At Drexel, Community Comes Together as Dragons Stay Apart

Trucks preparing to mail out the New Student Admission Letters as the University was closing on March 20. Photo credit: Mary K. Catalfamo.
Trucks preparing to mail out the New Student Admission Letters as the University was closing on March 20. Photo credit: Mary K. Catalfamo.

Please visit the ‘Drexel’s Response to Coronavirus’ website for the latest information on campus preparations and responses regarding COVID-19.

Spring term begins at a time when the “new normal” still doesn’t exactly feel normal, or even real. All of our lives were turned upside down by the novel coronavirus, and Drexel, along with universities everywhere, closed campus, shifted classes online and postponed commencement ceremonies, among other measures both big and small.

While modifying established procedures, protocols and events, the University and its students, faculty, professional staff, alumni and community partners have also created new ways to respond to the pandemic and its impact. 

Everyone is doing their part not just to keep themselves and their communities safe, but to uphold their commitment to the University and continue to engage in its community and its offerings — even when off campus and at home, wherever that may be across the country or around the world.

So, how have different parts of the University evolved together to adapt to this pandemic? Here are some examples of what has been done so far:

Helping Philadelphia Stay Strong

Drexel is supporting the City of Philadelphia by offering its facilities if the city needs space for during the pandemic. Dorms and other venues on campus could be readily converted to house health care workers who don’t want to possibly expose their family to the coronavirus.

As previously reported in DrexelNow, students, faculty and staff from the College of Medicine and College of Nursing and Health Professions helped to collect much-needed personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies for health care workers; so far, 18,000 gloves, 600 gowns and 1,300 masks have been donated. 

The Academy of Natural Sciences scientists and staff in its Membership Department donated 90 boxes of gloves, 100 masks, 30 boxes of wipes, three bottles of Purell and 420 safety goggles to St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, which Drexel owns in partnership with Tower Health. Additionally, while the Academy is closed to the public, its exhibits can be virtually viewed on its website and through Google Arts and Culture. Science tips and lessons for children to continue learning at home are available online.

The Student Health Center continues to monitor the spread of COVID-19 on campus while providing support to students and assisting the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. 

Supporting the Drexel Community While Campus is Closed

Administrative departments worked swiftly to ensure the appropriate stewardship of University resources while Drexel’s campus remains closed. Procurement Services issued guidelines to prevent non-critical spending and suspended all regularly scheduled deliveries to campus (like water cooler refills and printer supplies). Real Estate and Facilities is taking care to ensure that Drexel is wasting neither energy nor financial resources on buildings that stand unoccupied.

While most students, faculty and professional staff are studying, teaching and conducting business remotely, the Department of Public Safety continues to conduct patrols and staff the Communications Center in order to ensure the safety and security of Drexel’s campus and those students and employees who are still living and working on campus.

Drexel IT has ramped up its efforts to assist students, faculty and professional staff during this transition to remote learning, teaching and working.

  • Drexel IT has created over 9,000 Zoom accounts in the last month or so. For advice for moving classes online and best practices for avoiding “zoombombing,” click here.
  • Use of Collaborate, the online meeting service that’s fully integrated with Drexel Learn, and Zoom are up dramatically, with over 1,000 class meetings occurring each day this week.
  • Support teams like the Drexel IT Help Desk and Instructional Technology Group have handled more than twice the usual number of requests for assistance, and tripled the number of training sessions offered to faculty in March and April.
  • Over 100 laptops were loaned to students, faculty, and professional staff to support their studies, teaching, research and administration off campus.
  • Drexel IT developed new solutions to assist call centers including Drexel Central and the IT Help Desk. For information on using call centers and telephones while working from home, click here.
  • Drexel IT worked with the College of Nursing and Health Professions and the College of Arts and Sciences to provide new solutions to support clinical operations with secure telemedicine and phone services. Patient care can now continue without access to campus offices and exam rooms.

Checking In on Our Neighbors

The Office of University and Community Partnerships is staying focused on advancing Drexel’s mission to be the most civically engaged university in the country at a time when civic engagement is more important than ever.

It has supported the Mantua Civic Association and other civic partners across the Promise Zone in advocating for convenient local sites for distributing free meals for children, and has also provided gloves and masks to those handing out the food. In particular, it has connected with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and local nonprofits to set up local distribution sites in Mantua and East Parkside, and is working in Mantua and the Promise Neighborhood to connect food providers with local nonprofits in order to provide families with groceries and senior citizens with meals.

The Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships is working with more than 10 programming partners to develop remote engagement opportunities for community members.

  • The Andy and Gwen Stern Community Lawyering Clinic is providing pro-bono legal assistance to city residents over the phone on cases involving unemployment compensation, benefits appeals, estate planning, pardons and compassionate release.
  • The Beachell Family Learning Center is now providing career services for job seekers and technical assistance for people filing for unemployment benefits via email, phone and Zoom. With the help of Drexel University Business Services, employees or Drexel tenants and partners whose employment was impacted by the pandemic can reach out for immediate assistance with job searches and résumé development.
  • The Close School of Entrepreneurship continues to offer its faculty and professional staff as subject matter experts to recent graduates of the B Smart small business development program. Beachell staff provide virtual individual business coaching services on Mondays and Tuesdays. The in-house community entrepreneurship support program, the Big Idea Group (BIG), has moved its monthly meetings online (next one is April 18) to share critical resources and information with local entrepreneurs and small business owners. 
  • The Helms Academy, a community-based education program offered in partnership with Goodwill Industries and Community College of Philadelphia, is using its YouTube channel to prepare adult learners to obtain their high school diploma once GED testing resumes.
  • Writers Room is still connecting students, alumni, faculty, staff and neighbors virtually through new online programming in which members meet up for online workshops and to group readings. This term, Writers Room will hold a workshop series supported by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts called “Views from Home,” in which writing prompts will be posted online and on social media, and also mailed; responses will be collected in a book that can be made by hand at home.

The Lindy Center for Civic Engagement has remodeled CIVIC 101 courses this term for 1,200 remote students. While in-person service is no longer an option, the course learning outcomes remain the same and students will identify ways to engage virtually. The Lindy Center will also continue to support community-based learning courses, faculty, teaching assistants, and the broader student community remotely. To accomplish this, the Lindy Center moved its open office hours to Zoom, and is offering weekly programming to provide students with the sense of community and the ability to learn and engage together online. Over 60 Drexel Community Scholars have been matched with 25 local nonprofit organizations to provide remote support during the spring term. Finally, students involved in the Lindy Scholars Middle School Mentoring Program will continue providing encouragement and educational enrichment to local middle school students, now through a monitored online texting platform.

The Promise Neighborhoods team is promoting and updating a COVID-19 resource guide for families to share information related to meal sites, online education, and physical fitness and mental health resources. They have been able to reallocate grant funds to purchase needed supplies and support the meal distribution systems. They are also working with the School of Education to offer and curate professional development to teachers on building and delivering virtual lessons. The office is also collecting items like children’s books, art supplies, activity packets, personal care hygiene kits and cleaning supplies to safely distribute to community groups.

Action for Early Learning (AFEL), Drexel’s early childhood education program, distributed more than 100 resource bags with cleaning resources to local civics and continues to provide snacks and needed supplies to two childcare providers that have received a waiver to remain open: YSA Baring House (a 24-hour crisis nursery) and Xavier’s Family Childcare (used by parents working in the medical field). AFEL, with the help of 14 representatives from Drexel and community partners, helped the Philadelphia School District’s Early Childhood Education department conduct a virtual training on the District’s new online Kindergarten registration system.

Translating Experiences to New, Virtual Forms

Approximately 80 percent of co-op students planning to embark on spring/summer co-ops have employment. The Steinbright Career Development Center has partnered with alumni, employees and University leadership to facilitate co-op opportunities for students whose experiences have been affected by the pandemic. Co-op advisors are helping those students find employment while assisting those with jobs in navigating changes to start dates and remote work options. Also, co-op advisors are working with academic advisors to allow interested and eligible students to instead return to classes. 

The Counseling Center is providing tele-therapy (via a HIPAA-compliant, confidential Zoom platform) to students, as well as virtual workshops and other self-help modules for the Drexel community. 

Drexel’s more than 300 student organizations can continue to be involved through the online support of Student Life’s Campus Engagement team and DragonLink. For example, WKDU, Drexel’s independent, student-run radio station, has stopped live and in-person DJ sets, but is using social media and its website to provide updates and other content for music lovers.

In March, the NCAA cancelled all winter and spring sports and announced plans to allow all spring sports an extra year of eligibility. Following that guidance, Drexel Athletics is working with its student-athletes to ensure they can play a spring sport next year. All student-athletes are virtually connecting with their coaches and teammates with the help of Drexel Athletics.  

Students can continue to participate in group exercise and training classes online through the Drexel Recreation Center’s newly established Virtual Rec Center, which was previously covered in DrexelNow.

In lieu of in-person programing this term, the Office of Alumni Relations is developing online programming, volunteer opportunities and other resources for alumni who want to engage during the coming weeks. Faculty, professional staff and alumni speakers created webinars and online workshops to discuss relevant issues around the COVID-19 crisis, offer career development support and provide virtual networking and lifelong learning opportunities. Check the Drexel Alumni website for updated programming and engagement opportunities.

Supporting Dragons When They Need It Most

At the close of winter term, the Drexel Housing and Residence Life (HRL) team quickly implemented a move-out plan for all students living on-campus, and the University waived room and board costs for this term. HRL partnered with University Student Services (USS), the company that annually assists first-year students moving in during Welcome Week, to help students depart campus with their belongings; other students could leave their belongings behind in order to quickly and safely return home. A small number of students unable to return home were able to stay in on-campus housing.

Additionally, Drexel secured an agreement from American Campus Communities (ACC) — the landlord overseeing residences at Chestnut Square, University Crossings and the Summit where several thousand students had planned to live this term — to allow rent abatements for second-year students this term. Drexel also provided other forms of relief for these students.

Students who faced financial hardship and/or could not go home for travel or other reasons received financial assistance from the University. Nearly 300 donors have given more than $150,000 so far to support three funds (the Student Emergency Fund, Operation Graduation and unrestricted University Priorities) that will provide funding to students. Institutional Advancement is also promoting philanthropy to central and unit-based co-op funds. Individual colleges and schools are working with their alumni to create similar funds for their students. Additionally, about one-third of alumni who had preregistered to attend Alumni Weekend 2020 (since canceled) opted to donate their refunds to support Drexel students.

Drexel’s annual Day of Giving: 24 Hours of Impact, which will be held the first week of May, now includes student emergency funds as a designation for donations from alumni, employees and friends.

Jumpstarting Coronavirus-related Research

The University created the COVID-19 Innovation Fund to support faculty conducting research to combat and mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and a number of trustees have pledged immediate support.

In the past few weeks, dozens of faculty, staff and students from all different disciplines across the University have created or leveraged existing research projects in order to better understand the novel coronavirus and its impact. This includes everything from designing special face masks and shields for health care workers to developing containment pods for patients to studying the virus itself and testing drugs. COVID-19’s impact on society, from online teaching and learning to its effects on drug use and mental health, will also be explored.

Teaching and Learning in the Time of COVID-19

Students and faculty adjusted to overseeing and taking finals online in March, and spring term’s 3,250 or so instructional meetings are being taught remotely through the end of the spring term. Tuition and fees will remain the same for this term; online courses generally already had the same rate as face-to-face courses even before the pandemic. Institutional scholarships and grants, as well as federal and state aid, will be disbursed as usual.

Though the quality of courses remains the same, the University is offering the option for students to take courses this term on a pass/fail basis, if they are able to (this is unavailable to School of Education students and those in the clinical portion of the MD program, due to accreditation requirements).

The Center for Learning and Academic Success Services (CLASS) is providing online academic coaching and workshops, as well as tutoring and academic support, for students this term. The Office of Disability Resources will similarly still accommodate students, but in the online sphere. 

Shifting ‘Office Work’ to ‘Work From Home’

Since March 16, all faculty and professional staff deemed non-essential have been working from home. Drexel Human Resources has put together new and existing resources, policies tips and other information for employees to help with the transition away from the office and the changes in benefits and ways of working. Now more than ever, it is essential that Dragons continue to support and care for themselves and their community, while finding ways to maintain meaningful connections. To assist, HR has launched a new “Ten at 10” wellness program that encourages healthy activity and promote a sense of community.

While Drexel has committed to ensuring all benefit-eligible faculty and professional staff continue to receive their full pay, many families may feel the financial pressures from the changes occurring outside of the University. Additional resources for families experiencing financial difficulty are available on HR’s COVID-19 Resources page.

Welcoming Accepted Students — Virtually

Spring is that time of year when prospective students are notified of their admission to Drexel University, and while emails and letters with Regular Decision notifications for undergraduate admissions were sent on March 20, the ways in which students can tour and visit their future school has changed.

All daily visit programming for information sessions and campus tours have been suspended, along with the first in-person admitted students events (April 4-5 and 18-19); all admitted student events in April will likely be suspended.

In lieu of on-campus tours and programming, Enrollment Management & Student Success (EMSS) has built an undergraduate virtual site for prospective students, which includes information sessions with live chat options with admissions counselors, a virtual tour, and a graduate student virtual site, which supports graduate admissions and the colleges, have been created. These pages feature continuous updates, videos and publications that would have been handed out and shown on campus tours.

A new yield microsite, called “The Moment,” was built by EMSS and University Communications to provide the best experience of going to a Drexel Admitted Students Day without actually going to an Admitted Students Day. It features videos, stories, t-shirt promotions, publications, blogs, as well as landing pages for every college and school and information related to the Steinbright Career Development Center, Drexel Central, Athletics, student organizations, Performing Arts, Diversity offices and more.

All admissions decisions for the first-year class have been released. Early Admission applicants were notified in mid-December while Regular Decision applicants were notified on March 20. Admissions packets left the University on the day Governor Tom Wolf signed the statewide Stay-at-home Order. Students have until May 1 to confirm their enrollment to become Dragons.