Spring/Summer 2020 / Features

Student Stories

By Colleen Berry

With schools and businesses closing across the nation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wilson students were not entirely surprised by the March 17 decision to suspend face-to-face classes and move to remote learning. Even so, the reality of the College being closed for the rest of the semester hit hard.

Jocelyn Strubel ’20 was at work in New Jersey during spring break when she read the email announcement from Wilson President Wesley R. Fugate. “I was alone in the store because the manager had just left for lunch. I just sat there behind the counter and cried. I knew it was going to happen, but I think everything hit me all at once. How were the online classes going to work? When would I see my friends again? And what about graduation? It was very overwhelming.”

Ethan Kron ’20 said he was prepared for the announcement. “But after I got the email, it was definitely a surreal feeling,” he said. “It’s my senior year and I’m not going to be returning to campus. The news sunk in as a series of realizations for me, about all the things I was looking forward to this semester, and now I’ll be missing them. What hit hardest was the announcement that graduation was postponed.”

Fugate acknowledged that the decision was difficult, but said it was “the right thing to do for our community.” The closure has had a profound impact on administrators, faculty and staff, but “the greatest impact is on our students,” Fugate said in a college Facebook message. “Many feel a sense of loss. They have lost some of their experiences that they will never get back.”

Spring break was extended by a week until Research Day presenters spoke via Zoom. An online conferral of degrees ceremony was held May 18, with the promise that an on-campus, in-person commencement would be held when possible.

Students without viable alternatives remained on campus—including international students, some of those in the Single Parent Scholar Program and other students who experienced difficulty with remote learning from home. They remained in their dorm rooms to take online classes and practiced social distancing on campus.

While most students interviewed said they would have preferred in-person classes, the majority were satisfied with their Wilson online experience, with the exception of labs and other hands-on courses. Every senior said they intended to be back for graduation and every student said they planned to return to campus when in-person classes resume. In the face of the pandemic, Wilson students coped, persevered and adapted. Here are some of their stories:

      

Megan Potter ’20, Education
There were days during her time at Wilson, Class of 2020 President Megan Potter admitted, “when I just didn’t feel like going to class, and I would think, ‘I wish I could just do this online; it’d be so much easier.’ Well, now everything is online and I really, really miss being in class! I miss being on campus, seeing my friends and going to softball practice.” The award-winning scholar-athlete was gearing up for another successful season pitching for the Phoenix softball team, when, on the Friday before spring break, coaches broke the news at practice that the softball season was cancelled. The news hit hardest for the seniors. “Most of us were crying because we couldn’t believe it was going to end this way, that we wouldn’t get to play a single game this season,” Potter said. “We were all very emotional.”

At home in Hagerstown, Md., Potter said the sudden lack of a routine became her biggest challenge. “I’m struggling to stay motivated,” she said. While most of her online classes worked out, her biggest disappointment was a physical education elective on tennis. “Well, of course, we can’t do a hands-on class and actually play, so we’ve been learning about the history of tennis and about the different moves and foot positions, and it’s not at all what I wanted,” she said. “But it can’t be helped.”

Potter has also kept busy with weekly Zoom meetings with her softball teammates. As the outgoing Wilson College Government Association president, she helped organize the spring election of new WCGA officers. And as senior class president, she held an online meeting to hear the concerns of her fellow seniors.

She’s eager to return to Wilson in the fall for her master’s degree in education and will be eligible to play one more year of softball. “I’m so grateful I will be able to play,” Potter said.

As class president she will give two commencement speeches−one for May’s virtual conferral of degrees and a second whenever an on-campus celebration can be held. “There’s a lot of sadness and a lot of anger in the class about everything that we lost with campus being closed, so I concentrated on being patient,” Potter said of the virtual address she delivered.

Ethan Kron ’20, History and Political Science
During his time at Wilson, Ethan Kron devoted many hours to community service. He was co-president, lead tutor and site coordinator for Wilson’s Learning Campus—the College’s tutoring program for K-5 migrant children in the Chambersburg area. He interned at the campus’ Fulton Farm. He volunteered at the Menno Haven assisted living facility. And he served with the Gleaning Project, a nonprofit effort to collect excess food produced by farms to feed the hungry.

Ending his senior year via online classes while under lockdown at his parents’ home in Beaver Falls, Pa., was not how he envisioned his final chapter at Wilson.

So he decided to return to campus in June. “I will be working again on the Fulton Farm through
the summer. I wanted to go back to the farm, but I also realized I needed to do something for closure,” Kron said. “I didn’t feel that I got the chance to express my gratitude for all that the Wilson community has given me, and I wanted to take the opportunity to say goodbye.”

Working online from home for his final semester took some adjustment. “You have to train yourself to have a regimented schedule even though you’re at home. And keeping to it can be difficult. The professors have been wonderful and flexible.” But he missed the human interaction. “Just talking to friends and the people I would see every day on campus, saying hello to people as I walked through Lenfest, that’s what I really missed the most.”

Usually, when he was home from college, Kron worked at a nursing home. He realized that was not possible at this time. “I’m not afraid of catching the virus. What I’m most afraid of is having
it, being asymptomatic and then unknowingly passing it on to someone more vulnerable, like an elderly resident in the nursing home,” he said. “I don’t want to take that risk.”

Sheltering in place during the lockdown proved to be somewhat stressful. Kron talked about this with College Chaplain Derek Wadlington, who compared going through the lockdown with going through the stages of grief. “I think that has been true for me. Now, I think I’ve reached the acceptance stage,” Kron said. “I think the College made the best decision for the safety of the students and the campus community. They have been very transparent and have kept us well informed.”

“It’s easy to feel victimized, but everyone is impacted in some way or another [by the virus and the lockdown],” Kron said. “No one is escaping. So we are truly all in this together.”

Zachary Powell ’21, Communications
Remote learning from home was not working for Zachary Powell. After a spring break vacation, he returned to his parents’ home in Northern Virginia, but found he had trouble concentrating on school work with so many distractions. So he got permission to return to Wilson. “Now that I’m on campus, I have pretty much a daily routine—get up, do my online coursework, do my homework and try to do a daily workout,” Powell said. “I’m much more motivated than I would be at home.”

He has a part-time job with DoorDash, a food delivery service, which he said “helps you from going stir crazy.”

A member of the men’s basketball team, Powell found that a physical education class does not translate well online. His weight training class had to be conducted in his dorm room or outside on the campus green, since both the college field house and gym are closed due to virus restrictions. “It’s just not possible with the virus restrictions to hold the class the way it was planned,” he said. “It’s not the professor’s fault.”

What Powell misses most are the social interactions. “I miss having face-to-face conversations with teachers and my adviser and my friends who are not here on campus.”

Powell was supposed to complete a public relations internship with the NCAA Basketball Academy in Indianapolis over the summer. At the end of the spring semester, he was still waiting to hear if the internship would go forward.

Samantha Hall ’22, Animal Studies
Not returning to campus meant that Samantha Hall and her friend Kallie Carter ’23 had to cancel all the campus activities both had been working on for months to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

In fall 2019, they founded the Plant Club, with Carter as president and Hall as vice president. “We wanted the whole campus to celebrate the 50th Earth Day together with the College’s 150th anniversary,” Hall said. “Now we have to postpone it all until next year.”

While Hall, of Pasadena, Md., feels she finished the semester strongly, there were some disappointments. In one course, she had been looking forward to collecting and testing water samples from the Conococheague Creek. “The professor did the sampling and walked us through the test analysis,” she said. “I would have much preferred getting my hands dirty myself, but with the lockdown in place, it was impossible.”

Her biggest challenge has been staying positive. “I feel for anyone who has a mental health issue going through this right now,” said Hall. “I have struggled a bit with anxiety and this has been a major stressor for me.”

Katelynn Gilbert ’19, Biology, graduate student in Master of Humanities program
Katelynn Gilbert’s volunteer work with Sarah’s Cupboard, the campus food pantry, became even more important after the College closed. Many of the students who remained on campus relied on Sarah’s Cupboard to supplement their meal plans.

Gilbert began assisting Chaplain Derek Wadlington in managing the food pantry in fall 2019. A resident of Palm Spring, Calif., Gilbert decided to stay when the campus closed. “I thought about going back to California, but the virus was a lot worse there at the time, so I decided I would be safer if I stayed here.”

Sarah’s Cupboard partners with the Fulton Farm to get fresh produce to stuents. To comply with social distancing, every week students receive a list of the produce available, give Gilbert their individual orders and pick them up at the pantry. “This helps cut down on food spoilage—there’s not unwanted items sitting around in storage,” Gilbert said. “And since the farm can’t take CSA orders right now due to state restrictions, this also helps the food the farm is growing from going to waste.”

The pantry also stocks milk, eggs, yogurt and other items, so that students can reduce their trips to grocery stores.

Switching to online classes was not a problem for Gilbert. “Humanities courses translate so much better than some others to an online format, so the transition was very easy,” she said. But she was disappointed that she lost a graduate assistantship at the Hankey Center when campus closed.

Now, Gilbert volunteers at the Fulton Farm. “It gets me outside and breaks up my routine,” she said.

Jessica Eshelman ’21, Nursing
Jessica Eshelman faced two Wilson challenges during the spring semester: to adapt to an online format for her Mental Health Nursing course and to create a vegetable garden at home for her Gardening for Fitness and Pleasure class. This was on top of being furloughed from her job as a patient care technician/clinical assistant at West Shore Hospital in Mechanicsburg, Pa.

The switch to online for the nursing class was tougher than she had anticipated. “The difference was the course load. It changed drastically and was almost unmanageable,” she said. “Overall though, I think it proves that we can really do any course online. The only part that should NOT be online is the clinical experience. As future RNs, we absolutely need that face-to-face, hands-on experience. We cannot learn this stuff through online simulations and scenarios.”

Switching the gardening course to her home played into one of Eshelman’s strengths. “I spend a lot of time outdoors,” she said. She created a new garden area in her yard and planted corn, peas, carrots, onions, cucumbers, green beans and peppers from seed. Then the weather refused to cooperate.

“We were still in the frost zone but also hearing it could be 75 degrees tomorrow, so there was a lot of uncertainty,” said Eshelman, who started new seedlings to transplant in the warmer weather after the semester ended.

Academic challenges aside, the biggest difficulty Eshelman has faced during the pandemic “is finding the willpower to remain at home … I have learned that no one was truly able to see how fortunate we were to actually be able to go out until COVID-19 began to unravel everything. It is very challenging to be so cautious of every step and move I make, because I am also looking out for the health of others around me, and more importantly, my husband and daughter.”

Jocelyn Struble ’20, Equine-Facilitated Therapeutics
Every weekend for most of her senior year, Jocelyn Struble journeyed back to Hackettstown, N.J., to work at a pet supply store. After campus closed, Struble received essential worker status through her employer. While she welcomes the additional work hours, being back in New Jersey full time makes her uneasy due to the high COVID-19 infection rate. “What’s really brought it home to me is that we have lost some of our longtime store customers to COVID, people that I knew by name and knew all about their pets,” Struble said. “That’s been really upsetting. It makes the statistics real.”

Struble adapted well to her online classes, with one exception. Usually, the student teaching course for equine-facilitated therapeutics requires working in-person with disabled students on campus. “We ended up doing research on disabilities and discussing how we would teach someone with that dis- ability and then wrote up a lesson plan. But it’s really not the same thing at all,” Struble said. “I was looking forward to student teaching and getting guidance from my teachers.”

Once she receives her certification, Struble will begin looking for EFT instructor jobs. She is also applying to become an emergency medical technician in Hackettstown. “I want to help people,” Struble said. “That’s why I fell in love with the EFT major−because you get to help disabled people.”

Verna Munch ’20, Adult Degree Program, Pre-K-4 Elementary Education
Online education took over Verna Munch’s life this spring. In addition to taking remote classes, she completed her student teaching by creating virtual lessons for a first-grade class and helped her own school-age children with their online classes.

“Not only was I learning to teach full time, I was learning how to teach remotely,” Munch said of her experience. “I created a learning website filled with virtual field trips, activities, free resources for parents and instruction videos.”

Her website includes math lessons using tall sequoia and redwood trees to teach measurements, virtual field trips to the Louvre and the San Diego Zoo and links to art lessons by children’s author and illustrator Mo Willems. “I wanted the students to understand that learning takes place everywhere and provide them learning opportunities to explore around their homes and backyards.” Before the schools were closed, Munch was doing her student-teaching practicum at Guilford Elementary School in Chambersburg. “It is much more time-consuming to remote teach due to the need to create instructional videos or YouTube videos and keep things updated,” she said.

Munch, a Maryland resident who is in Wilson’s Adult Degree Program, also had to keep her 9-year-old on schedule with online learning while making sure her teenager took breaks from technology. Her own Wilson online classes were much easier. “The advantages are working at your own pace, the opportunity to work ahead, easier planning and flexibility of class time,” she said.

On May 17, Munch graduated with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. She and her family celebrated with an at-home party while watching Wilson’s virtual conferring of degrees.

Matthew Wilson ’23, History and Political Science
Besides adjusting to a completely online schedule to finish the spring semester, Matthew Wilson had an election to win. The first-year student ran successfully for president of the Wilson College Government Association, replacing outgoing president Megan Potter ’20 on April 28. His priority as WCGA president this fall is helping students get back to their routines. “What’s most important is to make sure that everyone can stay safe when we return to campus,” he said. “We all might have to keep up some sort of social distancing and we have to make sure everyone is committed to that.”

After Wilson took an online course during the January-Term, he knew what to expect when the College transitioned to remote learning. “I have to admit, I find it a bit of a relief to be online when I’m asking a question of the professor and I don’t have everyone looking at me while I’m speaking,” Wilson said. “That always makes me a bit nervous.”

His biggest challenge is staying inside under the lockdown in Maryland. Netflix and walking around the neighborhood have been his biggest diversions.

Pratikshya Gaihre ’20, Accounting and Financial Mathematics
“Oh, my life has been upside down due to this virus!” said Pratikshya Gaihre, an international student from Nepal. Gaihre had secured a full-time job, only to see it evaporate in May due to the virus shutdowns. She usually stays with relatives in New York City when campus is closed, but found that impossible with the virus raging in the city. ”What is more upsetting is that this is not how I wanted to graduate,” Gaihre said. “I had plans for my parents to come and celebrate my graduation since I haven’t seen them in four years. So basically, this virus has caused huge discomfort for me.”

After Wilson closed, Gaihre remained on campus to finish her classes online, and her Friendly Family hosts agreed she would stay with them after finals while she searches for another job. “The struggle of not knowing if I am going to find a job soon, as most people are unemployed” is stressful—“and then what if when the economy opens up, and even though I’m qualified for the job, no one would want to hire me since I am an international student?” said Gaihre, Wilson’s Newman Civic Fellow in 2018. “Thinking about all these things is very painful.”

Despite the presence of about 50 students who remained in their dorms during the spring semester, the Wilson campus was quiet and Gaihre said she found the isolation difficult. But there was no time to be bored. “I am taking six classes, so I have plenty of classwork to do. I go out for a run or exercise a bit,’ to fight cabin fever,” she said.

She was worried about family members during the pandemic. “My aunt and uncle both are healthcare professionals in New York City,” Gaihre said. “They got the virus and eventually all of the members in the family had it. They had very agonizing two weeks, but they have all recovered.”

In Nepal, the number of COVID-19 cases remain much lower than other countries, but the country declared a lockdown that lasted from mid-March into June. “I FaceTime my parents every day, but I know I will not be able to go back home anytime soon,” Gaihre said.

 

Jamie Kelley ’21, Nursing, (LPN to RN program)
Jamie Kelley was already juggling work as a licensed practical nurse (LPN), a blended family of four children (ages 9, 7, 4 and 3) and coursework at Wilson to earn a bachelor’s of nursing degree to become a registered nurse (RN). Then COVID-19 happened.

“I am much busier than before [the schools closed]—being a mom, a nurse, a student, and now I’m also a second and third-grade teacher,” Kelley said. “There’s not a whole lot of me time.” She had to invest in a second laptop because she and the children had to do schoolwork online. “We all fell behind when we were trying to share one laptop,” she said. “It’s better now with two, but I feel I’m still playing catch up.”

Just before the pandemic, Kelley began a 32-hour- a-week job at a medical facility. “It fits better with the kids and my college schedule, but it means working 16-hour shifts on weekends,” she said.

While the facility has COVID-19 patients, she does not work with them. But she worries about exposure. “I was really frightened at first,” Kelley said. “Not so much of getting sick myself, but of catching the virus and bringing it home.” That same fear drove some of her fellow workers to leave. “But I have my duty as a nurse to care for the sick. And this is the time that you are needed the most. So I can’t—I won’t—walk away from the job,” she said. “But it’s stressful. My boyfriend has asthma, my son is asthmatic, and I worry all the time—what if they get the virus?”

Kelley had a scare just before spring break when she became ill with COVID-19 symptoms, including shortness of breath and fatigue. “I was never so scared to go get tested for something in my life,” she said. “Luckily for me, it was influenza A, not corona.” She was still feeling pretty ill when the College announced the campus was going to remote instruction. “It all didn’t really sink in until later.”

In a way, not being on campus is a relief. While she misses seeing her friends, “I’d be worried about carrying something back from work and infecting them,” Kelley said. She found taking classes online easier in some respects. However, she misses the hands-on experiments in microbiology class.

She has disconnected from most social media and tries not to watch the news. “It’s just too negative and upsetting,” Kelley said. Most days, she keeps herself and her family on a tight schedule but makes time for the children to play in the yard and ride their bikes in the neighborhood. “For stress relief, we have dance party nights. We just put on some music and dance everything out,” she said. “That helps a lot.”

 

RELATED: Faculty Flexibility Resolute Response Staff Strength

Faculty Flexibility

Faculty get creative to deliver their courses virtually.
By Cathy Mentzer

During spring break and, presciently, two days before Pennsylvania Gov. Wolf’s order to close all non-essential businesses, on Tuesday, March 17, President Fugate announced that the College would move to remote instruction for the remainder of the semester. He then extended spring break by a week to March 30 to give students and faculty additional time to prepare and adapt.

Although teaching remotely had been discussed as the COVID-19 virus spread, faculty now had less than two weeks to redesign their courses. They did not let their students down. With remarkable speed and agility, they transformed a college of brick and mortar into a virtual institution of learning. It was a monumental achievement and a testament to their dedication and hard work.

“I never would have anticipated a semester like this in my wildest dreams,” said Mary Beth Wert ’10, a veterinary medical technology (VMT) instructor and veterinary education center facilities manager.

“We were all kind of caught off-guard,” said Sable Bettencourt, an instructor of equestrian studies and equestrian center coordinator. Faculty members like Wert, Bettencourt and others teaching labs and clinicals−courses with extensive hands-on components−faced the particularly tricky challenge of translating experiential courses to a virtual format. Some had no experience at all teaching online; some had extensive experience; others were somewhere in the middle. Despite the challenges and the overall agreement that face-to-face classroom interaction is preferable in most cases, faculty interviewed for this story all agree that the experience was not only valuable but say they were able to find some advantages to teaching in this new modality.

“I’m actually pleased with the way things turned out,” said Assistant Professor of Biology Abby Maley. “I made some lemonade with the lemons that were handed to me.” Faculty had a variety of tools for remote instruction available. Most used Canvas, the College’s course management system that allows faculty to upload assignments, host discussion boards, post videos, etc. Others availed themselves of Panopto, a video platform that records and shares lectures for students to watch at their convenience.

Many used the videoconferencing platform Zoom to emulate a classroom experience. Some chose to deliver classes synchronously—at the same time for all students—and some chose to hold them asynchronously to allow students to take the class when it worked with their schedules.

Nearly everyone−teachers and students alike−had to negotiate a learning curve that made the move to remote instruction and learning stressful, especially against the backdrop of a pandemic.

“It’s not that any one thing was hard to learn; it was learning to use everything all at once,” Professor of English Lisa Woolley said. “Things like Zoom, Panopto and some of the features in Canvas.” Woolley, who had never taught a remote course before, found aspects of online teaching didn’t work as well as in person, but she did like how Canvas allowed her to write a focused response for each student.

“I think the hardest thing about it is not having the classroom as a space that brings us together,” she said. “One thing that’s odd about Zoom is you’re in your private space and also in a public space, but you’re not really in either.”

Adapting to new technology wasn’t the only challenge. A class designed to be taught in person is very different from one designed to be taught online. “It usually takes six months to a year to design online classes,” said Theresa Hoover, associate professor of education. Hoover, who is also assistant director of graduate education programs, was better positioned than many to move to virtual teaching having taught online courses for 10 years. But even for Hoover, teaching classes students had chosen to take in a traditional format posed challenges.

“Initially, it’s definitely more difficult to teach online because you want to make sure you’re providing student interactions that are meaningful,” she said. “It’s harder because you don’t have the option of reading body language, facial cues and those kinds of things. And for my students, going to the online format has been a challenge because they thrive on that interaction.”

Simulations Prepare Nursing Students for Success
For many nursing courses, students are required to schedule and complete 80 hours of clinicals−practical, hands-on learning experiences−during a semester. When the College moved to remote instruction, Lecturer of Nursing Melissa Fannon was teaching pre-licensure students (those pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing, or BSN, as well as those working as licensed practical nurses and pursuing BSNs, or LPN-to- BSN). As part of these courses, students are typically assigned to work alongside a practicing nurse in a local healthcare facility. Fannon had to scramble to get students the equivalent experience.

“It’s been a journey, that’s for sure,” said Fannon, who had not taught fully remote courses before. The two courses she was most concerned about were for her BSN students’ senior practicum and Complex Care Across the Lifespan for the LPN-to-BSN group.

When the pandemic began to unfold this spring, Fannon and fellow nursing instructors and administrators were already thinking about how it would affect their students. “Initially, we weren’t sure what kind of impact it would have because we weren’t sure whether facilities would allow us to come in,” she said. “I had students [getting their required clinical practice] in long-term care facilities, mental health facilities and hospitals across the region.”

Their hands were forced when the virus swept across the country and nursing homes and other medical facilities stopped allowing students on-premises to prevent them from accidentally bringing the virus with them. “They couldn’t work anymore,” said Fannon. Wilson nursing faculty had to develop alternatives to replace the hands-on experience students would have been getting in a healthcare facility, such as assessing patients, dispensing medications, taking blood pressures and much more. “I don’t want to say it was difficult, but it required a lot of creativity,” she said. “It also added a lot more work for some of the students because they had to get up to 80 hours.”

Fannon adapted nursing simulation software the College had previously purchased to fill the experience shortfall. “We’re very fortunate to have access to ATI, which is an NCLEX prep program,” she said. NCLEX, the National Council Licensure Examination, is the test students must pass to become an RN. Students would first research specific clinical topics. Then Fannon and they would meet using Zoom video conferencing and work through “real-life” simulations of encounters nurses could have with patients (created by the ATI software). Afterward, on their own time, students would listen to Fannon’s recorded lectures on the subjects. “They have pre-work that is due before we meet in Zoom, and then after we do the scenario as a class, they complete a nursing care plan and then a reflection,” Fannon said. “So it’s a lot of work for them to research three or four topics before class, go through them in class for two hours, then do a care plan and reflection.”

In the end, the students got the instruction and experiences they needed to graduate or to move on without any delays in their education. While the courses were not what students initially expected, many of them gave Fannon positive feedback. “A lot of people have expressed that even though it added a great deal of work for them, they felt like it was more meaningful because it helped them understand the concepts better,” she said.

Fannon, who plans to use the same techniques in courses she’s teaching over the summer, said although she wishes things were different, she is confident that nursing students will be well-prepared for the NCLEX and, ultimately, the workplace. “These alternative assignments are hopefully helping them be better prepared for their licensure exam,” she said. “A lot of the skills and hands-on stuff come with time and on-the-job training. But if you don’t have the theoretical training, it makes the skill not quite as valuable.”

The nursing program’s practice of exposing students to clinical experience from their first year also was a big help in ensuring Wilson students have significant experience. “That’s huge for them,” said Fannon. “Reinforcing the theoretical knowledge at this point is just as important to help them be successful.”

Labs & Surgeries go Online

In some of the labs and clinical courses where hands-on activities are required, instructors had to come up with innovative solutions. In at least one case, the timing was everything. For the VMT capstone course, Clinical Experience, quick thinking by faculty members saved the day for about six seniors who had not yet completed hands-on tasks required for graduation.

Wert and fellow instructor Tammy Ege acted immediately when they realized students may not return after spring break. They invited students who hadn’t completed the requirements to attend a workshop the Friday before spring break began.

“That was probably the best decision we made,” Wert said. “If we hadn’t, it would have been a headache to bring those students back in to get those tasks done.” She also credits the students, who all made the effort to attend. “They stepped up, and they came in for their education. They were willing to do that.”

No matter the challenges, Wilson faculty overcame them. They tapped the available technology, as well as their own creativity, to make remote teaching as engaging and effective as possible. Here are some examples:

• In VMT courses, instructors recorded surgeries performed on shelter animals by Dr. George Bates−surgeries students would normally participate in−using several cameras. Students viewed the surgeries from multiple angles and learned what would be required of them in real life.

• Using an adapter that essentially turns a smartphone camera into a microscope, Wert performed and recorded lab work such as blood smears. Students could see what they would have seen had they done the work themselves. Wert also had students videotape themselves doing patient conferences as they would in a veterinarian’s office, only using their family members as subjects, and then submit the results.

• In equitation courses where students usually ride horses, the College purchased access to equestriancoach.com, a resource that provides hundreds of high-quality riding videos from industry professionals. Bettencourt said for the final exam in one of her courses, another instructor videotaped her performing exercises. Then students watched and pointed out mistakes or improper form.

• In the lab and research components of Maley’s courses, students participated in simulations that allowed them to conduct research virtually using a program that can adjust variables. One simulation, for example, involved studying sex selection in guppies. Females prefer colorful males, but that color puts the males in danger because it makes them obvious to predators. “You could change variables like how much col- or mattered,” said Maley. “So students could make predictions about what they expected to see and then apply it to what they observed in the simulation.”

Understanding & Empathy is a Wilson Hallmark
Nearly all faculty said that they taught with extra sensitivity and kindness. “We’re all trying to uphold high standards but at the same time, understand that students are getting called into extra shifts at their workplace, that their family may be struggling,” said Woolley. Hoover checked in with her students every week to see how they were doing. They greatly appreciated it. “Students have told me ‘we can’t tell you enough how much it means’ that their professors understand that this is harder,” she said.

Although it was difficult and took a lot more effort on their part, Wilson faculty delivered high-quality instruction throughout this crisis. And despite the geographic separation of teacher and student, the faculty maintained the close, personal relationships with their students that the College is renowned for and which makes this school so special. Ultimately, this is a story of success and triumph over a virus that has changed our world but hasn’t stopped Wilson from delivering on its mission.

TikTok & Dating Apps in Spanish
Having eight years of experience teaching via the web, Lecturer of Spanish Kathleen Cunniffe-Pena made the most of the College’s move to remote instruction. “Instead of seeing the online format as an obstacle, I tried to see it as a medium,” she said.

Cunniffe-Pena had previously designed courses for a Kansas online consortium of colleges and Temple University, as well as Wilson. She came up with some creative ways for students to complete assignments and fulfill course requirements.

Students were originally going to read and perform a play−Federico García Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba−in Cunniffe-Pena’s Hispanic Literature class. “I realized we weren’t going to be able to do that,” she said. “The challenge was thinking of something that would be equally engaging to them and something that would allow them to interact with the text in a creative way.”

She asked students to imagine how the characters in the 1920s Spanish play would interact through social media if they were alive today. She gave them several options, including creating an Instagram account for a character or using the dating app Hinge to create profiles for characters in the play. Other students created TikTok videos for characters.

In Spanish 102, “students have a choice of doing research on a topic related to Spanish-speaking cultures or doing six hours of community service,” said Cunniffe-Pena. One student wanted to read bilingual books to her son. “When we went online, I suggested she do a virtual reading.” The student, part of Wilson’s Single Parent Scholars Program, organized a virtual, bilingual storytime for her child’s kindergarten class as her final project.

After getting approval from her son’s teacher at Benjamin Chambers Elementary School, the student used Panopto to record herself reading a story in both English and Spanish, and also included a craft activity associated with the story. The teacher shared a link to the video with parents who were able to watch with their children. “I thought it was very brave of her,” Cunniffe-Pena said.

Several students in her Intermediate Conversation took part in a United Way initiative to send letters to senior citizens living in isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the stress of moving from in-person classes to remote learning, Cunniffe-Pena is pleased with the results. “This modality is good for some and not for others, like anything else,” she said. “Students might not have wanted to do this, but they’re all getting experience in it now and probably all getting to know themselves better as learners.”

 

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Resolute Response

President Wesley R. Fugate candidly explains the difficulties facing the College in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertainties ahead. 
by Wesley R. Fugate

On day 77 of my presidency, I announced that Wilson College, a place known for 150 years for its personalized, and most often, in-person educational experience would now deliver its instruction entirely online. As you all know, this decision was the right and necessary response to a global pandemic spreading quickly and reaching to every corner of our planet.

When I joined the Wilson community in January, reports of a new respiratory illness in a faraway city in China were trickling into newspaper columns and State Department bulletins. Little did anyone know how dangerous this novel virus would turn out to be or how dramatically it would change all our lives. I spent my first few months as president engaging with the community on campus, and I had grand dreams of venturing throughout the Commonwealth and nation meeting our alums and hearing their Wilson stories. In fact, I had just visited Florida for my first trip to meet a number of alumnae, when the pandemic truly made its presence known in the U.S. We rushed back to Chambersburg to develop a response.

Those seem like such distant and innocent days now. The good news is that you should be proud of how Wilson responded to this challenge. While this experience has stretched us further and in more directions than we thought possible, I am proud that this community, time and time again, has risen to the challenge. Perhaps more than I could have ever imagined, our faculty and staff have stepped up in service to our students. Dedication like this has always defined Wilson, and it continues to do so even in the midst of the pandemic.

This edition of Wilson Magazine tells the story of the College and her people as we have adapted to the impact of COVID-19. The story is one of great adversity but not one of defeat. There are many positive tales of how Wilson, like the phoenix, rises. A look at our history, both recent and distant, tells you that Wilson has always stepped up in times of peril, and I am proud to say that again, Wilson has stepped up to meet this challenge head-on.

First and foremost, I should take the time to speak about our students. This was not easy for them, but they were resilient. They were creative in finding ways to engage with one another and create a new normal for the college experience. But I think the vast majority of them would concur with me in saying they want to be back at Wilson. Campus is lonely without them, and they yearn for the intellectual and supportive community that you can only experience on a college campus.

Second, Wilson has always been a place that celebrates our animals. You will be happy to know that the horses, dogs, cats, birds, bunnies, guinea pigs, and so many other animals on campus have been well taken care of through this ordeal. As Cody and I walk the campus each day, the otherwise eerie silence is broken by the neighing of horses. They look at us longingly, and I suspect, wonder why there are no students engaging with them. They seem to miss the students as much as I do.

Third, as you have come to expect from the Wilson faculty and staff, they poured their hearts and souls into delivering the curriculum and empowering students in creative ways, even from a distance. The faculty are the heart of our institution, and their love was on full display since we began adapting to the impact of the pandemic. Similarly, the staff have supported our students and faculty in vital ways. From their homes, they have been tutoring, providing support groups, serving the remaining students on campus (just shy of 50 students for the final eight weeks of the semester), and so much more. Chaplain Derek Waddlington has ensured that Sarah’s Cupboard, our food pantry, has been available for students, faculty, and staff as we each face extraordinary challenges during these trying times. Actions like these highlight why the Wilson experience stands above the rest: our faculty and staff are remarkable people who do everything they can to ensure student success.

This is not to say that our story is without significant difficulties. The pandemic crisis has proven to be financially  challenging, not least because we issued room and board refunds to students who went home at spring break. Similarly, we incurred considerable expense in our move to online instruction. Fortunately, federal funding helped us through the last fiscal year with less pain than many institutions.

Like most institutions across the country, we developed plans for delivering instruction in-person this fall. So many questions had to be answered. How can we provide the very best instruction in as safe a way as possible? How do students social distance in our residence halls? Do we have the classroom space to put 6 feet between each student and instructor? What happens if there is a resurgence of cases in our region? The list goes on and on. We assembled some of our best minds on a re-opening task force to develop comprehensive plans and contingencies. This work was extremely complex and being carried out by a very lean faculty and staff already weary from our abrupt transition to remote instruction in the spring.

Despite the hard work and very detailed plans of the task force, as the virus resurged, access to testing remained a serious challenge, and test results couldn’t be guaranteed within the time frame needed to be effective. On the last day of my seventh month in office, I announced the difficult decision to move to an entirely online fall semester. As difficult as this was, the health and safety of our community must be our top priority, so I know that it was the right decision.

I must be candid and tell you that this fiscal year will be even more difficult. Never before in our history has every avenue for revenue been impacted at the same time: recruitment, retention, auxiliary revenue, philanthropy and investments. While it is nearly impossible to know how students will be impacted by this situation, we are predicting a 14% decline in our traditional undergraduate enrollment, with smaller declines in our other student populations. In all, we anticipate a $4.5 million decline in revenue next year compared to the current year—approximately a 20% decline. At the same time, it is difficult to estimate what our increased costs may be. We are experiencing unprecedented needs for new technology, testing for the virus, contact tracing, cleaning, and other safeguards to keep our community safe.

In the short term, we have had to make the difficult choices that many organizations and institutions, including our fellow colleges and universities, have had to make in recent months: cutting general expenses, reducing benefits, instituting salary reductions, and implementing furloughs and some layoffs. These are not the decisions I dreamed I would have to make in my first months at the College. Yet, I must make the difficult, but necessary decisions required to ensure that Wilson can deliver on its mission well into the future.

Thus, I made the decision to permanently layoff six employees and furlough 36 others, in addition to reducing the weekly hours for a handful more. I am taking a 20% salary reduction personally and instituting graduated reductions for employees based on salary, except for those who make less than $30,000. And, while I wish I could promise that this is the end of our difficult decisions, no one can predict the future, and more tough choices may be required. It is hard to look at the people who make Wilson so special and ask them for more sacrifice. It is incredibly painful to lay off an employee who has served the College for 22 years. And yet, these steps are necessary for the survival of Wilson.

So many of you have asked, how can I help? Wilson needs your financial, intellectual and emotional support more than ever before. We are a strong institution—in 2019-2020, we experienced our highest enrollment in history, and we are implementing strategic plans to emerge from this pandemic stronger. But we need your help to survive and succeed. Your philanthropy will get us through these next difficult years and ensure that Wilson educates the next generation of civic and economic leaders. Thank you for all that you have done and will do in the future to allow us to make a difference in the lives of Wilson students. We remain….#OneWilson.

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Staff Strength

The administration and staff work behind the scenes to support students and faculty.
By Darrach Dolan

Quick action, preparation, dedication and a large dollop of good luck all played their parts in the College’s remarkable response to the pandemic.

The spring semester ended with students taking finals remotely—most from their family homes—an almost empty campus, a virtual conferring of degrees and the cancelation of this year’s Reunion. Yet, in the time of COVID-19, this is a success story.

Success because in a matter of two weeks, the College transformed into a 100 percent remote institution of learning. It was a sudden and dramatic shift for students and faculty alike. However, through video conferencing, digital chatrooms and boards, instant messaging, emailing, texts and even the old fashioned phone call, the instructors and support staff maintained the close contact and personalized learning Wilson is famous for and has provided continuously for more than 150 years.

While students and faculty justifiably take the limelight, behind the gothic facades of the Barbara K. Mistick Quad and scattered in buildings around campus, the administration and staff worked long hours to enable the former two groups to get on with the important business of education. This is the story of the people who provided carry-out meals to students isolating on campus, who drove international students to D.C. or Baltimore to catch planes home, who overnighted laptops to students, and who met daily to analyze the endlessly shifting realities of a capricious and unpredictable enemy and make the difficult decisions that got us through this crisis.

The story begins in late 2019 when reports of an unusual cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, a city in central China, began to filter across the desk of Crystal Lantz, our director of international scholar services. Lantz, who oversees our international students and facilitates study abroad programs, checked that we had no students in the area. To her relief, we had no students from mainland China or students traveling there.

By the time the outbreak was identified as a new and dangerous pathogen, Lantz was keeping track of where all Wilson students and faculty were traveling. When it began to spread outside of China, she issued advisories to groups in Greece and elsewhere to return home immediately. Our students and faculty returned before the virus was widespread, and none, to our knowledge, contracted it while out of the country. Meanwhile, in early January, before the novel virus became a global threat, Dr. Wesley R. Fugate took the reins as the College’s 20th president. As part of his push to familiarize himself with every aspect of the institution, he asked the Cabinet to review our emergency response plans and bring them up to date.

Cassandra Latimer, our vice president for marketing and communications, recalls that Fugate specifically asked the Cabinet to update our preparedness for an infectious disease outbreak or medical emergency on campus. To Wilson’s great good fortune, by the time the virus was spreading within the U.S., we had updated our emergency response plans and procedures. Before Gov. Wolf issued stay-at-home advisories to the residents of Pennsylvania, we had already taken proactive measures—from increased cleaning and disinfecting of buildings to preparing students and faculty for the possibility campus may not reopen after spring break. In terms of having a plan in place and acting on it, Wilson was ahead of the curve.

Our swift action was fortunate but we weren’t simply lucky. Instead, credit goes to the smart and dedicated staff who did their work behind the scenes conscientiously and to the best of their abilities. One of the great positives to take away from the current pandemic is that across campus, Wilson employees rose to the occasion and kept the gears of the institution oiled and in motion.

The library and information technology staff are an excellent example of how efforts over the past few years paid enormous dividends during this crisis. In anticipation of future technology needs, they had already been integrating new education streaming and online tools into courses and training faculty in their use. This work made our transition to remote learning much smoother than many other colleges and allowed students seamless access to course materials, lectures and faculty.

Similarly, preparedness and dedication meant our counseling staff were able to quickly help students deal with the wave of anxiety and depression brought on by the pandemic and change of teaching modality. They held virtual workshops on dealing with mental issues and offering tips and strategies for coping several times a week throughout the semester. When students needed extra help, they directed them to services in their areas or helped them find therapists who offered teletherapy in place of face-to-face sessions. Mary Beth Williams, our dean of students, recalls attending a webinar for college administrators on meeting the mental health needs of students due to the pandemic. She wasn’t surprised to learn that of all the major recommendations of the experts, “we were already doing them.”

Williams has learned a lot about Wilson’s character during this ordeal. “I trust my staff and my colleagues more than I’ve ever done before because I’ve seen how we’ve adapted and helped students through a remarkably difficult period.”

Much as we should give credit to the good work of our staff, dumb luck was on our side too. Our spring break, March 16 to 20, was later than many colleges’ and that made a huge difference. We didn’t have students traveling back to campus during those crucial weeks in early March when the community spread of the virus was peaking in parts of the country. Not only did we not have students exposed through travel, but we had time to tell students to prepare for the possibility that campus would not reopen after the break. Our residence life and student development teams ensured students took their computers and textbooks and everything else that they would need to complete their courses from home. Lantz reached out to our international students and advised them to stay on campus for the break instead of traveling to vacation spots as many would typically do. “We bought an extra week or two thanks to the timing of spring break and that was a godsend,” Latimer said.

Which brings us to the official closure of campus and switch to remote learning. Beginning in February, the Cabinet had met every day to discuss the pandemic. By March they were often meeting twice a day to discuss the latest information from sources including the CDC, various higher education associations and Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracking data. “Ultimately,” Latimer recalled, “it was Gov. Wolf’s decision to limit gatherings to less than 50 people that made it impossible to keep the campus open.” When Cabinet met that day, “Every member knew [closing campus] was the right decision but it was a scary decision. It was a somber moment.”

Latimer and the other members of the Cabinet recognized that “students come to Wilson for a very personal, hands-on college experience. So if the new modality for delivering education is going to be a hybrid—sometimes on campus, sometimes remote—we have to figure out how to recreate that Wilson experience because that is what we hang our hats on.” They were all silent for a few moments as they considered the enormity of what lay ahead. Then Fugate broke the silence and said they had to make the transition as painless as possible for the students and to keep the lines of communication open and transparent. Latimer summed up their resolve to make this new reality work as, “Just because we have a pandemic doesn’t mean we are not going to graduate the class of 2020.”

On March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, Fugate announced that the College would move to remote learning for the rest of the semester. Once again, we were ahead of the curve. Two days later, Gov. Wolf announced the closing of all non-essential businesses, including colleges, within the Commonwealth.

The campus community acted swiftly and with an amazing unity of purpose. “Daily adaptability was the key to success for us—every day things were changing so rapidly we had to be nimble,” Williams said. “We communicated all the time across campus. No one person had the answer but collectively we always found the answer.”

With most of the international students remaining on campus and dining services closed over the break, Lantz had promised to take them out to a different local restaurant each night. That was now impossible. Instead, she emailed them menus from a different restaurant each morning, took their selections and ordered take out delivery. Students collected their meals from Sarah’s Coffee- house and Lantz was able to touch base with each one before they took their food back to their dorms to eat.

The College extended spring break for an extra week to make sure students and faculty had access to the technology they would need for their courses and to allow faculty time to reconfigure their courses for the new modality. By the time classes resumed March 30, Wilson was ready and made a remarkably smooth transition to virtual learning.

Meanwhile, in addition to the international students who remained, many other residential students either returned to campus or had stayed over the break for a variety of reasons. For some, like several single parent scholars and their children, they had nowhere else they could go. For others, their home situations made studying impossible because they had no access to the internet or no place to do coursework without distractions. “For many students, Wilson is their home, and that is why we never completely shut down campus,” Williams said. When classes resumed, 60 students were living on campus. As international students returned to their home countries, that number dropped to 42 by the end of the semester. “We created a safe environment on campus for anyone that felt going home was not a good option for them,” Latimer said. “We made sure all our students were cared for.”

Sage, the dining services contractor, provided three meals a day that students could preorder and pick up (they weren’t allowed to eat meals in the dining hall). Sarah’s Cupboard, our campus food bank, opened its doors to students, faculty and staff. As well as its supply of canned and shelf safe items, it distributed fresh produce from the Fulton Farm. Campus safety officers took on the responsibility of handing out masks to those who needed them and making sure the public remained off the campus grounds and buildings. The physical plant and housekeeping staff worked to keep the parts of campus that were open clean, safe and functioning. The rest of the employees worked from home making sure the bills were paid, students and faculty supported, alums kept in the loop and all the other unsung jobs that keep a complex institution like ours up and running.

Lantz personifies the sort of extra mile—literally—staff went to ensure the Wilson experience was a positive one for our students. The international students received a lot of different and sometimes contradictory instructions from their families or governments as to whether to stay or leave. Lantz sorted through the mixed messaging and managed to get the students who needed to leave out safely—she ferried students, often one at a time and at very short notice, to catch planes from Washington or Baltimore airports. “I now know how to drive to Dulles [airport] from memory,” Lantz joked. Our two Pakistani students were the last to leave. They spent their final month on campus with their bags packed waiting for word of a plane to take them home. Throughout, Lantz remained in close contact with them and on call. On May 8 they finally got the good news that there was a plane home. She immediately went to them and drove them straight to the airport. Lantz was sad to see these last students go (three others remained on campus through the summer), but she is proud that we kept all our international students safe while they were with us.

Together, in person on campus or remotely from their homes, the staff and administration kept Wilson going through the spring semester and the summer. We may not know when the campus will once again resound with the voices of students, faculty and staff, but we do know that until that day arrives, Wilson remains in good and dedicated hands.

James D’Annibale: The Sheriff of IT
Weeks before campus closed, James D’Annibale, our technology and instructional design librarian, predicted colleges would have to switch to remote learning and quickly. He called Dean Heil. To his surprise—he thought she might view him as an alarmist—she said to do whatever was necessary.

“Dean Heil didn’t second-guess us,” he said. “Her attitude was, ‘You guys know what you’re doing, so let’s get it done.’”

D’Annibale did know how to get things done. He had been upgrading our instructional technology for years, had trained faculty members in its use and had developed training programs and videos that were already on our learning management system. He had everything in place to incorporate 21st-century technology into the classroom—the pandemic meant this would be a revolution rather than an evolution.

“Compared to some of the more prestigious liberal arts colleges, we were more prepared,” he said. But there was still a lot to do. Late one night, he realized we didn’t have enough webcams or headsets. He texted Heil for the go-ahead to purchase them. She gave it. “That was the most I’ve ever been allowed to spend via a text message,” he joked.

Next, he surveyed faculty and students about their technology needs. Amazingly he met every critical need identified. Of course, there were a few outliers and people who had not responded to the survey. Yet he got them what they needed too—he overnighted a laptop to a student in Florida, he drove to a student’s home an hour away to deliver a headset and he worked with internet providers to get discounted service to students.

The hardware was in place. The software was up and running (he had purchased Zoom software years before it was a household name). Now, he faced his greatest challenge: converting every course Wilson offered into a remote course.

Over the two weeks of spring break, he worked day and night. He trained faculty and staff, gave lessons on converting face-to-face courses into the virtual domain, and put out fires wherever they ignited.

He had a small cadre of IT specialists and librarians who worked alongside him and shared the burden, but they were not enough. “I identified a group of faculty who had a lot of experience teaching online. I deputized them as my tech-ed posse and assigned one to each department.”

When classes resumed March 30, to everyone’s surprise, the switch to remote instruction was relatively seamless. “It really wasn’t the panic I thought it would be,” D’Annibale said. “The prep work we did in the years leading up to this served us well. I was really proud of how things went.”

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