The State of Higher Ed: Allegheny, Clarion, Waynesburg
We asked the presidents of the region’s colleges and universities to answer this question: As we move closer to the end of the pandemic, what strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats have become more apparent to you for your institution than they were pre-pandemic?
Hilary L. Link, Allegheny College
Allegheny College has been fully open all year, holding the COVID-19 infection rate to less than 1 percent at any given time.
Strengths contributing to success:
- Our close-knit campus prioritized each other’s health and safety.
- Allegheny used innovation and flexible thinking, forming the Allegheny College Health Agency (ACHA) to fill the gaps in clinical and public health services in Crawford County.
- We used innovation to reduce risk, introducing a new three-week remote January Module showcasing cross-disciplinary courses — our hallmark.
- We collaboratively surrounded ourselves with experts, utilizing 12 active working groups tackling and solving interwoven issues and unexpected problems.
The pandemic highlighted a weakness by upending our approach to residential education. We had to pivot rapidly to remote education, struggled to keep everyone informed as information and plans changed daily, and made contingency plans for unimaginable situations.
The learned challenge: Mental health aspects of the pandemic have been as hard to manage as physical ones for our students. Quarantining and isolation were stressful; we increased support to include health checks and mental health checks, nutrition, academic and social support.
The pandemic highlighted opportunities: Allegheny strengthened local connections and collaborations, inspiring us to create an Office for Economic, Civic and Community Engagement to involve the local and regional community in inclusive solutions and a vision for a strong and resilient future.
Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson, Clarion University
Clarion University’s strengths have been reaffirmed through this pandemic. Our strength is our people; they are why our students excel. Our history in online education enabled a pivot — literally over a weekend last March — to remote learning. Our commitment to social equity led to establishing the Center for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Our focus on students kept them safe, engaged and progressing toward their degrees. We are doing what we always do: Working hard, delivering educational excellence and keeping our Wings Up!
The pandemic has provided opportunity for weaknesses to be revealed, but I’m hard-pressed to name any. We pride ourselves on our grit and grace; we work through challenges and use them as a tool to learn and improve.
The pandemic has provided an abundance of opportunities for Clarion: We enhanced our expertise in online education. We provided outstanding student support services remotely. And importantly, we developed habits that support our goal of becoming a paperless campus.
Although Pennsylvania’s COVID cases are trending down, we must all remain vigilant to fight the threat of large-scale closures. We are preparing for a traditional fall semester in 2021 and will continue to follow the commonwealth’s recommended health and safety guidelines.
Douglas Lee, Waynesburg University
At Waynesburg University, our mission of educating students to live lives of purpose has led this university through the trials of this last year. Our mission has connected the entire Waynesburg University community, and that has made all the difference. Not only has our mission united us, it has also led us to continue our commitment to serving the surrounding community throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
One recent initiative that demonstrates this is our Nursing Program’s involvement in the monumental task of administering community-wide vaccinations. Additionally, Waynesburg University’s CSR Center recently conducted a study of local nonprofits to assess the impact of COVID-19. This study resulted in a new nonprofit leadership program, developed in partnership with the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management at RMU, aimed at helping nonprofits find success in today’s world. The impact of our mission extends beyond our borders as well. Entrepreneurial leadership students are currently virtually mentoring a group of women in the Dominican Republic, focusing on skills in product development, marketing and sales.