Finding a Way
How the campus is coping with the coronavirus crisis
Kaela Hamilton ’20 presented her senior thesis research in biology in late April from a room in her boyfriend’s house in Tempe, Ariz. Using her laptop and Google Meet software, she showed a series of slides about her research on the composition and distribution of epiphytes on bigleaf maple trees while her advisor, Assistant Professor Carrie Woods, and about two dozen faculty members and students watched from their respective homes. After the talk, audience members popped up on the screen, one at a time, to ask their questions—including a man named Ken, who asked whether certain environmental conditions could have affected differences in epiphyte community structure between trees. Hamilton paused a moment, then said, “That’s a good question, Dad.”
If this were a normal year, Hamilton would have been giving her senior thesis presentation in person, in Thompson Hall. And if her parents had wanted to see it, they would have had to fly up from their home in Phoenix. But this is not a normal year.
On Jan. 21, the same day that spring semester classes began, the United States’ first case of novel coronavirus was confirmed. Within two months, an epidemic of historic proportions had transformed daily life throughout the country. At Puget Sound, it disrupted the entire campus. Most students had to leave the residence halls, and all classes went virtual. Faculty and staff members, except for a handful of essential employees, went home to begin working remotely. The athletic schedule was canceled. Events ranging from lecture series to the Spring Lu`au to Commencement were either canceled or postponed. Kittredge Gallery closed. The brand-new Welcome Center—just dedicated in February—sat empty, as the Office of Admission delayed its planned move there. In-person admission tours came to a halt.
But something else happened at the same time: The campus community figured out how to make the best of a decidedly difficult situation. In a March 12 email to the campus community and parents, President Isiaah Crawford said, “Loggers are creative, resilient and adaptable in the face of change. I am confident that we will weather these challenging circumstances with grace and fortitude.”
Faculty members worked quickly to adapt their classes to online teaching. In a series of virtual sessions with one another and with staff members from Technology Services, they brainstormed the logistics of remote learning—how to facilitate class discussions; what to do about laboratory exercises, art critiques, and group presentations; how to give exams. Many of the conversations centered on how to sustain a sense of community in spite of the distance. “I suspect that the most important thing is to just promote kindness between us and the students,” said Associate Professor of Biology Mark Martin during one faculty meeting. “We are all in this together.” And more than a few faculty members went above and beyond—as just one example, Jeff Caldwell, a faculty member and pianist in the School of Music, recorded 120 customized piano tracks for students in vocal studies to use for their virtual lessons, recitals, and juried performances. (For more examples of how faculty members adapted their teaching, see “Home School.")
Meanwhile, the staff kept serving students, albeit remotely. Counseling, Health, and Wellness Services staff members continued seeing students, relying heavily on telehealth appointments, and the staff in academic advising also met virtually with students. Career and Employment Services (CES) maintained a robust schedule of appointments, along with online events such as the Virtual Summer Job and Internship Showcase and a weekly online series called Ask a Logger: Career Q&A With Alumni. (One notable Ask a Logger presenter was Jessica Columbo ’07, who graduated just in time for the recession of 2007–08—and who now runs a thriving digital and social marketing agency.) CES staffers also called every graduating senior to check on them and to offer support as needed.
For many students, the move off-campus was abrupt and unplanned: They left for spring break, not knowing that they wouldn’t be returning. The Office of Residence Life arranged for them to return at the end of the semester to retrieve their belongings or, depending on the student’s preference, to have a moving company pack up their room and either store the contents in a secure area of Warner Gym or ship them to the student’s home.
About 130 students petitioned successfully to stay on campus; these included students whose homes are outside the U.S. and those who had safety concerns, among other reasons. Dining and Conference Services (DCS) stayed open to serve those students, as well as others who lived near campus and kept their meal plans, and essential workers who stayed on campus. DCS staffers made a point to tailor their meal options to the students’ nutritional needs, allergies, and religious preferences.
One day in mid-April, President Crawford and his partner, Kent Korneisel, baked cookies in the president’s house; the cookies were delivered to on-campus essential workers as a gesture of thanks.
The students themselves, regardless of where they were living, tried to create normalcy—and community—where they could. ASUPS (the Associated Students of the University of Puget Sound) maintained a schedule of livestreamed performances, ranging from Tom Higgenson of the pop group Plain White T’s and country singer Hunter Hayes to poet Troy Osaki and comedian and slack-key guitarist Kermet Apio.
For fraternities and sororities, the April 15 Greeks Got Talent show could have been canceled, but organizers decided that the show would go on—virtually. Rather than performing live, 14 participants sent in videos of their talents, ranging from juggling to solving a Rubik’s Cube to playing a SpongeBob SquarePants-inspired tune on an Irish whistle. Via social media, more than 500 members of the campus community watched the videos and cast votes for the winners. Katie McCannon ’21 of Alpha Phi took first place for her Tiger King “Savage” dance on the social media platform TikTok.
Panhellenic Council programming director Ashley Brauning ’21 (Kappa Alpha Theta), looking for a way to foster a sense of community, devised a pen-pal program, matching interested sorority sisters with one another, so they could write to each other via snail mail. About 60 sorority members participated, sending everything from weekly updates to Netflix recommendations to candy bars to their pen pal. Brauning assigned herself a pen pal, as well, and says, “It’s been rewarding for me—not only to make a new friend but also just to feel connected to campus.”
Other students pitched in to help in the pandemic in a variety of ways, large and small. Capriana Jiang ’23, along with her brother Trenton, created the Facebook group “Mask-ER-Aid,” which has helped people make more than 1,250 masks, 300 surgical caps, and 340 ear-tension relievers for health care workers in San Jose, Calif. First-year student Jules Tan ’23, double majoring in violin performance and English, gave neighborhood concerts from the front porch of her home in Boise, Idaho. And occupational therapy grad student Gabrielle McKenzie M.S.O.T.’21, who specializes in restorative yoga, offered live virtual yoga lessons for her classmates on Zoom twice a week. “We focus on gentle stretching, alleviating stress, and relieving muscle aches that result from being at a computer all day,” she says.
The university also did what it could to help the cause. It donated excess N95 masks to local health care facilities, and the campus’s Makerspace manager, Jada Pelger ’96, cranked out 3D-printed masks and mask extenders for use by a local hospital.
At press time, an end to the pandemic was not yet in sight. Two major events scheduled for June—the annual Summer Reunion Weekend and the Alumni Council Volunteer Summit—will not take place this year, and the university has said that remote learning will be in place through at least June 26. Given the most recent guidance from Washington state, the university is planning to welcome students again and resume in-person classes (while adhering to public health guidelines) in the fall, and potentially sooner. At the same time, according to President Isiaah Crawford, “We also are planning for contingencies, including—if absolutely necessary— enhanced remote learning that will incorporate the best of what we have learned from this semester.”