Update on plans for safely reopening this fall, plus new Honors College dean

It’s another day of sunshine and blue skies in Farmville. Like many other employees, I am currently working from home, but I often take my daily walk on Brock Commons—and I can tell you the campus has never looked better, as you can see in the photo above.

We know that Longwood’s beautiful campus is meaningful to you and your student, so we’re “keeping up appearances” in preparation for the return of in-person learning this fall.

Speaking of the fall, I wanted to share some updates with you today just in case you haven’t seen them.

First, Matt McGregor, leader of the Covid-19 Incident Command Team, talks about the planning underway to ensure campus safety when students return in the fall.

I’m also including an introduction to Dr.  Chris Kukk , the new dean of Longwood’s Cormier Honors College for Citizen Scholars, who is bubbling with ideas for the college.

Q&A with Matt McGregor, Leader of the Covid-19 Incident Command Team

What is your role on campus as vice president for wellness and auxiliary services?
I oversee health and wellness at Longwood, working closely with the three departments in student affairs that make up the wellness unit: campus recreation, counseling and psychological services, and the University Health Center. I came to Longwood in 2005 as the director of campus recreation, and I have been working with the entire wellness unit since 2009.

Matt McGregor, associate vice president for wellness and auxiliary services

You’ve been leading Longwood’s Incident Command Team that has been responding to the Covid-19 crisis. Can you tell us about some of the work that’s already been done and what that group is continuing to do?
We stood up the Incident Command Team in early March as the pandemic came to the U.S. The team includes representatives from the offices of Environmental Health and Safety, Emergency Management, Housing, Residential and Commuter Life, and Facilities as well as from the University Health Center. This summer we are focusing on preparations to open campus this fall, including developing protocols in the event we have Covid-19 cases, and establishing testing and contact-tracing guidelines for campus.

Longwood has said it’s committed to returning to in-person learning on campus this fall. What steps are being implemented so that students can return to campus safely to live and learn?
All aspects of on-campus life are being assessed, from academics to housing and dining arrangements to enhanced cleaning methods to health practices and education. We’re also working closely with the other Virginia public universities and the state, in particular the Virginia Department of Health.
     Some of our plans are starting to take shape, and others will take place over the summer. But there are a few key principles guiding them. One is that we have to assume Covid-19 will be present across the country for some time. Another is that, in general, college-age students are at low statistical risk of serious health effects—but some with underlying health concerns, along with older people in our community, do have elevated risk. We can’t eliminate Covid. But we can develop prudent and manageable steps to mitigate spread and to protect those at higher risk. That’s our goal.

Can you describe some of the ways that residential life and campus life in general might be different when students return to campus? Can we expect that there will be social-distancing protocols in place?
We are working on a number of ways to allow for more social distancing:
—Arranging and assigning individual classrooms so they allow for more space between students
—Offering more options for single rooms in our residential and off-campus managed housing facilities
—Possibly limiting large events
     Other areas of focus will be on hygiene, scheduling and things like PPE that can help mitigate exposure in some circumstances. We also care a lot at Longwood about developing good citizens, so preparing students and asking them to act responsibly for the greater good are an important part of this. Even in such an unusual situation, we don’t want to lose sight of our mission.
     Our overall goal is to provide as normal a semester as possible, with some appropriate modifications to our activities. We will also be following the state guidelines as laid out by the phases of the Forward Virginia plan developed by Governor Northam’s office.

Will Covid-19 testing be available when students return in the fall?
Both the federal and state recovery plans call for robust testing availability. The landscape of both testing technology and expert guidance is constantly changing. We believe wide availability of testing will be important, and we are working with health care providers and the state to explore a range of options and policies related to both students and faculty/staff. We will have testing capacity and practices in place, and we appreciate people’s patience as we work through exactly how that will work.

What is Longwood doing to be prepared if there are cases of Covid-19 on campus?
The Centers for Disease Control has just issued some preliminary guidance about how to respond in such instances, and the commonwealth is working on that, too. But even as that guidance takes shape, we are planning to make sure students who need to isolate are taken care of and able to stay on track academically. We are fortunate that we have a good deal of flexibility and space in campus housing, which we will make use of.

When can we expect more details?
We hope by mid-June to be able to communicate with faculty, staff, students and families in a way that gives a pretty good picture of what to expect next semester. We won’t have every answer then, and flexibility will be important, so over the summer those plans will take final shape.

What local health care resources are available?
Longwood is very fortunate to work with Potomac Healthcare Solutions as our management partner at the University Health Center. The center is staffed with trained clinicians (doctors and nurse practitioners) and their support staff to meet the acute and urgent care needs of students, faculty and staff. They have been and will continue to be an active partner in our planning, management and response to this pandemic. We also work closely with Centra Health, the major regional health care provider, which has an outpatient clinic a block from the north end of campus and a hospital one block from the south end.

All colleges are wrestling with how students will return to campus in the fall. What makes you confident Longwood is well-positioned to do this?
Our size and setting will be helpful in making in-person learning and campus life move forward this fall, while taking prudent steps to ensure public health. Through our response to Covid-19 on campus this spring, we have developed key relationships with the town of Farmville, Centra Southside Community Hospital, the Piedmont Health District and the Virginia Department of Health. All of these entities will be strong partners with us as we prepare to safely bring our students back for the fall semester. The safety of our students, faculty and staff will always be our first priority. There is no substitute for the on-campus learning experience, and we as a university are doing everything possible to safely return to college life this fall.

New Honors College Dean Is Bubbling With Ideas

Dr. Chris Kukk, the charismatic incoming dean of Longwood’s Cormier Honors College for Citizen Scholars, is absolutely bubbling with ideas.

Dr. Chris Kukk gives a talk on the power of compassion at a TEDxTalk in Nashville.

He talks about the Cormier Honors College as a hub for social entrepreneurship and its potential to be a nationally known center for the thinkers and citizens of tomorrow. These ideas and cross-disciplinary thinking aren’t just darts that get thrown at a board—they’re all connected in an intricate web of social science and responsibility that is fundamental, he says, to a thriving society.

These ideas are so important for the future of our world, says Kukk, there’s just no time to wait.

“When you put these really talented students from a lot of different backgrounds who have a lot of different interests in a situation that allows for experimentation, it drives the university forward,” he said. “As an education, that’s the best glass of chocolate milk you could drink every day. You just want to down it!”

Kukk comes to Longwood from Western Connecticut State University, where he is a professor of political and social science and founding director of the Center for Compassion, Creativity and Innovation.

During the selection process at Longwood, he outlined a vision of new kinds of careers—ones that take ideas from different disciplines and blend them together to come up with new questions to answer and new ways of addressing those questions. These are the jobs of the future, he said, and Longwood can be that undergraduate engine.

“Citizen leadership,” he said, “is social entrepreneurship. Let’s go after it.”

The Cormier Honors College for Citizen Scholars is a group of high-achieving Longwood students who live and learn together while completing honors courses that span multiple disciplines, maintaining rigorous academic standards and completing a study abroad experience before graduation. Named for Longwood’s 24th president, Patricia Cormier, the college received a record $2 million endowment gift in 2015 by Marc and Wilma ’66 Sharp and has become known as the home to academic innovation on campus.

You can read more about Kukk and his plans for the Honors College here.