Greetings, Colleagues.

These are long days for everyone.  Thank you for reading my long-winded messages and, more importantly, thank you for your efforts to make a difference during this ordeal.  One of my simple gratitudes today: a nap.  It really helped.  And with that, let’s get started with a comprehensive update.

As we announced yesterday, a student reported being exposed to COVID-19 through an immediate family member. Based on the information available to us, the student has been experiencing symptoms, was also tested, and the student’s test came back negative.  We are grateful public and healthcare officials acted quickly, and that appropriate protocols are being followed.  People who may have come in contact with the student have been notified and provided additional instructions.

College personnel received further guidance today from Anne Thompson, Iowa County Public Health Nurse.  Anne stated that the health department formally looked back 2 weeks, but is now focusing on the two days prior to when people who have COVID-19 began to show symptoms, as this in the period in which one is most infectious. The professionals at the health department have conducted the epidemiologic investigation of this case, and our student in question was not listed as a contact during these critical 2 days prior to symptoms. Anne stated that “The students exposed to the student in question should be fine”.  She followed by saying that students who are exposed, and all people, should monitor themselves for symptoms of cough, fever, shortness of breath, and, sometimes, flu-like symptoms. These symptoms, even if mild, should be reported to their healthcare provider. Ann asked that we continue to stress social distancing, not touching one’s face, coughing into the elbow or a tissue, and vigilant hand-washing/sanitizing.

The Emergency Operations team has created a COVID-19 Notification Response Team.  Katie Glass is leading this group.  They are ready to notify people who may be impacted by exposure to the virus and will be working through the required communications as a high-priority.

The Board Prep/Policy Team met today.  Here are our updates:

  1. Please check out our COVID-19 website.  There is a lot of information including all of our updates.  If there is something you’d like to see added or clarified, please let Katie Glass or Mike Steffel know.  Mike has done an excellent job putting this together and keeping it up to date.
  2. Given Governor Ever’s directive to Stay at Home until April 24, we are not planning to resume in-person face-to-face courses or on-campus services until that time.  We will announce more details as decisions are made later in April.  Tomorrow we will share the full program-by-program breakdown so everyone is aware of which programs will be able to complete the semester without any more in-person face-to-face activities.  We are also working on options for students who may not be able to finish the online learning modules.  A few tasks and projects have been deemed essential operations, as per the Governor’s orders.  The Board Prep/Policy team considers each need on a case-by-case basis.
  3. Budget Update
    1. We will examine open positions on a case-by-case basis.
    2. We will collect applications for re-class requests as previously announced by HR.  Decisions, however, will be delayed until further notice as we work through the budget and other issues we are facing.  Thank you for your understanding.
    3. We will wait to present the insurance premium proposal to the Board until we can do so as part of the larger budget plan.
    4. The Board will consider a proposal to grant me access to an additional $500,000 to address needs created by the COVID-19 crisis between now and June 30.  Caleb White will provide leadership for the use of those funds.
  4. Caring for Students
    1. New Student Registration will occur starting April 13 as planned.  We are grateful to the admissions and registration folks for their work on this priority.  Stay tuned for functional details related to our new remote environment. 🙂
    2. Graduation will be held in an alternative format and/or at a later date.  Out of an abundance of precaution, and recognizing some programs may need additional time for instruction, we are developing several options to still celebrate graduation.  Danielle Seippel, registrar, is leading this effort with the support of the graduation committee.  Most noteworthy, Danielle is committed to involving students in creating viable options for meaningful recognition of their accomplishments.  Thank you, Danielle!  Please note it is very likely many people will understandably have concerns about large group gatherings even after we move through this current stage of the crisis.  It is therefore imperative we are compassionate towards our students who are impacted differently by their personal experiences.  Creativity and compassion will be the hallmark for our commencement celebrations.
    3. The Bookstore is exploring remote book buy back options so we can avoid long lines and maintain appropriate social distancing protocol.  More information will be provided after Kelly Kelly, Eric Rohn, and Jen Fonder determine the best approach.  We appreciate their good work!
    4. The academic Deans and Directors have established regular meetings to begin addressing the many, many student learning issues we will face over the next 1-3 months.  This signals our shift from learning being part of our “emergency response” to learning being a lead in our “emergency management”.  Subtle, but significant enough I wanted to make you aware.  Stay tuned for their updates.
    5. Student refunds for withdrawing from classes or seeking a release from a housing contract will follow our current policy, including the appeal process in place for medical emergencies.  We emphasize how important it is for students to talk with their instructors, financial aid staff, and advisors prior to making decisions.  We are developing an easy-to-understand checklist to circulate to students so they can get the answers they need.  We are hearing reports from faculty that attendance and participation have been strong.
  5. Caring for Faculty and Staff (Saving our top priority for last this time)
    1. Compensation:  We remind all employees we have committed to continuing compensation as planned until at least June 30.  This includes part-time staff and adjuncts.  Please let your supervisor know if you need an assignment.  If you have more work than you can do and others could help, please let your supervisor know so we can match people with projects.  We want to take care of you during this time because we know you are either caring for your family or caring for our students.
    2. If you need to be away from work to care for yourself or your family, please know we support you.  If you run out of accrued paid leave, we have established a “leave bank” that will cover your additional time away from work for COVID-19 reasons.  In other words, no employee who qualifies for paid leave benefits will run out of paid leave.  Nobody.  If you have specific questions, please contact your supervisor or HR.  Again, we care about you and it is important to us that you can care for yourself or your family without worry about your job…all while receiving paid leave.
    3. Nicole Nelson will have limited hours on campus as part of our essential operations and campus safety plan.  Nicole has offered to check your mail, scan anything of importance, and email it to you.  She will only do this by request in case people are uncomfortable with someone else looking at their mail.  Please contact Nicole by email to arrange for this service.  Thank you, Nicole, for finding a creative way to provide a valuable service. 🙂
    4. Home School Support Reminder: If you have children who could use extra support with their school work, or you are understandably unable to work and run a home school, we have faculty and staff willing to help.  The instructors in this program will provide learning support, tutoring, and supplemental activities to help your children with their school work.  Please contact Julie Pluemer for more details.  If you would like to register your child for this free service available to our faculty and staff, please click here.  Nice work, everyone! 🙂
    5. Please remember the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is available at no charge to you.  You can find additional information in the attached document or by visiting their website: www.mylifematters.com.  Conversations are confidential.
    6. The in-service for April 9 will be reduced to a 90 minute zoom conference.  Connie Haberkorn, HR, is leading the planning efforts.  We hope this will be a special time to convene, convey, and conquer.  Stay tuned for the specific agenda.  The rest of the day will be allotted for faculty and staff to work on the many tasks you have on your already over-burdened plates.
    7. Stay tuned for announcements regarding new employee support funds being allocated to provide resources to support your efforts to alleviate loneliness, isolation, and depression.  We expect new funds will be available to support families where reduced hours, layoffs, or health care concerns are causing significant unplanned shortfalls that may be ongoing.  We will also increase the investment in the current program that provides one-time support for emergencies.  Essentially, we hope to demonstrate our collective commitment to caring for each other by empowering more people to be part of providing compassionate relief.

In closing, I reflected on the words of Helen Keller, no stranger to struggles, when she noted, “When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us.”  Thank you to all of you who are opening new doors for your families, your students, and your colleagues.  We are ahead of the curve because of your compassion, your empathy, and your relentless pursuit of creating our desired future.  For that, I thank you.

Stay healthy,

Post Script: Thank you to all of you who shared your experiences with the Happiness Habits.  With permission, I share the response from Annette Biggin, Drivers Education Guru.  Thank you, Annette, for your example of choosing happiness and engaging in the activities to create more joyful meaning in your life.

  1. Gratitude Exercises
    1. My grandson Marek
    2. My sons Patrick and Tim
    3. My wonderful daughter-in-law Melissa
  2. The Doubler
    My Mom has been gone 15 years this year and she is never out of my thoughts as she was not only my “Mumsy”, but my best friend.  Her smile was infectious, her laugh bubbled up from her soul and she was kindness personified. Her positivity keeps me on track and focused and I go over and over each moment of how she touched me each and every day, hoping that some of “her” will invade my struggle to remain “warm and fuzzy” to all that are in contact with me whether in person, email or phone. ( this is NOT meant for any special comments- it’s what I try to do every day)
  3. The Fun Fifteen
    I run 3-5 miles each morning now that I’m telecommuting all the time, instead of just 5 days during the week, which makes me happy!  This is time to reflect, think and commune with nature, share dog cookies with all the pups that sometimes come to greet me ( I carry them with me on my run) and BREATHE!
  4. Meditation
    I take breaks and walk around my yard with my cat, taking deep breaths and massaging my temples to relieve stress and headaches.
  5. Conscious Act of Kindness
    Yesterday I was contacted by one of my first graduates of my Drivers Education Program, Paul Ellenbecker at Rhinelander High School to review his first remote lesson for his students via Google Classroom.  He has consistently consulted me from day 1 on his venture into Drivers Education and I was so impressed with his work, as we reviewed it together.  Awesome guy and I heaped praise on him for the lesson and thanked him again for keeping in touch…really made my day.
Posted in COVID-19