Staying Strong


As the pandemic progressed, Eastern stepped up

By Eastern Magazine

In early march, as the first cases of COVID-19 started appearing in the Seattle area, EWU began to mobilize its resources to keep students, faculty and staff safe. Surfaces were disinfected, hand sanitizer stations were filled, and expert panels and other information sessions were convened to help the campus community better understand the nature of the threat, and how to protect themselves from it.

By the middle of the month, it was clear these measures would not be enough. On March 11, the university announced that, in a way never been seen over EWU’s long history, campus life was essentially shutting down.

 

‘Faculty, students and their families rethought the nature of higher education to make remote learning not just viable, but vibrant and rewarding.

 

“All academic operations, to the fullest extent possible, will be moved online through the remainder of the current academic year,” President Mary Cullinan’s letter read. “This includes classes, academic advising and educational activities.”

The months that followed have seen heroic efforts to adapt to the new normal. Faculty, students and their families rethought the nature of higher education to make remote learning not just viable, but vibrant and rewarding. Staff members rallied to create a virtual commencement that rivaled the joyous pomp and circumstance of the in-person event. And Eastern employees have doubled-down on their dedication as telework and CDC-recommended safety measures have transformed the way they served the institution they love.

Going forward, there will be a continued need for out-of-the-box thinking and resilience. As it became clear, for example, that the suspension of most face-to-face instruction would need to be extended, EWU announced an innovative “Maximum Flexibility” model for instruction and campus operations this fall.

The approach, developed with the advice of faculty experts in public health and science, calls for a continuation of online-first modality for most courses. Courses that can’t be offered online, such as some labs, are — for now at least — slated to go forward following public health guidelines aimed at minimizing health risks to students, faculty and staff.

The “flexibility” part kicks in if public health restrictions ease: online offerings, for instance, could be switched to face-to-face instruction or a hybrid model. Likewise, if health concerns increase, all courses can shift back online.

The idea is to help students mitigate, in so far as is possible, any disruption in their progress toward a degree.

Other adaptations include waiving the live-on-campus requirement for first-year freshmen. For those students who do want to live on campus, residential halls and dining operations will be open. Only one student per room will be permitted. Housing staff will assist residents with social distancing practices and guidance on how to follow other public health measures.

Such planning will ensure that this fall, although in no way normal, EWU will unite to proudly advance excellence in learning and service.