A man cleans the Kirkhof Center

Coronavirus cautions impact spring on campus

University leaders implement remote learning, other actions during unprecedented time

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Students moving home in March. Classrooms empty in lieu of remote learning. Commencement and other campus events, large and small, postponed or canceled.

The spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) caused university leaders to take quick and unprecedented action in mid-March and react fluidly to announcements from state and local health and governmental officials and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

President Philomena V. Mantella canceled classes March 12-13, allowing faculty members to transition to remote learning, which began March 16 and will continue at least through August 4.

Mantella said these are challenging times, and working together will ensure essential operations continue smoothly. “We will be together soon, but we need to do our part and we need to stay positive. We need to bring a light to the world as Lakers. That’s the Laker Effect and that’s GV positivity,” Mantella said.

Below are snapshots of how the university responded to campus and community needs.

GVSU's CHS building.
(Kendra Stanley-Mills)

Spectrum Health moves beds, equipment into CHS

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer toured the Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences March 26, as it may become an alternative care site for Spectrum Health if needed during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Preparations for the site have begun. CHS is located on GVSU’s Health Campus, across from Spectrum Health’s Butterworth Hospital on Michigan Street, along the Medical Mile in downtown Grand Rapids.

Leaders from Spectrum Health said there is space in the building to accommodate up to 250 hospital beds, if needed.

Whitmer called the agreement between Spectrum Health and Grand Valley an “all hands-on-deck strategy” as she continued to press the need for social distancing, hand washing and staying home to help stop the spread of the virus.

“This is a challenge unlike anything we have ever seen before. We have incredible talent around the state in our health care systems and our communities,” Whitmer said. “This partnership is something that is unique and needs to be replicated to become the rule, not the exception.”

Governor Whitmer and GVSU President Philomena Mantella stand in the CHS building
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, left, and President Philomena V. Mantella listen to Tina Freese Decker (not pictured) in the Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences. (Kendra Stanley-Mills)

Whitmer joined President Philomena V. Mantella and Tina Freese Decker, president and CEO of Spectrum Health, on the tour of CHS.

Mantella said she is proud of the university and its leaders to meet the potential needs of community residents this way.

“It makes me so full of pride and so full of compassion for those who are suffering, and ready to do whatever we can to step in and lean into this problem so we can solve it together,” Mantella said.

Spectrum Health employees spent the day practicing an expansion plan into CHS if more hospital capacity is necessary. Freese Decker said the hospital system remains committed to preparing and finding solutions to ensure the health of the community, adding this contingency agreement “embodies the West Michigan culture” of banding together.

A cappella group sings virtual message of hope

A virtual video message, put together by a student a cappella group to spread hope and positivity, is being shared widely on social media.

Members of Euphoria said they decided to be a part of President Philomena V. Mantella’s effort to spread messages of positivity during these challenging times caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group got creative in their video as they sang, “Lean on Me” by the late Bill Withers.

Joe Vanarendonk, president of Euphoria, said it was difficult for students, especially seniors, when the semester was abruptly cut short. “Physical distance doesn’t keep us from maintaining communication or making music.”

He said the Grand Valley community is “one you can lean on and come back to.”

Members of the Grand Valley State community are being encouraged to share short video messages on social media with #GVPositivity.

Acapella singers during their video sing together
Brittland DeKorver sitting at her desk
Brittland DeKorver is pictured in her home office. (courtesy photo)

Remote learning: faculty story

Brittland DeKorver was inspired by the esprit de corps she felt with her colleagues in the chemistry department when they started collaborating on best practices and creative solutions for teaching their courses online.

They shared technology tips, how to optimize their content on Blackboard, ways they could ensure students receive tutoring and more.

As DeKorver, assistant professor of chemistry, did more outreach with colleagues in other parts of the country, she saw an opportunity for them to coalesce around their shared experience of teaching online, many of them unexpectedly as the COVID-19 pandemic worsened.

DeKorver created a Facebook page, Strategies for Teaching Chemistry Online, which in late March had more than 2,000 followers from across the nation, and globally from Israel to Sweden to Malaysia.

And she was pleased, but not surprised, to see her Grand Valley colleagues — many of whom are chemistry education experts — are among the most active on the page.

“Our department in general has a really forward-thinking focus of how to teach chemistry based on evidence and how to be adventurous in our practices,” DeKorver said. “Our department has taken really quickly to the idea that we’re going to do this in a different way.”

For DeKorver, who is teaching general chemistry, as well as a capstone class, each day brings use of tried and true techniques, as well as improvising depending on technological or connectivity factors.

Study abroad programs canceled

In mid-March, study abroad programs and courses planned for the spring term were canceled. Later that week, all summer study abroad programs were canceled.

Michael Vrooman, interim chief international officer in the Padnos International Center, said students who made deposits to GVSU on trips will be refunded and PIC staff members will work with affected students to minimize the impact on their academic coursework.

In February, study abroad programs in Italy, China and South Korea were canceled and students in those countries were asked to return to the U.S.

A janitors cart in an empty hallway
Kendra Stanley-Mills

Keeping campus clean

Maintenance, service and grounds staff members have been on the front lines keeping campus buildings clean and sanitized amid the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak.

Tim Thimmesch, associate vice president for Facilities Services, said staff members and contractors have been incredible in responding to the needs of the community.

“We are really appreciative of their efforts during this ongoing situation,” Thimmesch said, adding some staff members have been reassigned to populated buildings.

A student carries clothes and belongings to their car
Valerie Wojciechowski

Students move out of living centers

After remote learning was extended, students who live on campus began moving their belongings out of living centers.

First-year students Taylor McMiller and Brody Conaty loaded up their clothes and other items to head back to Detroit and Grand Ledge, respectively.

McMiller said her 5-year-old brother, Donavan, who came to help, is happy she’s moving home to Detroit for the rest of the semester, but not happy about sharing a bedroom again.

Housing and Residence Life created a move-out process and students signed up for dates that worked best for their needs.

Housing and meal credits during this period were sent to student accounts. For more information, visit gvsu.edu/housing .

President Mantella sits at her desk looking at her computer
President Philomena V. Mantella conducts one of many virtual town halls for the campus community from her Zumberge Hall office. (Kendra Stanley-Mills)

Mantella shares views on leading crisis as first-year president with national publication

In EdSurge, a national education outlet, President Philomena V. Mantella said in all of her plans as a first-year university president, she couldn’t have fathomed a disruption that came “without guardrails” like COVID-19.

“We were forced at a break-neck pace to go fully remote with our delivery of instruction, when just the day before we were weighing its efficacy,” she said.

More from the EdSurge article: “We toil to bring control to the university amidst the uncontrolled virus spread. We wake up each morning to reports of growing numbers of deaths and positive cases. We lead now without a playbook and find that past data models are not useful in planning for a future no one knows how to predict.

“Enrollment? Tuition? State appropriations? We have questions without answers. COVID-19 is leading this disruption. But we must lead our institutions and heal our communities. We must lead them now, and we must lead their recovery.

“The forced disruptions ushered in by this health crisis can leave in their wake immense opportunities to right some wrongs and change some ‘tried and trues’ that are no longer true. Let’s address the learning loss that some students suffer between educational periods and reconsider calendars. Let’s bolster bridges for the underprepared and those with life constraints to enable greater access and the democratization of education. Let’s move from remote and distance delivery of education to intentionally shaped high-engagement online learning, virtual experiences and forms of hybrid learning that recognize as essential what we are all longing for today: community and connection.

“We would never pick this particular path, but it picked us. Whether forced upon us or not, we must embrace the opportunity to harness the advances, creativity, care and humanity that comes from it and ensure our educational institutions thrive for generations to come.”

Read the entire article online.

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