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Published on September 04, 2020

Eastern Responds to Pandemic with Virtual Semester

Together While Apart

Eastern responded to the looming threat of Covid-19 on March 17 by announcing students would be learning remotely for the balance of the semester and employees would be working from home. As a liberal arts university that thrives on face-to-face interaction between faculty and students, Eastern suddenly founds itself in uncharted territory.

Lessons meant for personal instruction had to be reconfigured for remote learning. Syllabi were reinvented in a matter of days. Students and faculty had to embrace new technologies. Patience and flexibility became the underlying themes in a time of isolation, anxiety and hardship. As the global pandemic abruptly changed daily life the world over, the ingenuity and resilience of Eastern students, faculty and staff carried the University through the end of the academic year.

English Professor Miriam Chirico and History Professor Anna Kirchmann used the semester of quarantining as an opportunity for their students to reflect on the personal and societal impacts of the pandemic. For their final projects in Chirico’s freshman honors course, first-year students wrote of their imaginings in a series of writings titled “Dispatches from the Pandemic.”

Music Jury
Students in individual music instruction perform their final performances at home to allow for YouTube juried reviews

In her essay “How to Get Out of Bed,” Avan Sheridan wrote, “When I wake up, bright and confused at the soft hour of three in the morning . . . the longing hits for the first time, the wish for human contact, for my friends to be more than videos on a screen

once a week and text messages that pile up unanswered. A yearning to lie in the sun surrounded by the people I miss most, to huddle on a bed with a group watching a movie while rain pounds on the windows... It is the first time I cry in quarantine.”

In Kirchmann’s freshman course “Recent American History,” students provided eyewitness accounts of life during COVID-19. Their writings are preserved in the University’s library archives as primary historical sources. “My perception of society as a whole has changed,” wrote one student. “The world is so much grander than we take it to be on a daily level. We all have our own problems and events going on, but COVID has made me realize that we are all really the same.” Another student wrote: “Living through this experience is teaching me a lesson that every day is a gift and shouldn’t be wasted. After this pandemic, I believe people will show much more gratitude, especially for the little things.”

For the undergraduate musicians enrolled in “Individual Music Instruction,” the shift to online learning posed new challenges for final performances, which are traditionally performed live in front of a faculty jury. The new format called for students to record their performances at home and upload them to YouTube for a juried review. “The result was a spectacular success,” said Okon Hwang, professor and chair of the Music Program. “I am very proud of the fact that we were able to finish this tumultuous semester with such fine results by employing ingenuity, creativity and a great community spirit in the face of overwhelming obstacles.”

Alumni Zoom
Eastern alumni — clockwise from top left — Anthony Rosati ’09, Pearson Davis ’14, Andrew Girard ’17 and Brian Clark ’10 met with students from Professor Charlie Chatterton’s Sport and Leisure Management class via Microsoft Teams.

Alumni joined the virtual classrooms of Kinesiology and Physical Education Professor Charlie Chatterton and Communication Professor Andrew Utterback, sharing their professional advice and encouragement with students during Zoom discussions and video meetings. “I always enjoy speaking with classes at Eastern, whether it’s in person or virtually,” said Casey McGarvey ’13 of his chat with Chatterton’s students. McGarvey is the director of athletic communications at Elizabethtown College. “The biggest thing I stressed to them is the importance of creating relationships. Take advantage of every opportunity to meet, talk and foster relationships with professionals and colleagues.”

In Utterback’s course “Studio Television Production,” Meg Saunders ’15 of WTNH-TV emphasized the value of participating in Eastern’s student-run newscast and the reality of news studios — with or without a pandemic. “As a producer, you need to be able to multitask, communicate well with your team, and work as fast as possible without compromising accuracy. The ultimate goal every day is to have a clean newscast on-air, no matter how hectic it may feel behind the scenes.”

Art exhibit
Artwork by Katlyn Tourigny ’22 for the virtual art exhibition.

Students in Art Gallery Director Yulia Tikhonova’s “Graphic Design History” class created pandemicinspired artworks during the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak. The art remains on display on the Art Gallery website. The students’ posters portrayed a range of concepts, from coronavirus particles raining down in an apocalyptic scene to a personification of “Mother Earth” wearing a face mask. During times of crisis, Tikhonova says it is the job of artists to be the emotional “first boots on the ground.”

“Through this online exhibit, Eastern joins the nation in its efforts to maintain our community ties and cultivate dialog.”

Michele Bacholle’s “French Cinema” class met one spring day to discuss Emmanuel Carrere’s film “The Mustache,” where the simple premise of shaving one’s mustache opened up a realm of interpretations. Is the man having a mental breakdown given that his wife doesn’t notice the mustache is gone? Is this part of a massive plot against him led by his wife?  Professor Bacholle drew a mustache on her face, which her students failed to notice — making her feel like the character! She also shared a Kahoot game about famous mustaches and posted it on the “French at Eastern” Facebook pages. Voila!

Biology Professor Ross Koning found new technology to teach his lab. “I purchased a microscope adapter for my cell phone, so I could share what I was seeing in the microscope with the students. My voice went via the cell phone to the class participants as I described the treatments I was giving to the organisms in the microscope view. The students could directly observe the organism’s behavior or response to the treatments. They are interacting with each other, embracing the ‘gotchas’ of the technology and being flexible with adversity.”

Near the end of the virtual semester, more than 100 students adapted to online technology to participate in the 20th anniversary of the CREATE Conference (Celebrating Research Excellence and Artistic Talent at Eastern). Presentations ranged from artwork to oral presentations recorded on video and audio, the work of performing artists, and posters on research ranging from early childhood development to genetics, geological formations and Victorian literature. As President Núñez noted, “This CREATE website reminds us that technology can span time and distance to provide us with a rigorous intellectual experience, albeit in a virtual world.”

Written by Ed Osborn and Michael Rouleau '11