Note: This is part of a series of stories exploring the ways in which Pittsburg State University has been preparing all summer for the fall semester in an effort to be as safe as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. Stories focus on specific aspects of campus life, including academics in each of the university’s four colleges, recreation, student health, and more.

In response to the coronavirus crisis, three very public-facing departments at Pittsburg State University have gotten innovative, the university says, reimagining events into virtual versions of themselves.

The guiding principle of their efforts, according to PSU, has been to provide engaging and valuable services to students and university constituents, including alumni, community partners, and the general public.

Career Services

“We’re redesigning every event we hold and everything we do,” said Mindy Cloninger, director of Career Services — an office that helps students pursue internships and employment during school and leading up to graduation, and helps companies across the region recruit students for those positions.

Last spring amidst shelter-in-place orders, her team transitioned services to Zoom and plan to continue offering all services virtually for the time being.

That includes temporarily closing the Career Clothes Closet, which provides free, gently worn interview outfits to students.

“That’s been a tough one; we are working to figure out a way to be able to safely do that,” Cloninger said. “We also aren’t accepting donations of clothes from the community right now.”

The office is adding a live chat to its website to field student employment and resumé questions Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Virtual appointments also may be made using Zoom or Teams.

Students will submit all employment paperwork entirely online now and will go through the HR process virtually.

“The virtual mock interview services we are doing are actually great training for real-world virtual interviews, which is what employers are doing now,” Cloninger said, “and probably will continue to do for the foreseeable future.”

But what about the office’s largest events of the year — including Meet the Firms Day, Fall Career Expo, Nursing Mock Interview Day, Teacher Interview Day, and Spring Career Day — some of which typically draw a few hundred company recruiters and about that many interested students?

“We had to grieve the loss of these events we love and what takes place there — it’s marvelous rapport building, relationship building, and networking. And then we partnered with companies like Handshake and Career Fair Plus to offer virtual versions of those,” Cloninger said. “They come equipped with virtual breakout rooms, which students should think of as the company’s ‘table’.”

For mock interviews, the office will use Big Interview, a “super cool, very robust platform,” Cloninger said, that allows students to listen to recorded questions and record their responses.

They can select their field, level of difficulty, and can email their response to faculty for a grade, or parents, or mentor to review.

The hugely popular Student Etiquette Dinner won’t be held in person, but Cloninger’s team is brainstorming how to hold something virtually, or record demonstrations, because a number of faculty require it and it’s a valuable pre-graduation tool for students preparing for the job market.

Alumni & Constituent Relations

To keep alumni and other supporters engaged this summer, the Office of Alumni & Constituent Relations created Gorilla Variety Hour: a light, upbeat Facebook video series featuring Gorillas who have talents and expertise in particular areas, from a faculty member who competes in triathlons to an alumnus who is really into beekeeping.

It’s been popular, said Alumni Director Jon Bartlow, and it likely will continue.

This fall, his team plans to host a virtual version of a longstanding tradition called Gorilla Gatherings.

Usually held in person for alumni in various geographic areas and hosted by Bartlow and his team, the virtual version will be based around specific topic areas of interest to alumni. Instead of handing out the traditional prizes in person, they’ll be mailed.

“We have some super popular professors who have touched thousands of lives and can jump on there and talk about what’s going on in their academic area, and we have some passionate graduates from various programs who we know will want to tune in to hear what’s going on,” Bartlow said. “The possibilities for that are endless.”

Taste of Pittsburg, typically a popular part of Homecoming festivities in October, will not be held this year, because it revolves around a large gathering of people serving food and eating together indoors.

Meritorious Achievement Awards, which were to be given in a ceremony last spring, have been postponed to Spring 2021. The 1970 Half Century Reunion, to have been held in combination with commencement in May, will be moved to May 2021 and held in conjunction with the 1971 Half Century Reunion.

Bartlow’s team also has been busy promoting and ordering approximately 3,000 Gorilla-themed masks, being made locally, to benefit the Alumni Legacy Scholarship fund and allow mask-wearers to display university pride. The project raised approximately $12,000 for student scholarships.

His team also is preparing for the annual Retired Faculty and Staff Brunch, traditionally held on campus in person. Now, it will be held virtually, but as an added touch, those who have RSVPd will be sent packets of ground coffee from Signet Coffee Roasters to enjoy together remotely.

“We’ll be back to in person some day!” Bartlow promised.

Axe Library

Axe Library still will be serving patrons, including students and the community, but those services will look a little different this fall.

Learning Outreach Librarian Ruth Monnier said the library’s material pickup that began this summer will continue.

“If you request materials online ahead of time and complete the pickup form, we’ll help you limit your time in the building,” she said.

The library maintains a virtual chat service and online library consulting via Zoom for those who need help with projects.

Staff are quarantining materials when patrons return them prior to putting them back into circulation, Monnier said, as well as doubling down on cleaning.

Cleaning carts also will be placed throughout the main library and the library housed at the Kansas Technology Center for those who wish to use disinfecting wipes themselves.

Furniture has been distanced, high contact areas have plexiglass, and each room has new occupancy counts, which may be found on the library’s website for those planning meetings.

“And in the fall, we’re reimagining our programming,” Monnier said. “If it’s in person, we might hold an event outside, or it may be held in person with a limited capacity and livestreaming for others to participate remotely.”

That programming includes the Welcome Back Beach Fair, Banned Books Week, and many other student-focused and community-focused events. Monnier encourages patrons to follow the library on social media and to check axe.pittstate.edu for continued updates.