A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, PSU looks forward

Zackary Wiggs / news@morningsun.net

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Roughly a year ago, COVID-19 began to affect the U.S. As restrictions and changes were made to daily life, we all had to adjust in one way or another.

One place that changed drastically was the university classroom, where students from around the world are housed, learn, and interact.

For the safety of its students, Pittsburg State University enacted a series of changes that would slow the spread of the virus. Dorms which usually housed multiple students were transitioned to one-person rooms.

Classes switched as well to mostly online or hybrid courses where in-person meetings were limited. But the changes didn’t end there; campus student employment, dining halls, and events had to be accounted for and modified with the students’ safety in mind. Plexiglass dividers, masks, sanitizer and other safety equipment was made readily available.

With the help of the Crawford County Health Department and on-campus medical staff, weekly updates were sent out on the severity of the COVID-19 situation on campus.

For students, “none of this was easy for them,” Andra Stefanoni, director of media relations at PSU, said in an email, “but they did a fantastic job of adjusting and complying so that they could continue making progress toward their degree.”

There was still time for fun during all of this, with many events, from visiting speakers to sports games, being streamed online.

Staff too had to adjust their methods of teaching and work under new protocols. The various departments across campus aided one another in the transition to a more online-heavy workload. The IT department drastically expanding the university’s online capabilities made for an easier transition, although that still led to the challenge of teaching without face-to-face contact — a challenge that many teachers took great pride in overcoming.  

Rion Huffman, professor of graphics and imaging technologies, saw the challenge firsthand.

“Students struggling to stay organized and struggling with mental health,” he said. “Students that may have an outstanding track record of being punctual both in attendance and with their assignments have fallen behind a bit. Students that struggled with those elements pre-COVID now have an even steeper climb.”

He wasn’t dissuaded though.

“This means that I devote more time to helping students one-on-one, which is not a bad thing, but it does pull me away from other responsibilities sometimes,” Huffman said. “I also talk to a lot of students and hear their concerns.”

As vaccines now rollout nationwide, some of these concerns are now lessened. But what does Pitt State see in the upcoming year?

“We continue to stay in touch with local and county health officials and are continuing testing at the Health Center and weekly reporting of case numbers,” Stefanoni said. “Hopefully, as the vaccine reaches more and more people, we’ll be able to regain a sense of normalcy in the coming school year.”

Huffman too shared similar thoughts.

“I think it will have long term effects on how we teach, how we engage with students and how the public views education in general,” he said. “I’m always optimistic about the future. My hope is that things will start returning to normal and we will start having more in-person activities.”

As PSU looks back on the effectiveness of its COVID-19 precautions and how it will adjust them for the upcoming months, so too will other universities and classrooms across the globe.