What good is a college without a campus? That phrase is taken quite literally here at Wittenberg, as it should. Most students would not want to be stuck studying at home, and the staff themselves much prefer to be meeting face to face; something we’ve been lucky enough to be doing so far as we continue the transition into September.
So, what has the faculty been up to with holding back the virus? In conversations with Senior Associate Athletic Director Bret Billhardt, Director of Admissions Kelsey Ellis, and Vice President of Enrollment Management Carola Thorson, issues addressed were about what strategies their departments are undertaking to keep the campus open and safe.
Billhardt goes into new initiatives that have been put in place to ensure the wellness of both the campus and visitors.
“You’ll notice when you enter [the HWA], you’ll check in at the desk and have your temperature and symptoms taken. A couple other measures that are in place right now are some of the sign up measures you’re seeing. In the new weight room, we’ve also got 16 individual lifting racks spaced six feet apart, so we allow 16 [people] in there on the hour, every hour,” Billhardt said.
Billhardt also mentioned these spacing guidelines have applied to the fitness center, as well as the now-opened pool. Hand sanitizing stations are up all over the building, as well as wipes and sanitizing solutions in the weight rooms.
“One of the pieces that we have put into place is a health and wellness questionnaire our visitors have to complete prior to visiting, we also have a hand-washing station we’ve installed right outside the office of admissions for guests and our team members as well,” Billhardt said.
Ellis then discussed some of the general guidelines being followed, such as widely available sanitizer dispensers, the campus mask policy and how recruiting and retention will differ from the year before.
“We’ve implemented quite a few new pieces, for example we’re starting online sample classes over Zoom. They’re 30-minute sessions with interactive parts as well, so faculty members can both teach and give prospective students feedback. We also have virtual information sessions through a webinar format, and that is given by admissions counselors, and we’re also going to be doing student-led social media streams on Fridays to really engage with some of the new students, and give them that kind of inside look at what it’s like to be at Witt,” Ellis said.
Additionally, Ellis explained that off-campus visits, formerly done at schools, college fairs and coffee shops, would also be set up online, yet still retaining that personal connection the department strives for.
Billhardt opens up when asked specifically about recruitment.
“In terms of recruiting incoming student athletes, we really didn’t see any downturn at all in athletics this year. Now we’ve had a few that have chosen not to come or withdrawn due to COVID, which is understandable, but I think now it gives our coaches a unique opportunity that they’ve never really had, and they’re taking full advantage of it. Recruiting, as you know, it’s a very personal connection, and our coaches have had more time than ever to make those connections. Our numbers are actually up right now, with visits and tours, and I really think part of the importance of us staying open means we can show students and recruits that this is a strong community, and I think if anything we’re not seeing a negative impact,” Billhardt said.
Billhardt, Ellis, and Thorson were all asked about anyone who is struggling to roll through the punches of the pandemic and the advice each would give.
“I think it’s important to remind the students that yeah, we’re in this together, but don’t forget there’s still actual people around you, and still being able to talk and interact with each other breaks that barrier, and you’ll know that other people are there for you. At the end of the day, we have such a wonderful community, and we have wonderful support. Our students are just phenomenal, and it’s a gift to have the community that we do,” Ellis said.
“While we know that some of these things put in place make it look different than what we’re used to seeing, it’s for the right reasons. We want to be here and be together. We’ve had everyone’s health and safety as our top priority, and I would say just stick with us and keep helping us drive home the point of following the protocols so that sooner rather than later we can unmask, if you will, and get things back to being a little bit more normal,” Billhardt said.
“Something that we do within our own office is that we acknowledge that its hard. There isn’t something that’s easy about saying ‘I’m going to wear a mask’, or ‘I’m going to distance’. But what we can do to help ourselves and each other is just acknowledge that yes, it’s hard. But even then, we’re still together. Just remember it’s not forever, we can get through this and then we can do all of the things that bring us joy again,” Thorson said.