In the midst of all the changes and challenges that have been sprung upon us, it is important to take a moment to look back and realize how much we have accomplished and how far we have come in a very short period of time. I am inexpressibly proud of the way our entire campus has pulled together to create alternate methods of course delivery and support services for our students. We knew there would be bumps in the road and that we would need to make adjustments as we encountered obstacles and challenges. And although not every plan or action implemented in the past month has progressed the way we thought it would, we have made many more right steps than wrong steps, and we have consistently demonstrated our ability to modify and adapt our strategies effectively as we continue to transition into new modes of operation.
I particularly want to acknowledge the hard work that was done by so many to reach out to students through phone calls and emails to encourage them to create their student accounts in the Starfish system. Staying connected with our students through Starfish is a key element in our current strategies for continuing to help them be successful in their studies. The outcomes speak for themselves.
In only 17 days, Academic Affairs converted 419 course sections to alternative methods of delivery. This involved dozens of creative methods and tools, including mobile applications, online simulations, email, and even “snail mail!” This accomplishment is all the more impressive when we consider the fact that of the 91 full and part-time faculty members who converted their course sections, 54 (59%) of them had little or no prior training in distance learning pedagogies. The Internet Academy developed the “Virtual Campus” tool in Go to help faculty with various tools and is monitoring their feedback in order to provide them with prompt answers to their questions. Moreover, in addition to our Generals Online course management system, faculty also now have three new synchronous tools at their disposal – Webex, Collaborate, and Zoom – with trainers in place to help them be effective with these systems. As a result, on March 30th, 100% of our faculty resumed course instruction using new delivery methods, and they continue to provide our students with high quality academic programming. Our College Now teachers also completed syllabi addendums to allow them academic continuity of their courses. Lastly, Mohawk Correctional has fully transitioned to an alternate instructional delivery model with enhanced lecture-based instruction.
Our IT Department, Business Office, and Student Services Office have been collaborating to provide needed technology and equipment to both students and employees. To date, 65 new laptops have been distributed; 20 to students, and 45 to faculty and staff members. These departments, along with the Internet Academy staff continue to assist faculty with various technical and pedagogical issues, and to support students with various technical issues concerning GO or some of the various new tools that are being utilized.
Departments offering support services have also made an effective transition to remote systems and online tools to continue to meet students’ needs. The Academic Support Center is using virtual appointments by request through such systems as Webex. Students can continue to communicate with academic coaches through the Starfish system, and the ASC front desk staff are responding to inquiries and requests for services. Students can access the Library staff for assistance with locating resources, and our librarians frequently post book recommendations on Instagram. The Advisement Center maintains services through official college email, direct messaging, and WebEx. Students can also initiate contact by email, or by going to their Starfish Success Network/Services to make an appointment with an Advisement Team member. Career Services added a new on-line platform, “Herkimer Edge,” that includes various modules such as: Student Success, Resume builder, Interview Simulator, Student Success and templates for various professional letters. Staff are available to work with students and alumni directly via WebEx, phone, and e-mail. The International Academic Programming Center staff are available for group and 1:1 assistance by phone, Slack call, Webex, or Collaborate using Starfish. A new “Ask A Peer Mentor” communication group using Slack was created so students can ask peers for help and to continue the sense of community and support.
Similarly, the Counseling Center has been assessing current caseloads to determine students’ needs, and counseling services are being offered via Telehealth. Counselors are providing other students with referrals and phone consultations as contacts are made. Students involved with the Collegiate Recovery Group, SAAP sessions, and Intervene have been provided with online groups and resources and phone delivery to maintain those services. The Athletic Department continues to provide guidance and support to their current team members as well as virtually recruiting student athletes for the 2020-2021 seasons. Staff members have also helped with call campaigns and virtual information sessions with Admissions. The Center for Leadership and Development is busy keeping students engaged by offering virtual activities and assisting with follow-up phone calls to students.
The dedicated staff of our Student Accounts, Financial Aid, and Registrar’s offices have adjusted many processes to remotely deliver services to all of our students. In addition, they continue to maintain rotating schedules on campus to complete those tasks that cannot be done remotely. The HR department continues to service our employees and retirees very seamlessly, and is working closely with Payroll to make sure there are no interruptions.
Residence Life is ensuring that the students still living on campus continue to receive the support they need. For example, they have collaborated with Campus Safety and Food Services to deliver meals to those students on a daily basis. Residence Life staff have been moving other students’ belongings into storage for those who could not pick them up from campus. Campus Safety personnel continue to maintain the food pantry services of the General’s Cupboard, preparing bags of food and personal care products for students in response to call-in requests.
The Facilities and Grounds crews maintain a full schedule of cleaning activities across campus, removing furniture and other items from classrooms and meeting spaces to clean those items and rooms thoroughly, so they are ready to be used when the campus is open again. These crews continue to keep up the cleanliness and overall appearance of our beautiful campus grounds, too, demonstrating once again our determination to not compromise on our standards of excellence.
The Admissions Office has set up a number of virtual options for prospective students, including virtual information sessions, virtual individual admissions counselor meetings, and virtual presentations to specific high schools. The first virtual information session held thus far received an encouraging level of engagement and positive feedback. Sessions will continue on the first and last Thursday of each month. The Admissions Office has also developed a virtual workshop called “Navigating the College Search Process” to be presented in collaboration with high schools across the state. These workshops will allow both the schools and their students to benefit from the guidance and advice presented, and Herkimer College is able to capture prospective students’ contact information.
The Public Relations staff has been instrumental in getting critical communications out to our students, employees, and other stakeholders throughout the last several weeks. Among their many new initiatives, the use of social media to encourage current students’ engagement in their courses and help them feel supported has been implemented. Thank you to all of you who have submitted photos for the #HERKCares collages!
Our various College committees – Middle States, Enrollment Management & Marketing, Academic Senate, Assessment etc. continue their work via virtual meeting platforms. The work of all our committees is vital in ensuring that the College continues to meet our mission and goals set forth in our strategic plan.
While I know it is a disappointment for many, especially for members of the Class of 2020, we had to make a difficult decision regarding Commencement. Instead of canceling or postponing to a time when many graduates would not be able to attend, we will hold a virtual commencement ceremony to be streamed live. Regalia is being shipped to graduating students so they can submit photos that will be displayed as their names are announced during the ceremony. I hope everyone will take time out on May 15th to watch the ceremony and cheer on all of our students who have persevered through these challenging times to earn their degrees.
These are only a few of the wide range of innovations, cooperative efforts, and exceptional services the faculty and staff of the College have been providing. We continue to look ahead with confidence and optimism to the future. The question remains, of course, “what is going to happen in the fall?” No one has a crystal ball that can answer that question for us, but we continue to prepare and to move forward. Our hope is, of course, that we will all be able to be back on campus for the fall semester.
So as we look ahead and strive to meet the challenges we are faced with, please know how grateful and appreciative I am for all your efforts and for how you have all pulled together to continue to provide our students with excellence. The can-do spirit of our Herk Nation has never shined brighter! We will continue to deal with circumstances as they arise and make whatever adjustments we need in order to continue our high-quality programming and services. If the last two months have taught us anything, it is that we have it in us to rise above the challenges and be successful.
Thank you all for your outstanding work,
For the most up-to-date information on Herkimer College's response to COVID-19, please go to herkimer.edu/coronavirus.