Responding to the pandemic by pivoting to success
Written for the Winona Daily News by Josiah S. Litant, Vice President of Student Affairs & Dean of Students
Published April 18, 2021
"Everyone's tired of being tired."
A colleague said this to me recently, in a conversation about the trials we have all faced throughout the pandemic. It's easy to focus on the many challenges that COVID-19 has introduced into our lives, most especially the illness and loss that has been experienced across the state and the country. For faculty, staff, and college leadership, pandemic management has become a critical part of our jobs; an extreme example of "other duties as assigned" that none of us anticipated a year ago. And yet, throughout all of the challenges of these past 13 months, we have many positive successes to be proud of here at Minnesota State College Southeast.
Since the early days of the pandemic, MSC Southeast has been laser-focused on three goals:
1. Keeping our doors open for our students
2. Keeping our campuses safe
3. Keeping our students moving forward in their chosen educational pathways
A year into this crisis, I am proud to report that we have had great success at meeting all three of these goals.
Many of our students rely on our campuses for access--access to internet and technology, access to study space, access to staff and faculty, and access to our food pantries. Since March 2020, we have kept our doors open for our students. Even when classes were required to pivot to remote instruction, students were still able to come to campus as needed. In this way, we have been able to ensure that students who need us in-person are able to get the help they need.
At the same time, it has been critical to keep our campuses in Red Wing and in Winona as safe as possible. We adopted a series of safety protocols that allowed us to mitigate transmission of the disease on campus. By quickly implementing these measures last year, we have been able to ensure that hands-on courses have continued with in-person instruction, which is so critical for career and technical education. Our COVID case reporting throughout the pandemic plays this story out--as of this writing we have had only ten reports of COVID cases within the Southeast community since January 1. By reducing the number of those on campus and following safety protocols stringently, we have ensured that those who need to be here can be here.
The general safety of our campuses has been critical to ensuring that students can keep moving towards their goals, on their own timeline. How have we done that? Faculty have gone to extraordinary lengths to create flexible classrooms, pivoting to all-online or hybrid instruction where possible, being flexible with deadlines when a student needed to be out due to COVID-related issues, and working closely to get students across the finish line. We hired a Basic Needs Coordinator over the winter to help grow our food pantries and strengthen our ties to local service providers for our students. We continued to offer mental health counseling for no cost to our students, all through an innovative telehealth model. We created ways for students looking for tutoring or academic support to receive such services in-person or remotely, to ensure that they were able to get the help they needed while staying safe. Our staff has done a tremendous job of offering all services remotely and in-person, to help meet the individual needs of each student and their family.
Really, the story of the pandemic at MSC Southeast is not unlike any other story from our college--it's one of personalized connections, direct support to students, and flexibility to meet the needs of our students. We are looking forward to a fall semester this year that allows us to continue to be here, increase our in-person footprint, and help our students to safely pursue and complete their educational goals. We are proud of the work our entire college has undertaken, and all with our usual spirit of caring. We are looking forward to even brighter days ahead.