Here’s how Manor College adjusted following the COVID shutdown and how it will leave a lasting legacy at the institution.
Numerous events throughout history have affected the Manor College experience, but none have shaped the world inside and outside the institution quite like the COVID-19 pandemic that started two years ago this month.
On March 9, the college released an initial email, telling students about ways to mitigate the spread of the disease.
By the end of the week, Governor Tom Wolf’s state of emergency forced the institution to go entirely virtual.
“I did not fully understand that was occurring until everyone was required to leave the dorms and start virtual learning,” Kiera Mellinger, a junior in Manor’s veterinary technology program said.
Dr. Cherie Crosby, Dean of Business, Education and Professional Studies at Manor College, was in her local supermarket when she realized the gravity of the pandemic.
“For the first time in my life, the grocery store was relatively bare,” Crosby said. “No meat, no milk, no paper towels. I felt like the world had entered a Zombie movie.”
Mellinger added, “It didn’t take long for people to see that something was going to change. I was at the mall with my fellow dorm residents when I got the text to come back and pack everything up.”
Manor College officials made the decision to conduct the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester virtually in April 2020 after Gov. Wolf extended the state of emergency beyond the first two weeks.
“Hybrid, as we know it today, really did not exist at Manor,” Dr. Marc Minnick, Manor College Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, said. “Faculty that previously taught an online course would rarely do a ‘live’ class instruction. COVID changed that dynamic as our faculty wanted to continue to be involved in live interactions.”
The biggest transition for faculty were some of the same issues students experienced – internet bandwidth and being stuck at home for weeks.
“I had to get adjusted to the fact that I would not be able to see my Dad, who had end state Parkinson’s for a good portion of the year,” Crosby said. “Little did I know that he would die nine months after I last saw him in February.”
As a vet tech student, Mellinger missed the opportunities for hands-on learning, a staple of the Manor College experience.
“Not being able to be in person and dissect the animals and get the right experience affected my grades and studying habits,” Mellinger said. “It helped me learn in the future to take advantage of those opportunities when I have them.”
Minnick faced his own unique set of challenges. He had just become the Manor College Provost five months earlier.
“I was still learning my way and now I had to deal with a worldwide pandemic,” Minnick said. “I knew the faculty would connect with the students, but I wanted to make sure they were getting what they needed to continue.”
Out of necessity came ingenuity. Manor College’s annual graduation in May was canceled. It was held in October of 2020 in a first-of-its-kind drive-thru ceremony. Students received their diplomas from their cars while family watched, listened over the radio and honked in appreciation.
Teachers developed a new “hyflex” way of teaching, allowing students to sit in (from home) on class live, or rewatch through a recording.
Finally, a sense of normalcy came for the Fall 2020 semester as Manor College took in 25 residents for the 2020-2021 academic year. Although it was vastly different – masks required in shared spaces, no guest privileges, meals by pick-up only – the new measures worked in stopping the spread of the disease.
“COVID-19, shutdowns and quarantine were new concepts to us all,” Shamika Ford, Assistant Director of Residence Life at Manor College, said. “But I feel that limiting the number of residents permitted in the hall worked well for Manor. We only experienced one case of COVID-19 as we entered Winter Break.”
Despite combatting the physical effects of the virus, the mental toll of the pandemic was a weight for many.
“For many to most, they have experienced anxiety, depression or both,” Crosby said. “Many of our education students had to face multiple shutdowns because of COVID-19, as well as some had to recover from having the disease. Going to school and working during a pandemic is a level of stress that we could never imagine.”
There are positives in the pandemic, however. The kind of lessons that stick well beyond two years. For Mellinger, the pandemic changed her studying habits and helped her refocus.
“When my grades did start to slip, I decided to get together with other people that were having the same issue,” Mellinger said. “I made a schedule for myself so I had life and school balanced and I noticed that my grades started getting better.”
Dr. Minnick believes the changes caused by the COVID pandemic can be beneficial to many institutions, not just Manor College.
“I think COVID was the kick in the pants that Higher Education needed,” Minnick said. “We no longer work with students who want to have the ‘traditional’ college experience. Today’s generation does not have the luxury to go live on a college campus and not worry about anything other than completing their degree. They are juggling many demands and higher education needs to understand that we need to adjust to their needs.”
Most importantly, the pandemic taught us the strength within our community.
“If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it taught us that it is a beautiful thing to be close to the ones you love,” Crosby said.