The continuing global spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) forced university officials to make several difficult decisions in mid-March:
- Online courses, which began on March 18 and were originally planned to end April 1, continued for the rest of the Spring 2020 semester, including final exams.
- Residence halls closed to all students on March 21, aside from a handful for whom leaving was a hardship. Three Residence Life student staffers, two resident assistants and one academic peer coach also remained on campus.
- All university events through May 15, including Senior Week activities, were canceled or postponed. Commencement, which was scheduled for May 9, will be held on Dec. 19 at Freedom Hall. To celebrate the Class of 2020, Bellarmine held its first-ever
Toast to Our Graduates.
Staff members are working remotely, aside from those whose on-campus presence has been designated essential. Public Safety continues a 24/7 presence on campus, monitoring the fire suppression system and burglar alarms and conducting regular vehicle
and foot patrols of every building. Facilities Management is maintaining a skeleton crew of three maintenance workers and a few grounds crew members. The custodial crew continues to work full time and is using the opportunity to deep clean and
“These decisions are intended to protect the community and slow the rate at which the virus is spreading, while maintaining the integrity of our academic offerings,” said President Susan M. Donovan.
Faculty and staff met the coronavirus crisis with a sense of service. Faculty immediately began planning ways to maximize online learning. The Distance Education team in Bellarmine’s Faculty Development Center provided one-on-one tutoring to faculty,
who had a wide range of experience with academic technology. One had never even used PowerPoint. But all were determined to learn, for the sake of their students.
“Our faculty are absolute rock stars in this and are truly doing whatever they need to do to make it work,” said Adam Elias, director of Innovative Learning Systems.
When students were asked to leave the residence halls, Debbie Fox, director of Bellarmine’s Office of Public Safety, had an immediate idea. “We can help get those students home,” she said.
Her department announced that any student who needed a ride to their permanent residence anywhere in a two-hour radius could hop aboard one of the three shuttles that usually transports students around campus. They ended up fielding several requests for
trips home in the Louisville area, plus two students who asked for rides to the airport before flying back home to California. The students, a junior and a sophomore, were on the same flight. Bellarmine’s public safety team also offered to take
anyone who remained in residence halls to Kroger or the pharmacy—with students sitting six feet apart, of course.
“At Bellarmine there really is a community, family spirit,” Fox said. “You have amazing people here who step up and say, ‘I’ve got that.’… It’s the Bellarmine way.”
Nearly every unit stepped up in its own way. The School of Continuing and Professional Studies offered shopping services to its Veritas group, which consists of learners over age 54 in the Louisville area. The College of Health Professions and Bellarmine’s
Biology Department donated an inventory of personal protective equipment to front-line healthcare workers. Using 3D printing technology, Dr. Akhtar Mahmood, Bellarmine physics professor, and sophomore physics major Jordan Dowdy created headbands needed
for the face shields that are being used by medical staff treating COVID-19 patients in Louisville.
On March 23, staff from the Student Success Center, Student Affairs, Student Activities, the Office of Identity and Inclusion and Disability Services, a dozen faculty members and Dr. Donovan and her cabinet began calling every single Bellarmine student
to check on their well-being and any needs they might have.
With registration for the summer and fall semester underway, “we would be touching base with students this time of year anyway,” said Dr. Elizabeth Cassady, associate dean of Academic Services and co-chair of the Student Success Task Force
along with Jessica Lynch, director of orientation, and Dr. Patrick Englert, associate vice president for Student Affairs. “At any time of transition, we know that some students are going to struggle.”
Worries about the coronavirus pandemic and the fact that they aren’t on campus may add to that anxiety, she said. “Students are happy to hear from us. They are used to being able to just stop by and get a warm answer to their questions. This
is simulating that.”
Distance learning in a hurry
Bellarmine University suspended face-to-face instruction on March 12, giving faculty four days to learn how to take their classes online. “Our number one priority is to keep classroom instruction as close to normal as possible,” said Gabrielle
Read Jasnoff, instructional design consultant in the Faculty Development Center. Most faculty are using Moodle, an online educational platform, for sharing things like lesson plans and assessments, and Microsoft Teams or Zoom for their videoconferencing
“A lot of our faculty are still wanting to try to maintain some kind of face-to-face connection even though they are virtually distanced,” she said.
That’s why Mary Dehoff, an assistant professor of biology who had never used Teams, sought help from instructional developer Janice Poston. “I think body language and non-verbal cues are important in delivering content, not just words and
text,” Dehoff said, “but especially right now I want my students to have a sense of presence and reassurance. We have already developed such a great relationship in the classroom, I think it will be reassuring to them and give them a sense
of peace knowing that that’s going to continue and that I am available to them.”
The Distance Education team “has been extremely busy, non-stop, since all this began,” said Adam Elias. “It’s like what we do every day, dialed up to 11. I can say with complete veracity that over the past week and a half, I have
not heard a single complaint or grumble from any of the 100-plus faculty with whom I’ve personally communicated.
“Sure, there is still plenty of angst, and this isn’t to say there are good solutions to everything. There are cases where we’re choosing between two less-than-stellar options. The special sauce is the faculty—many of whom are
opting for synchronous ‘live’ classes and doing their best to put the ‘social’ in ‘social distancing.’ From my vantage point, the Bellarmine Difference is on full display.”
Dr. Winn Wheeler, an assistant professor in the Annsley Frazier Thornton School of Education who is using Microsoft Teams for synchronous class sessions, said she thinks the face-to-face technology asked her juniors at the end of a class to share a “gift”
on their individual pages in the online class notebook, which is how she is replicating the response journals the students normally use.
“I am happy that we got the opportunity to speak with one another today,” one wrote. “Everything is abnormal right now, and our chat was the closest thing to normal.”
Other student services
Support staff also continue to offer the many services students rely on, although in a different format.
“We’re in this together, even if we’re not together in person,” said Dr. Helen-Grace Ryan, vice president of Student Affairs. “That close-knit, caring, compassionate campus life our students are accustomed to will remain.
We’re quickly finding unique ways to keep the ties that bind our community together.”
The Student Activity Center provided virtual engagement opportunities such as game nights and trivia, while the SuRF Center was offering a Wellness at Home campaign including at-home workouts, outdoor activities and wellness tips.
The Counseling Center, which is staffed by licensed mental health professionals, was available by phone or email for students experiencing stress or anxiety. While Our Lady of the Woods Chapel is closed and Mass has been canceled, the Campus Ministry
staff is available via phone or email for spiritual support and was sharing prayer offerings, spiritual playlists and journaling prompts.
The university clinic is available by phone to students, staff or faculty members without a primary care provider; Norton eCare was also providing free visits with a nurse practitioner.
The Student Success Center and Career Development Center continue to provide appointments for academic support services and advising, respectively, via email, telephone and Teams video/audio.
Admissions counselors are also using technology to meet with prospective students and parents. “I’ve had a lot of [high school] students schedule video calls during this time—one was even from the Netherlands,” said Emily Neuhauser,
an undergraduate admission counselor. “Students have been so grateful. My guess is that the seniors are going through a lot right now and appreciate being heard and kept in the know. I’ve definitely had some students with canceled proms
and other fun senior things who are rightfully really upset. But I think the excitement of starting in the fall has been helping. I can really see the community building among the 2024 class now.”
Plans for the fall
As summer classes continue online, Bellarmine officials look forward to welcoming returning students back to campus in the fall. “The health and safety of our campus community remain our top priorities,” said President Susan M. Donovan. “While
we do not have all the answers at the moment, we have a contingency planning committee working on detailed plans to ensure that the experience we offer meets our usual high-quality standards.
“To be sure, we understand that we will be operating under a new normal in the fall as we follow public health guidelines announced by the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The need to ensure the safety of our community will guide our work, and any needed
accommodations will be made on a case by case basis.”
Photo: Professor Theresa Hahn performs a chemistry experiment for students via Microsoft Teams