have had to adapt to an online format—is doing the best they can.”
Albers student Ravija Amlani, ’21, says 100 percent of her classes have been remote. The most challenging aspect, she says, has been difficulty in engaging in group projects.
“Many students have moved back home to spend time with their families and coordinating meeting times over several different time zones is difficult. Over the past year, it has been very important to be flexible and compassionate. I think everyone—including professors who have had to adapt to an online format—is doing the best they can.”
Like Albert, Amlani has stayed connected to friends through what she calls “a standing Zoom hangout appointment” every two weeks and being on top of her mental health needs.
“I used to think I was a very patient person, but over the past year, I have had to constantly remind myself to be compassionate and patient as inevitable delays happen. There have been lots of frustrations with technology issues, miscommunications and delays in getting work done because of personal or familial obligations,” Amlani says. “I have learned to prioritize my own and others’ mental health and well-being over getting everything done on time! I have also learned the importance of taking breaks and decompressing, especially since there is little distinction between day and night or weekdays and weekends in the virtual world.”
During the past year, staff have played an integral role in providing services and avenues of support for students and the campus community as a whole. Here’s a sampling of some of the ways these staff-led programs and departments transitioned from in-person to virtual, while fostering community.
Library faculty and staff provide an important support service to the campus community—even when that community is largely learning virtually. This is done by providing access to librarians, resources including laptops and other connection equipment and an all-access pass to tools and information through its institutional memberships with Orbis Cascade Alliance (OCA) and the AJCU Virtual Reference service.
“The library is key to online learning success,” says Sarah Barbara Watstein, dean of Lemieux Library and McGoldrick Learning Commons.
As one student shared, “Thank you so much for supporting students during these difficult times! Doing online coursework can be really difficult without access to a proper laptop.”
Lemieux Library faculty also provide an enhanced consultation option specifically for Seattle U known as Zoom with a Librarian. “We talk about the need to ‘meet students wherever they are’ and now we’re discovering how far that reach extends,” says Caitlin Plovnick, coordinator of Teaching and Learning.
Mental health awareness has been an area of concern, even crisis, amid the increased isolation and lack of personal interaction brought on by the pandemic. At Seattle University, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) has been a crucial resource for so many.
During this period, CAPS has been providing remote teletherapy and referral services to enrolled students. It also can assist students with identifying resources and services that best fit their unique circumstance. Visit their site for online resources on coping with pandemic stress.
The Seattle U Food Pantry provides free, supplementary food to all students, staff and faculty with a current Seattle U ID card.
Food insecurity—reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food—has been on the rise nationwide since the start of the pandemic, causing a crisis our country has never seen before. According to the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH), as of March and April 2020, national estimates of food insecurity have more than tripled to 38%.
In compliance with CDC recommendations during the pandemic, OMA staff quickly converted their on-campus food pantry in April 2020 to a pre-order and pick-up operation through an online form on ConnectSU. Since then, anyone experiencing food insecurity has been able to continue their access to shelf-stable orders on a weekly basis. Each bag is labeled with recipients’ names and distanced away from other orders.
While there has been a decrease in numbers due to fewer people on campus, that doesn't mean the need is gone. COVID’s “impact on students and their family's budget is very real,” says Karina Nascimento Saunders, OMA assistant director.
As one student who utilizes the service said, “The food pantry is a fantastic program that has taken a whole lot of pressure off of my mind when it comes to having enough food to eat, allowing me to more wholeheartedly work on my academic career.”
The Fostering Scholars program (FSP) at Seattle University comprehensively supports and promotes the success of current and former foster youth in pursuing a college education. Since 2006, it’s one of the only programs of its kind operating within a private, independent university.
Despite the multitude of changes brought on by COVID-19, ongoing support and guidance for the scholars has not wavered, says Colleen Montoya Barbano, director of the Fostering Scholars program.
“During this unprecedented period, I have been both concerned for and inspired by our scholars,” she says. “Like everyone, they are adapting to the unique challenges presented by remote instruction and social distancing. However, they are a remarkably resilient group of students. Our ability to pivot successfully as a program is in large part due to the strong relationships and trust that we have built between students and staff over time.”
For Fostering Scholar Rebecca Pirruccio, ’21, the support and outreach from the program was especially valuable during the pandemic.
“With this program we have a safe space and a sense of family and … FSP continuously offers help,” says Pirruccio, ’21. “The program created care packages for each student living on- and off-campus and has weekly virtual activities such as celebrating birthdays or even just to have lunch together.”
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