PITTSBURG, Kan — Since school began in August, Pittsburg State University, like most universities, has been fighting against the spread of COVID-19 to keep its students and faculty safe and on campus. While the Kansas Department of Health and Environment still lists PSU as a cluster on its website, the university has had success containing the virus using minimizing tactics, particularly when it comes to student housing.
At the start of the year, all students moving into on-campus housing were required to take a COVID-19 test before moving in. Over 700 students were tested and around 11 positive cases were identified during this initial wave of testing. However, since then PSU has not had any further mandated testing for those living in on-campus housing, simply opting to trust their students to follow the other required safety proceeds like wearing a mask and social distancing.
“I really have to give our students a lot of credit,” said Dr. C. Jason Kegler, PSU’s new associate vice president of student life, who previously served as assistant vice president of student life but is now taking on new responsibilities, the university announced this week. “They are really, really doing a good job of wearing their masks and social distancing. I think as long as students and the campus community continue to respect COVID-19, I think that we will be fine.”
While they have not had any more mandated testing this semester, Kegler said that university officials, along with the county health department, are figuring out what they will need to do come spring semester. Whether that’s another round of mandatory testing when students return to campus, testing a sample of students or just continuing with optional testing.
“We’ll do whatever the county health officer requests us to do,” he said. “I’d like to think a decision is going to be made soon as far as what that is going to look like.”
In addition to the mandatory testing upon arrival, the university also allowed more students to opt for single rooms this year to allow for more distancing.
“That’s been working,” Kegler said. “It obviously helps with instances where we need to isolate students due to COVID. So, I think it was a win-win for the students, and I think it was a win-win for the university. I’m happy with where we are with that.”
Kegler said that as colder weather moves in, and PSU gears up for its first football game, there is some concern for a spike in cases, but he said it is nothing that they haven’t planned for.
“Pitt State has really adapted and I feel like we have met the challenge that COVID has presented and tried to provide a sense of normalcy for students,” he said.
In the midst of all of this, the university has also appointed Kegler as the new associate vice president of student life. In addition to the responsibilities of that role, Kegler will also be absorbing the responsibilities of the director of student housing when the current occupant of that position, Connie Malle, retires later this year.
“University housing has always been something that’s been near and dear to me,” he said. “It’s one of the places that I got my early foundation in higher ed.”
Kegler knows that this is a strange time to begin a new role, especially one that has seen so much change in the last year, but he is ready for the challenge.
“Anytime someone leaves it’s a good time to reevaluate where we are with things and how we’re doing things," he said. “University housing is one of several areas on campus that really are forced to evolve to the changing of the student population, of the student demographics and just the wants that our students arrive on campus with."
While he recognizes the essential need to keep everyone safe and healthy from COVID-19, Kegler said he is looking forward to the day when things, especially student housing, can go back to normal.
“These students come to us from homes where they have rooms that are bigger than our office and then you put them into a space that’s a little bit smaller with a person they typically don’t know,” he said. “I think university housing is a great opportunity for students to understand and really mature into the person that they’re going to be.”