Campus Stories of Innovation

Campus Stories of Innovation

Spring 2021

Essay Collection

As the COVID-19 pandemic has continued on for more than a year, a new rhythm of campus life has developed. Administrators, faculty, and staff at Christian colleges and universities rose to the challenge of adapting life on a college campus to a new reality. In a far-from-typical year, CCCU institutions’ innovative responses allowed them to help their students successfully and safely complete their coursework and other activities. The following is a collection of reflections from campus leaders across the country on the innovations they used to live out their campus missions in a unique time.

COVID-19 Testing

Preventing the spread of COVID-19 has been key to keeping campuses open and safe. Here’s how some CCCU institutions have tackled testing.

Belhaven University

Belhaven University built an on-campus COVID-19 testing center in order to track asymptomatic students, faculty, and staff. Opened in early 2021, the center utilizes the expertise of the university’s professors in the chemistry and biology departments, who expanded their roles in order to coordinate, test, and conduct labs on thousands of people each week.

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Belhaven was the only university in Mississippi to build a dedicated testing center. Using saliva samples, the center is able to test hundreds of people daily and have results back in just a few hours. This has better enabled the entire campus community to be able to have in-person classes or participate in other in-person work and activities.

The center also utilizes the assistance of student workers. Not only do they help the campus track any asymptomatic spread of the virus, but they are also able to gain valuable experience for future work in medicine and public health.

Greenville University

Thanks to their testing regimen, Greenville University was not only able to successfully welcome students back for an in-person fall semester; they were able to allow students who wanted to return for the final two weeks after Thanksgiving to do so as well.

A partnership with the University of Illinois Systems SHIELD program enabled GU to test all students, faculty, and staff every week — and even twice a week if needed — using rapid response saliva testing. Frequent testing on the campus revealed more positive cases in an age category that is largely asymptomatic. More than 20,000 such tests were administered over the course of the fall semester; by the beginning of December, the university had logged 94 total unique positive cases, with 36 of those cases being asymptomatic.

In addition to testing, GU also utilized contact tracing and quarantining practices to limit the spread of the virus. The university plans to continue its rigorous testing regimen through the remainder of the academic year.

Samford University

In developing their testing plan for the academic year, Samford University was able to utilize a resource already on campus: the faculty and students at the university’s McWhorter School of Pharmacy.

To assist its work in tracking the spread of the virus, the university launched a clinic to conduct focused testing by identifying common factors among positive cases, such as an event or location, and then identifying others who might share that common factor and testing them for COVID-19.

The program is under the leadership of the dean of Samford’s pharmacy school, and the tests are overseen by two faculty members who are supported by Doctor of Pharmacy students. Thus, the students gain valuable experience in lab procedure and conducting tests, as well as experiencing firsthand the connection between their studies in the pharmaceutical program and the broader work of public health — even as they help keep the Samford community healthy and safe.

Coaching Students Toward Success in a Difficult Year

By Sharra Hynes, Baylor University

When the COVID-19 pandemic rocked higher education, Baylor University recognized that student retention and success are everyone’s responsibility, especially in a pandemic. Even as national trends at private institutions showed student retention declining, the retention rate among all Baylor undergraduates from fall 2019 to fall 2020 jumped nearly one full point to 92.5%, the highest ever for the university.

We correlate some of our success to the fact that a large group of our students had consistent, individualized outreach every week through Baylor’s highly successful Bear Care program. Our goal was simple: Increase communication with students who were vulnerable or in distress because of the pandemic and its accompanying restrictions, and then support their needs. With no additional funds or staff, we focused on using existing resources, including employees from across the university who were working remotely and felt called to assist our students.

Program Creation

First, we identified students in need of extra support, focusing particularly on first-year and transfer students who had not yet had a full year on our campus. We also used data from a campus survey that included students who self-identified as experiencing particular anxiety around a number of issues (including the transition to online learning, their move home, financial challenges, health concerns, and other stressors).

By April 6, 2020, more than 9,000 students were receiving a weekly email, a text message, or both from their “Bear Care Coach,” a specific Baylor employee whom students could contact if they needed information, care, or assurance of Baylor’s commitment to support them. The average volunteer Bear Care Coach corresponded with 20 students, but some coaches engaged up to 80. Our most vulnerable students were paired with our care team services employees in student life, who could use their roles to support these students more intentionally through the spring and summer. As the pandemic continued, we knew Baylor would be welcoming a group of new students in the summer remotely, so we added those students to the program — bringing our total of students supported to more than 10,000.

Baylor was fortunate to be able to reopen for face-to-face instruction in the fall, but with ongoing uncertainties related to COVID-19, we kept our weekly interaction active through the 12th day of classes. We were intentional about creating a smooth handoff from the program to our existing care team services staff for students who still needed extra support. This proved vital as our care team services staff saw a 68% increase in their caseload in the fall. Pairing the momentum of the Bear Care program with our existing infrastructures and organizations was essential.

Key to Success: Mission-Driven Support

Important to the program’s overall success was the support of the faculty and staff, especially those 390 employees who became volunteers and dedicated the time to go through training and engage meaningfully with students in their care. It was so affirming to know that I was surrounded by colleagues who all shared the same mission. This employee commitment to mission is an excellent tool to leverage in supporting students.

Also important was the fact that the Bear Care program had executive-level support from its inception. As other campuses consider student retention and success initiatives, having that support and encouragement from the very top is critical.

Because of the Bear Care program’s success, our student life and student success teams can now leverage new ways to effectively support students, including a successful approach to identify students in need and the knowledge that we can call on other staff when needed. In a time of great stress, this program allowed Baylor to live out its mission to educate leaders “by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community” in a meaningful and effective way.

Sharra Hynes, Ph.D., is associate vice president and dean of students in the division of student life at Baylor University (Waco, Texas).

Using a Rich Tradition of Technology to Shape a Promising Future

By Angie Richey, Life Pacific University

As COVID-19 continues to reshape everyday life, industries around the world are finding themselves at the crossroads of tradition and innovation, which can be a perilous tightrope. For Life Pacific University, this has been an opportunity to write the next chapter of our nearly 100-year legacy of innovation.

Founded by Aimee Semple McPherson in 1923, the university has reinvented itself multiple times over the past century on its journey from being a Bible training institute to the international university system it is today. The first president was an innovator who developed a global audience through her use of emerging radio and film technologies. She was the first female evangelist on the radio, using a station that she owned, and she purposely integrated film and theatrical elements into her sermons because she knew that dramatic media was the language of the future. She used any and every technology available to her in order to keep the Gospel accessible in any situation.

When COVID-19 forced LPU to send students home for an extended spring break in March 2020, our staff and faculty turned to our founder’s legacy for inspiration as we transitioned the entire on-campus experience online in just under two weeks. By the time students logged back on for classes, 150 on-campus courses had been moved online, a team of success coaches was paired with every student, and the 500-seat Simonson Chapel had been converted into a temporary digital media studio for streaming chapels and classes and for recording webinars, podcasts, and events.

The reward was seeing the LPU community interacting with each other (virtually) as if they were all together in one room. Students and guests joined via Zoom or YouTube LIVE, and speakers had the ability to see their faces and engage with them through a chat feature thanks to larger monitors that are visible from the stage. This opportunity for two-way engagement was fundamental for producing high-quality, virtual events in an attempt to mirror the connection that is found in-person.

Reflecting on the dramatic, sudden shift into a digital experience, I believe that the changes made will help LPU reach more people all over the world for decades to come. We’ve all become more flexible, adaptable, and aware of the hurdles our students must overcome in order to be successful. We’ve invested in emerging technologies and listened to the needs of our students, communities, and churches. Through this investment, we’ve seen community built and students persevere through the hardest of challenges. May the lessons learned help us lean into innovation and creativity in order to equip more students who will make a positive difference in the world.

To this end, and to continue to develop leaders equipped to tackle the new technological realities of business and ministry emerging from the crisis, the university recently announced the “Media Campaign for Student Success,” designed to provide students with access to the technologies and resources necessary for leadership success in the modern marketplace. The campaign includes the creation of the Aimee Semple McPherson (ASM) Digital Media Center, an expansion of the temporary studio assembled to meet needs during the pandemic. As digital communication is clearly the language of our future, this focus allows LPU students to continue to collaborate with the media marketplace throughout Southern California, across the nation, and around the globe, writing the next chapter in LPU’s legacy of developing leaders who serve God in the Church, the workplace, and the world.

Angie Richey is the president of Life Pacific University (San Dimas, California) and a licensed therapist.

Creating Career Connections While Social Distancing

By Carol Brown, Indiana Wesleyan University

Faced with the challenge of connecting employers and students during the COVID-19 pandemic — where social distancing limits mean a traditional career connection event isn’t possible — our Life Calling and Career team at Indiana Wesleyan University utilized our critical thinking skills to address the challenge of connecting employers and students in a safe and creative way. Our team decided an outdoor tent space would provide employers and students with a safer environment to meet and share information for potential internships and employment. We knew this would be helpful for students looking for jobs, but we were surprised by how much interest this generated from recruiting employers. The registrations for the “tent event” calendar filled up quickly despite the pandemic, as many employers were thrilled to have an outdoor recruiting option.

Employers found the outdoor tent to be a festive and fun pop-up style recruiting option, while students seemed less intimidated to meet with employers at the outdoor courtyard tents than in a typical career fair setting indoors. We did move these events to a socially distanced indoor setup when the weather wasn’t ideal, but the successful experiment of the tent event taught our team the importance of adaptability and addressing the core need of both employers and students: a human connection.

Our team also utilized technology to help students, offering Zoom appointments for life coaching, resume reviews, and LinkedIn tutorials. New student orientation sessions on StrengthsFinder results were moved into an interactive online format featuring discussion groups for students to learn more about their top strengths. We provided student employees opportunities to hear speakers from other organizations through our SET (Student Employment Training) workshops on Zoom. In addition, we hosted IWU’s first-ever “Virtual Internship and Job Fair” in October, which featured more than 50 employers. This online job fair helped our traditional campus in Marion, Indiana, collaborate with our online school, IWU National & Global, to serve both groups of students and give them a chance to engage a national mix of employers.

Even with economic difficulties hitting multiple fields across the country, our office has seen a steady growth of employment opportunities in health care, education, communications, logistics, and accounting during this time. In fact, some industries have benefitted from the needs of the pandemic, so we are helping our students shift their target to the fields that are in demand. Most employers have adapted to remote working arrangements and are offering remote internships for IWU students. Our team maintained a steady marketing campaign to promote resume reviews over Zoom meetings, and appointments are nearly back to their pre-pandemic numbers.

As the pandemic continues to necessitate adjustments to how we do our work, the Life Calling and Career team continues to search for new and creative ways to build relationships with employers and deliver our services effectively to students so they can be equipped and empowered to fulfill their God-given purpose in the world.

Carol Brown is the associate dean of Life Calling & Career at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana.

Ministering to Students in Quarantine and Isolation

By Sarah Moss, Dordt University

Over the past six months, Dordt University Campus Pastor Sam Ashmore has spent hours on the phone with Dordt students in quarantine and isolation. Being alone for days can be difficult for many, so Ashmore makes sure to check up on how students are doing emotionally, spiritually, and mentally.

“I ask, ‘How are classes? How’s your heart? How’s your mind?’” says Ashmore. “But the main purpose behind the call is to pray with the student. We stop right there on the phone and pray for whatever the student needs at that moment, whether that be, ‘Man, studies are really hard in quarantine,’ or, ‘I’m really bored and lonely.’”

Since the beginning of the fall semester, Dordt’s campus ministries team has worked hard to provide pastoral support to students who are in quarantine or isolation because of COVID-19. In addition to making regular phone calls to students, the team developed a “Quarantine and Isolation Resources” page that Ashmore sends to every student who starts quarantine or isolation. The page contains many resources, including tips for defending well-being during quarantine and isolation, as well as a link to RightNow Media, the biggest Bible study library in the world.

“We also have a resource that deals with identity — a reminder to students that God calls them his son or daughter. There’s a form where students can submit prayer requests, too,” says Ashmore.

Every week, each campus ministries team member has a standing Zoom call where students in isolation or quarantine can hop on if they want; this includes a Zoom prayer time on Monday, a virtual hangout on Tuesday, a Zoom Bible study on Wednesday, and a virtual lunch on Thursday. Not all students take advantage of the Zoom calls, but they tell Ashmore that they appreciate having the option to log on if they want.

“Even if they don’t log onto the Zoom calls, it’s nice to know that someone is there for them — that someone cares,” he says.

In addition to providing pastoral care, Dordt’s campus ministries team has found a way to provide peer support to students in quarantine and isolation by hiring Carolyn Shonkwiler, a junior psychology and social work major. She handwrites letters of encouragement. Typically, she writes five to 10 letters a day, but at one point she wrote 20 to 40 letters a day. She has also baked chocolate chip cookies that she drops off for students.

“This work study job has provided an opportunity for me to serve in a tangible way,” says Shonkwiler. “I think it’s important to have someone reach out and recognize that going through quarantine is hard and that we see them — that they are still part of Dordt.”

Ashmore has noticed that students often want their peers to help carry their burdens and provide a listening ear.

“There is a lot of healing, growth, and creativity that takes place through peer-to-peer support and encouragement. Looking forward, I wonder if there’s a more intentional way for campus ministries to take part in peer-to-peer encouragement, truth-telling, counseling, or the like. I see students craving to be known for their authentic selves with their peers, and campus ministries can foster and facilitate this even more.”

Doing ministry during COVID-19 has also shown Ashmore that Gen Z students are quite comfortable with discussing their thoughts and feelings online and through text.

“I wonder if there is a place for text-driven pastoral care on Dordt’s campus,” he says. “Not to replace face-to-face interaction, but as a doorway to it. Will students be more engaged if we reach out to them through text initially? That’s something I want to ponder and think through.”

Sarah Moss is the director of communication and marketing at Dordt University in Sioux Center, Iowa.

Priorities, Possibilities, and Promises Kept

By Andrew J. Beckner and Omar Rashed, Anderson University (SC)

Last summer, every headline about higher education in every major news outlet told the same story: The pandemic had created a looming enrollment crisis.

But for years, Anderson University (Anderson, South Carolina) has been one of the fastest-growing private institutions of higher learning in the U.S., even in the face of numerous challenges. So our headline was different: “Despite COVID-19 Pandemic, Anderson University Sets New Record for Student Enrollment.”

In fall 2020, we enrolled almost 3,900 students, a jump of nearly 500 from the year before. Anderson enrolled the largest freshman class in its history; experienced a 5% increase in residential students; had freshmen to sophomore retention grow by almost 5%; and saw racial and ethnic diversity reach the highest level in the university’s history. This happened not just because of Anderson’s campus culture, but because our leadership took practical steps that led to a record-breaking enrollment.

Possibility and Promise

If there’s one thing we’ve learned during the pandemic, it’s that there’s no use trying to guess what’s coming next. That’s why Anderson University President Evans Whitaker shared a new vision with the leadership team: Don’t try to predict. Rather, focus on the possibilities, and reinforce the university’s promises and priorities.

Put simply, we made it clear that we’ll do everything in our power to keep campus open (the possibility) while never losing sight of our students’ academic and physical health (the promise). Our students and their families responded to that approach.

Risk Avoidance vs. Risk Management

We also had to embrace the reality that no organization can fully eliminate risk. Clearly, the stakes are higher amid this public health crisis; failure, in this case, is not inconsequential. Like most universities, we suspended in-person operations last spring. But as soon as the last of our students left campus, we shifted our focus to fall 2020 and the overriding question: How can we safely bring our family back together next semester? The discussion was led by our task force — a collection of faculty and staff professionals with experience in public health, emergency management, crisis communication, and executive leadership. With their insight and the guidance of almighty God, we decided the best course of action was to manage risk rather than try to avoid it.

Hosting In-Person Orientation for First-Year Students

A key early step was proactive engagement with the Class of 2024 and integrating new students into the AU campus culture. Based on the task force’s recommendations, we made the decision to move forward with in-person orientation sessions for first-year students during the summer. It was a challenge, certainly, and involved a lot of temperature checks, health screenings, face covering requirements, and creating space for social distancing, among other protocols. But it proved to be a crucial step in connecting with students and their families, and we were successfully able to remain free of COVID-19 throughout the summer.

Campus-Wide Commitment

It wasn’t just the enrollment team that was involved in this success. Communications leaders provided clear and consistent communication to our students and their families. The entire campus community displayed incredible adherence to our health and safety protocols, helping us keep our COVID-19 case count low. We hired staff whose sole responsibility was caring for students who contracted the virus — everything from contact tracing to arranging isolation housing and meal delivery. We treated our finances responsibly, ensuring no faculty or staff faced furloughs or layoffs.

Ultimately, as many CCCU colleagues an attest, I think it really comes down to how our faculty, staff, and students embrace our mission. Saying Anderson University is like a family isn’t just a slogan. It’s something all of us truly believe and embrace.

Andrew J. Beckner is the executive director of public relations at Anderson University (Anderson, South Carolina). Omar Rashed is Anderson’s senior vice president for administration and brand.

Shifts in Teaching

With all the challenges the pandemic created for classroom teaching, it also provided faculty a unique opportunity to develop new ways of teaching in some of their programs, as these examples show.

University of Northwestern – St. Paul

In the midst of pandemic lockdowns and social distancing, walking outdoors has been a key outlet for many people. Rick Love, an art and design professor at the University of Northwestern – St. Paul and faculty president there, began attending some meetings over Zoom on his phone while he was walking outside and realized that it worked so well, he could turn it into a classroom opportunity.

For his art history class, Love spent some class sessions walking around sites in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, with the help of a friend who filmed him, and engaged with students about the types of art they were seeing over the Zoom meeting. The locations varied from St. Paul’s historic Union Depot station to cemeteries with graves dating back to the 1850s. It allowed students to consider why certain types of art would be located in that part of Minnesota and bring their history studies to a new light.

“It really helped when everyone was nervous [about COVID-19 protocols] in the fall,” Love says. “We know the masks, the social distancing, the protocols all work now, but we didn’t then. … This felt like face-to-face classroom engagement.”

Love was also able to utilize recordings of himself doing demos for his printmaking classes, making it easier for students to learn new techniques in an “up-close” format while maintaining safe distances. Overall, Love says, the feedback he received from his students was positive, and he plans to continue utilizing the format in his coursework in the future, even after the pandemic ends. He also hopes, once restrictions ease and they feel more comfortable going out to new places, that it will encourage his students to go and explore the sites around them as well.

Southeastern University

One of the biggest pandemic challenges for parents has been to find ways to both support their children with their modified schoolwork and focus on their own work. At the same time, education students have not been able to gain the same classroom practice because of school closures. At Southeastern University (Lakeland, FL), the College of Education developed a program that could tackle both problems for students and employees at the university during the fall 2020 semester.

Known as RISE (Remote Instruction for Students of Employees), the program gave school-age children of Southeastern’s faculty and staff a safe and secure place to complete online coursework during the fall while their parents worked. Thirty-five students from the College of Education supervised the children, assisted with homework, and answered questions, providing them with field study hours for their degree.

Though the program is not currently running, RISE is ready to open again if needed. The program is directed by Cindy Campbell, assistant professor of education, who coordinated with multiple departments across campus to make sure the program could be run safely and effectively.

Milligan University

University staff responsible for cleaning and maintaining facilities have been essential to keeping campus communities safe during the pandemic. At Milligan University, a unique partnership between the housekeeping staff and a freshmen engineering class produced a useful tool that helps protect the housekeeping staff in their important work.

Carrie Floyd, Milligan’s service manager for housekeeping, wanted to find some sort of tool for her staff that could help them safely open and shut doors and drawers, push elevator buttons, and flip light switches — reducing the amount of direct contact they had with high-touch surfaces while cleaning — while also being small enough to fit on a key ring or in a pocket. Landon Holbrook, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, gave the challenge to his students in the Introduction to Engineering course. They used CAD software and a 3D printer to design several options for the housekeeping staff to test and offer feedback.

After a series of revisions to the design based on the feedback, the class produced the final design that the housekeeping staff deemed their favorite. The experience provided a hands-on opportunity both to learn about the entire process of engineering a product for customers and to help the members of the Milligan community.