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Cover Story 

Our Response

On the morning of March 12, 2020, the Donnelly College community was gathered to celebrate Pi Day, an annual event hosted by a small committee led by math faculty member Dave Cobb. Pi Day is all about math, pie, games and fun. At that time, while we were certainly aware of how COVID-19 was impacting the world around us and the Kansas City community, we were cautiously moving forward, trying to keep life on campus as normal as possible.

Campus business was occurring as usual. Morning classes were conducted as scheduled. Emails were flying between staff members about various plans in the works: the number of students that would participate in the commencement ceremony in May, scheduling “hard hat” tours of the new building, and even plans to hold a public farewell celebration for our existing tower building before it permanently closes for demolition this fall.

But, as we all know, none of that would happen as we thought it might. While we were hosting Pi Day, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly announced the state's first confirmed death linked to COVID-19 and a issued a state of emergency declaration for Kansas. That first death was in Wyandotte County. The crisis that had started across the world only months before had now made it just miles from campus.

ADJUSTING TO REALITY

By the next day, everything had changed. The President of the United States had declared a national state of emergency, just two days after the World Health Organization had declared the spread of COVID-19 a pandemic. In response, on the morning of March 13, David Alvey, Mayor/CEO of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, convened a conference call with many of the area's leading institutions, response networks and government agencies to discuss plans. Participants included Donnelly College, Kansas City Kansas Community College, University of Kansas Medical Center, USD 500 school district, the Archdiocese of KansasCity in Kansas, Unified Government and Health Department representatives, and many more.

At the conclusion of that call, it was clear the campus-based experiences our students had been engaged in just the day before would change drastically in the days ahead. Fortunately, the following week was Spring Break for students. Staff were instructed to work from home and await the next set of decisions to be made as the crisis unfolded.

ESSENTIAL AND CONTINUING TO SERVE

Within a few days, Kansas’ stay-at-home order was put in place and eventually extended into early May.As part of that order, higher education providers were considered essential and allowed to continue operations, but only with modifications in place to accommodate social distancing. 

During that week, Donnelly’s leaders made the decision to extend Spring Break an additional week to accommodate shifting all face-to-face instruction to (online) distance learning. Although essential personnel returned to campus during that second week of Spring Break, most faculty and staff transitioned their workspaces to home and began preparing to complete the semester remotely. Staff modified, postponed or cancelled projects and events, and faculty adjusted their lesson plans and upgraded their technology to support the move to online classes.

While campus facilities were not open to the public (except for limited hours when students could access computer labs), all departments remained accessible and functioning:

• Admissions and Financial Aid continued to accept new students and issue scholarships and financial aid.

• Academic Advisors met online or over the phone with students needing to choose classes.

• The Tutoring Center conducted virtual tutoring sessions.

• Library services and research materials remained available online.

• The Counseling Center offered secure online therapy sessions via video conferencing and sent out weekly emails to promote well-being during

the uncertain times.

• Campus Ministry began offering online resources including bible studies, scholarly presentations and videos. The College was also pleased to be ableto connect students, staff and faculty with a daily livestreamed Mass given by Archbishop Naumann.

• The Campus Cupboard, which provides food and personal care supplies to students in need, began offering no-contact, curbside pickup each week.

• Our instructors at Lansing Correctional Facility converted assignments to an electronic correspondence format. Donnelly was recognized by Kansas Secretary of Corrections Jeff Zmuda for continuing to provide educational services during this crisis.

Like most other schools, Donnelly made the difficult decision to reschedule May graduation and nursing pinning ceremonies to August 1.

In addition to instructional and physical distancing changes put in place, financial implications for the College and our students were also considered. Most Donnelly students typically work 20-40+ hours per week in addition to their school load, and many of their restaurant and other service jobs were halted by shutdowns. To ease students’ financial concerns, Donnelly extended all payment plans for current students, pledged to continue to pay work-study students, and began working to secure additional scholarship support, which is projected to be our biggest need in the coming fiscal year. Donnelly also secured a federal payroll protection program loan.

By late March, Congress passed the CARES Act to address the national crisis caused by the pandemic. Donnelly received almost $300,000 to issue direct grants to students and assist with costs related to shifting to distance education.

CONSTRUCTION PROGRESS

While normal activity was at a minimum on campus, construction continued on our new academic building. Governor Kelly’s order classified construction companies working on projects such as Donnelly’s academic building as essential businesses so our general contractor, Excel Constructors, and their sub-contractors continued work. While we anticipate some delays to our original timeline as a result of the pandemic, we remain hopeful the building will still open in fall 2020.

Excel instituted a job site policy for dealing with COVID-19 as early as March 16. Unfortunately, by early April the virus had found its way to workers at the Donnelly College construction site. Over the course of the next several weeks, Excel initiated multiplein-depth cleaning and disinfecting periods and they and their sub-contractors worked hard to contain spread. As the situation evolved, Donnelly and Excel, in conjunction with local and state health officials, took steps to prevent the spread of the virus on our site. Because the safety of all crew members is of the utmost importance, Donnelly maintains regular communication with Excel as well as local and state health care officials, regularly seeking their advice and counsel regarding our building project. Throughout this period, Wyandotte County health officials recommended that the Donnelly site remain open. At the time of publication, we are pleased to report that we have had no known cases of COVID-19 infection among our faculty, staff,or board.

THE FUTURE

Despite these immediate pandemic-related challenges, College leadership has not lost sight of Donnelly’s long-term goals of strengthening our mission and realizing our vision for our students and our community. Academic program development continues, with a focus on further developing our bachelor’s and nursing programs. 

Like most institutions of higher education, Donnelly does anticipate future financial challenges as a result of this crisis. Because the College relies heavily on gifts and grants to make our mission possible each year, we remain especially grateful for our donors this academic year who helped ensure we were in a healthy financial position as we entered this unprecedented storm. As we work to sustain and expand our mission, we pray our donors will be able to continue their support even during these uncertain economic times.

We thank all our alumni, benefactors, volunteers, students, staff and faculty for their unwavering support and advocacy, and we look forward to reuniting the Dragons in our new home in fall 2020!

 

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