In early March our daily lives and routines began to change in unexpected and unprecedented ways, with each sunrise seemingly ushering in new questions and lingering uncertainties—and one more day of this difficult period in history.

But for Southeastern and its people, the best way to overcome a challenge is through fierce determination, creativity and innovation, and working together towards a common purpose. Instead of succumbing to the difficulties that each day has brought, Southeastern’s faculty, staff, students, and alumni have been conquering them with great success.

When in-person classes were suspended beginning Friday, March 13, faculty and staff across the board tirelessly focused on creating strategic plans, along with researching and learning new tools and methods, in order to ensure that students continued to thrive and be fully engaged. On Wednesday, March 18, remote instruction officially began. Standing upon these initial plans and tools, it was time to enter this new world of virtual learning amidst the backdrop of a growing pandemic.

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Southeastern’s Center for Faculty Excellence and Center for Student Excellence are two such areas that began preparing for the move in advance of the first day of fully remote learning—and continue to offer a variety of tools and resources for members of the Southeastern community.

When the transition was announced, the Center for Faculty Excellence, which exists to provide support to Southeastern educators, rapidly pivoted to provide on-campus workshops to faculty before the University physically closed, followed by both live streaming and recorded webinars and online advising and tools.

“You can’t just put a face-to-face class online,” said Dr. Mary Ballard, the center’s director. “Learning objectives have to be re-examined, and new ways of achieving them are often needed. Activities that work well in the physical classroom may no longer work in the virtual one. Our workshops and one-on-one time helped those struggling with this concept.”

The Center for Student Excellence, which offers guidance to first-year students, transfer students, and students that are uncertain about their major or career, in addition to tutoring and supplemental instruction for all students, quickly transitioned their services to a digital format as well—including making online advising and Tutoring Center sessions available to students through Google Meet.

a040220_124“This is a great opportunity for students to stay connected with Southeastern,” said Brooke Giaratano, a Communication Sciences and Disorders graduate student and Tutoring Center graduate assistant. “Students can access many resources for remote learning during this time.”

Continually supporting faculty, staff, and students also remained the primary mission of Sims Memorial Library, which physically closed on March 18 but was able to fluidly transition to the new remote requirements. “Most of our services and hundreds of thousands of books and journal articles are available online,” said newly retired Library Director Eric Johnson.

In addition to these vital resources, members of the Southeastern community have also been able to access a variety of materials, including digital magazines, language learning tools, and special online libraries, allowing the library to effectively continue this mission.

To provide as close an experience to that of walking into the library, staff have remained available to help with research and locating books and other materials through an online 24/7 reference chat feature, text, telephone, and email.

For patrons who prefer physical publications, the library automatically renewed all checked out books until the end of the semester. On June 1, Inter-Library Loan operations resumed, and staff began offering Sims-2-Geaux, a new service that offers touchless curbside pickup of reserved books and equipment.

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For those who wished to purchase books and other items including apparel, electronics, and school supplies, or send gifts to their favorite Lions during lockdown, the University Bookstore offered free shipping with no minimum purchase during the height of the pandemic. The store continues to offer free shipping with a $65 minimum purchase, along with free curbside pickup.

Southeastern’s Textbook Rental, which saves students thousands of dollars each year as compared to the standard requirement by most universities to purchase all course materials, initiated a way to make returning books convenient and free for all students. While students in the area were able to drop off their items, return shipping labels were also made available so that those from further away, having already returned home, could mail their books back without the burden of a return trip or mail costs.

Throughout all initiatives enacted across the University, the health and safety of members of the Southeastern community has remained at the forefront. Three different areas that already specifically catered to facilitating the mental and physical health of members of the Lion Family actively ensured the continued welfare of those that they serve throughout the physical closures.

According to the CDC, “fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children,” and social isolation can also take its toll. To help students, faculty, and staff overcome such mental and emotional burdens, the University Counseling Center stepped up to provide crucial counseling services through telemental health counseling, serving both ongoing and new clients in need. As of May 31, 140 students have reached out about this service, and 74 have completed the required paperwork and scheduled appointments.

The University Health Center never physically closed in order to serve students who remained on campus and assist by appointment individuals without suspected COVID-19 who require an in-office visit, commonly for TB skin tests or physicals for internships and blood work for the nursing program. To cut down on people having to come in, Health Center staff helped people over the phone as much as possible, including with prescription refills, and, on May 11, they began offering telehealth visits.

The REC, citing studies that demonstrate how exercise benefits not only physical but also mental health, began creating and implementing virtual 5ks to help keep participants active and well. Over 75 registrants took advantage of the first two races, and more virtual events are scheduled over the coming months. The REC additionally offered access to free online fitness resources, a sports movie bracket challenge, and e-sports intramural leagues.

modern - CopyAlso identifying this need for virtual offerings to help keep the community engaged, the Columbia Theatre for the Performing Arts created several initiatives with their own specialized spin. Columbia Famous, an online talent contest, attracted over 60 entrants who were able to express themselves and demonstrate their artistic talents in a variety of categories. Over 3,500 people voted for their favorites. The Columbia Theatre will begin offering this new contest on an annual basis due to its demonstrated success. Some of their other offerings include the new High School Playwriting Contest, virtual theatre performances, and a visual arts project that is currently in the works.

Communicating information about these ways to maintain success and stay connected—as well as providing critical and in-demand news, helping alleviate some uncertainties during these often confusing and stressful times—has remained of paramount importance to Southeastern. The University’s communications outlets have jumped feet first into ensuring that the community receives accurate, useful, and timely information.

The Southeastern Channel launched Northshore News Update: Coronavirus on the Northshore. This program provides a weekly update of the most timely, critical, and useful information for residents of the Northshore, with student reporters Lorraine Weiskopf, Gabby Cox, and Kaylee Normand working, interviewing guests, and filing reports from home.

The program was selected as one of three broadcast winners from over 700 entries and 258 universities for a national College Coronavirus Coverage Award. The Society of Professional Journalists in conjunction with the Associated College Press; Society for News Design; College Broadcasters, Inc.; and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education presented the Southeastern Channel with this prestigious award.

Student newspaper The Lions Roar, in continuous publication since 1937, was also honored for its coronavirus coverage. It was the only college newspaper in the state recognized in a front page competition organized by the Louisiana Press Association to draw attention to the personal impacts of COVID-19.

KSLU, which recently took home awards for Best College Radio Station and Radio News Reporting in this year’s Southeastern Journalism Conference competition, as well as multiple awards from the Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press Broadcasters and Media Editors College Competition, has been maintaining its broadcasts to continue entertaining and connecting with listeners while also providing Southeastern students with increased hands-on experience.

For business owners, the co-hosted Louisiana Small Business Development Center (LSBDC) at Southeastern and WTGG Tangi 96.5 radio program Let’s Talk Recovery was of particular benefit. It helped provide crucial guidance specific to business recovery during this economically difficult and hard to maneuver time. LSBDC at Southeastern has also been creating and facilitating online workshops for businesses, with 1,530 attending by mid-May and new virtual series being offered over the coming months.

a030620_039While alumni can benefit from the above offerings, additional online resources were launched by the Southeastern Alumni Association to better meet the needs of those that it serves. A more visually appealing, easy to navigate, and mobile-friendly website was made live soon after the physical shutdown in March. Among the many features are a news section that highlights alumni, the University, event information, and announcements from the Alumni Association; information on Southeastern traditions; and downloadable items such as Roomie emojis, desktop wallpapers, and a ringtone of the fight song.

“The new site gives better access to ways to get involved, connect with one another, give back, and show Lion Pride,” said Executive Director of Alumni Relations Michelle Biggs.

To aid graduates and students in supporting the businesses of fellow alumni during this critical time, a business directory was added to the Alumni Association’s Southeastern Connect platform. Alumni entrepreneurs have the ability to list their businesses so that members of our community can identify and patronize them. Users can also securely and directly contact listed businesses, as well as receive special offers.

“During this time of uncertainty and financial loss, we need to support our alumni, friends, and community more than ever,” said Biggs. “We are excited for the opportunity to give our alumni-owned businesses a platform that allows their business to shine.”

The Alumni Association has also partnered with Southeastern’s Workforce Talent Initiative program to promote free Amazon Web Services certifications and with the Office of Career Services to share information on Handshake to help alumni stay career competitive.

For overall University communications to not only students and alumni but also the entire community, the Office of Marketing and Communications tackled the need for updates and information by releasing 370 Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn posts with 2,952,018 total impressions; 39 news releases; 19 YouTube videos; and 18 e-newsletters / emails between March 11 and May 18. A webpage, southeastern.edu/coronavirus, was created at the beginning of the pandemic to serve as a resource for all University COVID-19 information, news, and announcements.

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While most departments have been working remotely, several have maintained a presence on campus in order to continue to provide essential services. Dining Services provided to-go meals and University Housing maintained residence halls for those who needed to remain on campus. The Document Source, Southeastern’s printing and mail center, remained open with limited hours two days a week—as well as on call—to meet the needs and continued work of the University community. The University Police Department maintained a presence to ensure a safe environment, keeping with Southeastern’s reputation as one of the safest campuses in the region, while Physical Plant kept the grounds and buildings in top shape, awaiting the return of a once again full campus. Additionally, sanitation and protective measures were carried out that included disinfecting all surfaces across campus, from desks and books to housing rooms, doors, and water fountains, along with installing plexiglass counter guards.

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Thanks to these efforts and more, the future looks as bright as ever. Enrollment reached 4,215 for the summer semester, a 10.4 percent increase over last year, with students choosing to take advantage of Southeastern’s innovative Summer Online program. This
reimagined summer semester features virtual courses; a $300 credit for both undergraduate and graduate students; waived student-assessed, out-of-state student, and international student fees for undergraduate and graduate students; and no application fee.

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To aid this high level of enrollment and counteract the necessary cancellation of many recruitment events, Admissions developed new ways to stay in touch with high schoolers and their families while the University operated remotely. Live streaming events on sites including Facebook, Instagram, and Zoom were held. Students, parents, and family members have also been able to schedule appointments with University recruiters or take virtual tours of campus. Additionally, a new website was created to allow students near and far to stay connected to Southeastern and provide a one-stop source for admissions virtual events and updates.

“We are excited to be among the first in the region to launch a dedicated website to continue to serve our future Lions during the statewide closures. Moving quickly to online was an easy switch for the Admissions Team,” said Director of Admissions Anthony Ranatza. “You matter here is not just a tagline—it is personal with our team.”

All of these measures are still only a taste of the University community’s efforts to keep Southeastern strongly moving forward in the face of the unexpected obstacles presented by COVID-19. Each member of our Lion Family has played their own unique role, making it impossible to fully delve into all the individual and area achievements. But while each has made a tangible impact, together they unite for something far larger and more powerful: the personal success of countless current and future students, the continued economic success of the region, and a prime example of the boundless fortitude of Southeastern and its people—a vivid demonstration of true Lion Spirit.

By Sheri Gibson

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