As students and faculty prepare to begin the spring 2021 semester at Franklin & Marshall College, they can do so with confidence following a fall term that saw them tap inventive new ways to teach, learn and socialize despite the many obstacles presented by a global pandemic.
While many other colleges and universities closed or moved to entirely online instruction, F&M opted for a hybrid instructional model of both in-person and remote instruction. Community members signed a pledge to adhere to a set of guidelines to support their own health and safety. For the duration of the semester, and with a strong level of success, students, faculty and staff observed physical distancing, wore masks, limited gatherings and participated in regularly scheduled COVID-19 testing.
“I am so grateful to all of you in our campus community,” Franklin & Marshall President Barbara Altmann said as students prepared to take their virtual finals. “I just can’t thank you enough for your tenacity, your intelligence, your adaptability, your persistence, and your dedication to this very fine school. This year has defied description; it’s been like nothing else we’ve seen or could have imagined. But thanks to all of you, we made it through this fall with students in residence and in-person classes for those who could be with us. I can’t wait for next year; on to the spring semester!”
F&M students and faculty now move toward the next term, vigilant yet undaunted as the pandemic passes its one-year milestone. After reviewing their fall 2020 successes and areas where they believed they could improve, College officials developed for the spring term a universal testing protocol in which all students taking in-person classes will be tested twice each week. That testing, and periodic testing of faculty and professional staff, will give administrators the most accurate and-up-to-date assessment of the campus community’s health.
Franklin & Marshall will continue to limit gatherings to small groups in open spaces, and competitive athletic events are canceled for the next several weeks, but students and faculty are already designing creative new ways to ensure that the intimate, hands-on model of liberal arts learning continues — even in a virtual environment.
Here are just a handful of ways our community demonstrated that creativity during the fall semester:
No Lab, No Problem: Students Share Remote Research Solutions
Despite the pandemic's disruption, 40 Franklin & Marshall students completed fall research projects. This research – conducted through independent study, scholarships, or funded programs – spanned nearly every subject the College has to offer. Undeterred, an additional 40 students completed summer research despite the abrupt shift to remote learning in late spring. “At the end of the day, when you have a place to live and food to eat, you can make everything else work," sophomore computer science major Shaamyl Anwar said.
International First-Years Begin Their F&M Journey Abroad
Fatma El Refaei, a first-year international student from Egypt, noted her appreciation for the Bath cohort. “I started my college career in unexpected times,” she said. “I was shocked to learn that my cohort wouldn’t make it to campus as planned. But I’m extremely grateful for F&M for working hard to give us as close to a college experience as possible.”
How F&M is Normalizing College Struggles
Whether it’s academic stress, mental health issues, unexpected life events, or financial problems, Franklin & Marshall College has a plethora of resources to help them and created DipCares, a program that ensures students are aware of them, that faculty and staff know how to help students experiencing distress, and that no student feels alone. “We reach out to the student within an hour or so of getting a referral,” said Susan Knoll, care coordinator at F&M. “We’ve really streamlined the way we get support out to students.”
Campus Musical Brings the Big Stage Outside
It was only fitting that Franklin & Marshall College’s Go-Go themed musical commenced with “We Got The Beat.” The cast of “Head Over Heels” certainly didn’t miss one, despite a pandemic-disrupted rehearsal process. Student performers successfully delivered the first outdoor performance ever staged at the Winter Visual Arts Center over True Blue Weekend. The musical comedy featured songs by 1980s new wave quintet, The Go-Go's, and a plot inspired by Sir Philip Sydney's 16th-century prose romance, “The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia.” “We tried to find as many ways as we could to build the demands of our current moment into the world of the show, which became a matter of acknowledging the absurdity of having our actors 6 feet apart from one another while also highlighting their skill in being able to connect to each other across that distance,” said senior Johanna Bear, who participated remotely as dramaturg.
Language’s Power in Students’ Lives
As an assignment, telling stories via video about a time when language was important in their lives gave a group of Franklin & Marshall first-year students some unexpected personal insights. “Being able to talk about my personal experience was fun, and seeing how everyone reacted to my video, and how much inspiration they got … helped me realize how powerful being bilingual can be, especially when I use it to help others,” Hector Melesio Rodriguez said. The assignment, directed by Associate Professor of Spanish and Linguistics Jessica Cox, was part of the students’ prerequisite Connections course, Language in the 21st Century.
Where Does the Environment Meet Policy? In This F&M Senior’s Internship
As a dual major in environmental studies and public policy, an internship involving environmental policy seemed serendipitous for senior Lauren Costabile. “This opportunity was right up my alley,” she said. That opportunity was with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), a nonprofit organization headquartered in Annapolis, Md., devoted to the restoration and protection of the Chesapeake Bay. Costabile was to work at the Harrisburg, Pa., branch; however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the in-person opportunity was moved online. “CBF did a fantastic job helping me feel welcomed and a part of the team even though we were working remotely,” she said.
Clubhouses, Tutoring: F&M Students Meet Lancaster Schools’ Needs
The F&M students began the start of November, following nearly two months of planning under the direction of Tim Bechtel, head of F&M Science Outreach and teaching professor of geosciences. While they officially finished at Thanksgiving, many of the students, including the two organizers of the programs, continue to teach even though their semester is completed. “With the pandemic, we weren’t able to go in, and the kids were falling behind, so I had the idea of purposing more one-on-one tutoring rather than trying to come up with a lesson plan for one class,” junior Valerie Romero said. “It just seemed a lot easier and it was an interest of mine to work one-on-one with kids, to build relationships with them.”