When life was disrupted by the coronavirus in early March, one thing that didn’t change was the IHP’s commitment to community.
“It’s been important to retain our culture in the face of this pandemic,” President Paula Milone-Nuzzo said of the challenges faced in those early weeks when the virus prompted a statewide shutdown.
Once immediate challenges like the sudden switch to online classes were conquered, school administrators looked at how the school could redevelop from afar the tight-knit and supportive community that always has been a hallmark of the IHP.
Sure, there have been more than 10,000 Zoom meetings which partially filled the void of seeing people in person. But many other events quickly were established such as trivia nights, prize giveaways, and virtual pizza and ice cream parties. There were self-help virtual rooms for yoga and meditation, and other subjects as well, like a career development night with topics such as “How to Improve Your Resume,” and techniques to improve students’ LinkedIn profiles.
“We tried to make sure we had something for everyone,” said Dr. Jack Gormley, dean of student and alumni services. He, along with staff from the Office of Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) and the Office of Student and Alumni Services (OSAS), worked with more than 40 students and the Student Government Association (SGA) to help organize the recent Fall term’s Welcome Week series of events for new and returning students, a tradition that began three years ago albeit under more normal circumstances.
“We wanted to welcome people back in a new way since they can only be on campus for clinical education activities,” said Gormley, referencing that small groups of students using strict PPE and social distancing guidelines have returned for hands-on skill building. “We want new and returning students to have fun and for new students especially, to realize that while graduate school is difficult, we’re here to help them pursue their education even in these extraordinary circumstances."
One of the most popular student events was a virtual Harry Potter-themed escape room where teams worked together to answer questions that would help them “escape” Zoom breakout rooms to win the game. The escape room concept was so popular, in fact, that computer-savvy students got together to create even more escape rooms for Fall Welcome Week, said Swarna S. Gummadi, a second-year nurse practitioner student and secretary of the SGA, which helped promote some of the events that also included a virtual spelling bee and the IHP Votes initiative to spur registration and voting. “It’s been exciting to know we’re on a virtual platform but we can still be connected and engaged,” Gummadi said of the experience.
It’s not just students who strived to maintain connections from afar. A bi-weekly Town Hall and regular departmental staff meetings kept employees informed on the latest news, and the recent IHP Resilience virtual 5K road race which drew more than 120 participants raised money to support the COVID-19 Student Emergency Fund. A music night drew hundreds of alumni and staff to play music, sing, and tap dance their hearts out on a virtual stage. More than 1,000 people watched the virtual 2020 Commencement when 566 new graduates were feted for finishing their degrees and certificates.
“The communication and the transparency have been great,” said Jack Fitzpatrick, associate director of admissions and Staff Council chair, referring to the way IHP administrators have coordinated activities.
One of the highlights was the annual Faculty Convocation. It was staged like the Academy Awards, complete with Associate Provost of Academic Affairs Dr. Peter Cahn and Provost Dr. Alex Johnson handing out awards while bedecked in tuxedos and Director of Academic Operations Heather Easter, dressed in a long black gown, keeping the show on course.
“It was really a special event,” said Milone-Nuzzo, adding that the evening was so well-done, it even used virtual technology to make award winners appear to be walking down a virtual red carpet.
Although it’s easy to see why students and staffers are bonding over all this virtual hoopla, it's more than party games, prizes, and socials: it’s more about the people who value and appreciate the IHP’s culture. “We do have a wonderful community,” said Fitzpatrick, “and I think we’ve done a good job of keeping that spirit all across campus despite working from home.”
It’s a spirit that something not even the coronavirus could dampen.
- Bev Ford