Article by Erin Maggio ’21, Marketing and Communication Intern
Houghton has long been known for its emphasis on personal relationships. COVID-19 has led faculty, students and staff to be even more intentional in fostering an environment where all can feel valued as individuals. Cooperation with guidelines, coupled with resilience and enthusiasm, has meant students can receive a high-quality education and have an enjoyable experience in their time here while still remaining safe.
One way that professors and students connect with each other is through office hours. Students have the opportunity to meet with professors individually through video meetings, but, luckily enough, good weather so far has allowed professors and students to meet in person with office hours outside. One can see communication professor Dr. Gaerte sipping coffee with an advisee at a picnic table outside the Chamberlain Center or Professor Dashnau sitting out on the grass with writing students.
Regulations have also made classes look different, but professors have energetically responded, allowing students to have the option to learn in person, online, or via a combination of the two. Geri Edwards, a senior this year, has opted to stay home and complete her final semester at Houghton entirely online. “I am grateful that Houghton gave us this option during such an uncertain time,” she expressed.
Dr. Änna Pettway, Assistant Professor of Psychology, emphasized how different teaching looks for her this semester with no paper handouts, no paper tests and no use of whiteboards in class. However, she has adopted new methods, which have added benefits to students—scanning documents and uploading for online access, providing immediate test grades, and using Zoom whiteboards so students can go back and look at diagrams after class rather than scrambling to write notes down.
Pettway expressed how resilient and willing students have been to adjust to new ways of learning and communication. “It’s been great to hear from my students during class via the [Zoom] chat so that I know that they are thinking about the material in real time,” she said, highlighting how engagement has remained a part of her classes.
Faculty at large have shown a great amount of adaptability and innovation in their teaching. Riley Gastin, also a senior completing her final semester online, explained: “I think the professors have done a wonderful job of adapting and being flexible. They are very understanding of each of our unique circumstances, and, in my experience, they have been accommodating and helpful in any way that they can.” Professors have been intentional in making online students like Edwards and Gastin feel seen and heard.
On campus, the good weather has allowed students to enjoy themselves outside, finding ways to stay active and have fun around Houghton’s scenic campus. Sports teams have been able to practice while following guidelines, frisbees fly almost constantly at the disc golf course in and around the Houghton woods, and intramural competitions are held every weekend, letting students play with and against their friends and classmates in a variety of competitions from tennis to scavenger hunts.
Houghton hopes that students will be able to continue enjoying all the college has to offer, and, for prospective and current students alike, the recent announcement of a tuition reset starting in the fall of 2021 makes paying for college, even during the coronavirus pandemic, more manageable. “I cannot even express how thrilled I am to share [the reset] with everyone and talk through the math of how it will truly save families money,” said Marianne Loper, Director of Student Financial Services.
Although many schools have made the decision to cancel campus tours for visitors, Houghton has continued offering personalized visits to prospective students, allowing them to safely see campus and interact with faculty and current students. This, along with the ease of the financial aid process, makes Houghton a compelling option for high school seniors during a college search process that looks much different than in a typical year.
In large part, the ability to host prospective students and meet in class is due to the continued commitment of students, faculty and staff to keeping the community safe with the “Big Three”: masking, social distancing and practicing cleanliness. Dean of Students Marc Smithers says that “students have responded very well considering the challenges facing them this semester. Walking around campus, you will see all of our students masked and practicing social distancing.”
Along with these precautionary measures, Health Services has increased their role with grace—analyzing daily symptom screening tests, making arrangements for testing and precautionary isolation, and keeping daily communication with isolated and quarantined students to make sure they are doing well. This diligent care has seen 88 students and 7 employees released from cautionary isolation with just one positive case, which was prior to students’ arrival.
College physician Dr. David Brubaker has voiced his gratefulness for students’ combined efforts with Health Services. “We have found students to be very understanding and cooperative with these procedures…. It has been really encouraging to see the ways in which students graciously put the interests of others, the campus and community above their own convenience,” he said. Because of everyone’s cooperation, campus has remained safe with no COVID-19 outbreaks.
Amidst the challenges, Houghton continues to be a place where students and faculty alike enjoy learning and connecting, even if it looks a little different for now.