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Faculty and staff help students move, cope

March 27, 2020

Diana Grandas ’20 was in Austria over spring break visiting a friend when she received word that the College would be transitioning to remote learning. Suddenly, she found herself unable to return to campus and had no way to retrieve her belongings.

Assistant Professor of Physics Mark Battle, Grandas’ honors advisor, stepped up.

“When I knew she was in Austria for her break and was going to be coming back into the midst of this chaos, I just sent her an email and said, if there’s anything you need me to do to help you deal with all of this, let me know,” Battle said.

Though Grandas’ friends were able to do most of the packing, Battle helped retrieve some of her belongings and store them in his garage.

“It was really just a case of what I would do for any friend I knew who was in a sticky situation,” he said.

Like Grandas, many students were unable to return to campus and found themselves in need of assistance from faculty or staff. In response to this challenge, the College created a form for students to fill out to request help in packing up their rooms. About 50 requests came in before the majority of dorms closed March 18.

“We had over 100 staff across the College volunteer to pack up rooms,” said Mike Ranen, associate dean of Student Affairs and director of Residential and Student Life. “It was amazing the amount of people who wanted to help. We had so many people who volunteered to help that at times, we had to say thank you so much, but we actually don’t need you right now.”

Like Battle, many faculty members offered to help students in difficult situations. Some opened up their homes to store students’ items, such as Professor of Cinema Studies Tricia Welsch.

Associate Professor of Asian Studies Vyjayanthi Selinger volunteered to pack up students’ rooms in addition to storing items.

“I felt like it was the least I could do when everything else seemed uncertain,” Selinger said. “What is going to happen to your stuff is not something you should have to worry about.”

Heather Kenvin, senior associate director of stewardship, helped pack up a room for a student who lived far from campus, communicating via FaceTime with the student to ensure that she retrieved the correct items.

As the College transitions to remote learning, the roles of some staff members are transitioning as well, including Joe Anderson, logistics manager for facilities & rental housing. Normally, Anderson manages the moving and setup crew, which does setup for campus events.

“There aren’t any events on campus anymore, so we just tried to step in and be available for whatever help was needed,” he said.

According to Anderson, this included buying about 3,200 boxes, assembling them and then handing them out to students to use while packing up their rooms.

“Since the students have moved out, our role has kind of shifted,” Anderson said. “Now we’re steadily working our way through the dorm rooms, getting all of the student items that were left for storage moved over to the storage facility and starting to get the rooms cleaned up a little bit.”

The staff at the mail center also took on extra responsibilities during the transition. According to Ranen, they shipped over 600 boxes throughout the move out process.

“They came on the weekend [of spring break], when they weren’t supposed to be open,” Ranen said. “They had an amazingly organized system.”

Staff were also able to provide support to students through the use of the helpline, which the Division of Student Affairs operated for 12 hours a day between March 11 and March 14.

“We knew that this shift to remote learning was going to cause all 1,800 students on campus to have questions and to feel in crisis,” said Director of Residential Education Whitney Hogan, who helped coordinate the help line. “We were really trying to mimic that one-on-one support in a way that was sustainable and manageable for the weeks that students would be coming back to campus or leaving from campus. People from all over the Bowdoin community came and helped out.”

Despite the transition to remote learning, faculty and staff are continuing to find ways to reach out to their students and offer support. Welsch and Selinger both reached out to their students and advisees. Eduardo Pazos Palma, director of the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, is also exploring new ways to connect with students.

“I set up a booking app so that we can do virtual office hours, so I can still be a confidential resource,” Pazos Palma said.

For many, the outpouring of community support has provided comfort amidst the challenges of recent weeks.

“The Bowdoin community thing is alive and well, from what I can see,” Welsch said.


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