That’s an often-used word to describe the COVID-19 pandemic. The world hadn’t seen anything like it since the influenza epidemic in 1918. Soon after Wofford’s 2020 spring semester began, the campus community started monitoring this novel coronavirus as it spread to Europe from Asia and confirmed cases in the United States were expected to escalate.
Students studying abroad returned home. Fraternities and sororities had to cancel events. Athletics competitions came to a halt and seasons were ended. Then, a Sunday evening email from President Nayef Samhat informed students they needed to vacate campus by 5 p.m. that Tuesday for an extended spring break before eventually resuming the semester through remote learning. State and local governments instituted shelter-in-place orders; some communities required people to wear masks while shopping or using public transportation. Businesses were deemed essential or nonessential. A visit to the barber, a meal out or a visit to the movie theater for a matinee was no longer an option.
College life was disrupted.
But Wofford’s students, faculty, staff, coaches and alumni stayed true to the alma mater. They sought to conquer and prevail.
The Wofford Wellness Center
Wofford’s campus community dispersed, but the Wellness Center continued to play a critical role in caring for students, faculty and staff.
The campus’s medical clinic transitioned to telemedicine appointments while limiting in-person visits. Counseling services were done remotely, and the Office of Accessibility Services assisted students as they transitioned to remote learning.
“I am so humbled to work ‘side by side’ with our staff who continue to discover innovative ways to do our good work through remote sessions, from social media that reaches our students in their homes, to being boots on the ground in the Wellness Center,” says Beth Wallace ’82, associate vice president for the division of campus life and student development and director of the Wellness Center.
The center got creative and anticipated needs students would have and developed new resources to help. Virtual counseling groups were started for seniors to process feelings of grief and sadness related to postponed and canceled events. All students were invited to sessions focused on adjusting to courses online and challenges they were experiencing away from campus.
Lisa Lefebvre, director of employee wellness and medical services, and Kellie Buckner ’01, a counselor in the Wellness Center, developed Wofford-specific guided imagery to help students missing time on campus and included those exercises in emails from the Wellness Center that included a host of resources. Perry Henson ’96, director of counseling and accessibility services, also recorded a loving-kindness meditation that was shared with the campus community.
Wofford had never offered an online class before, and six weeks into the 2020 spring semester faculty and staff had to adjust lesson plans and syllabuses to transition to remote learning.
Dr. Stacey Hettes, professor of biology and associate provost for faculty development, and Dr. Anne Catlla, associate professor of mathematics and dean of the college’s Center for Innovation and Learning, put their heads together and developed resources to teach the teachers. “They curated some of the best advice available on online testing, discussion leadership, group projects and more,” says Dr. Mike Sosulski, provost. They created a webpage with goals for remote learning, alternative methods of teaching and other resources for adapting courses to a mediated environment. They — along with support from colleagues Dr. Trina Jones, professor associate provost for administration; Dr. Dan Mathewson, associate professor of religion and director of new faculty teaching initiatives; and Dr. John Miles, associate professor of English and dean of institutional effectiveness and academic planning — also organized and taught professional development workshops for faculty to protect the college’s academic integrity and ensure that Wofford students who already were missing so much by being away from campus could complete the semester.
Even physical education classes had to move online. Rod Ray, the men’s tennis coach, teaches a tennis class for the college.
“Obviously they can’t go to a tennis court right now,” says Ray, who had one student living in England and confined to his family’s apartment. “But what is something I can help them with that would be of benefit?”
Instead of learning how to serve and volley, students in Ray’s physical education class focused on fitness programs that included bodyweight exercises and interval training that could be done at home.
He checked in with students several times a week and made sure those check-ins were about more than their progress with exercise. He made sure they were aware of Wofford resources available through the Wellness Center and student services.
“We’re all in this together,” says Ray. Students missed the instruction on the tennis courts, but they benefited from having Ray’s support.
“It’s good to have Coach Ray as a teacher right now, because even though we haven’t seen him since we left Wofford, I can feel the care he puts into his weekly emails and the passion he has for pushing us and teaching us to live healthier lives even when college or life wants to get in the way,” says Hampton Bryant ’23 of Greenville, S.C.
Clusters of high school students being led along a campus filled with blooming trees and flowers are a common sight at Wofford during the spring. That stopped a few weeks into the semester, but the Office of Admission remained committed to showcasing the beautiful campus and innovative learning spaces as well as what makes Wofford truly special — the people.
Prospective students and their families took virtual visits and participated in panel discussions with students, faculty and staff through teleconferencing.
“Our goal is to help students make a good decision about where they go to college, and I think that continues to be our focus through these virtual sessions,” says Brand Stille ’86, vice president of enrollment.
Stille asked Wofford’s faculty to record videos discussing the Wofford experience and offering insight on how the college was adapting during COVID-19. One of the most colorful videos was done by Dr. Trina Jones, who shared her collection of tiaras along with stories of the colleagues who contributed to the collection.
“At Wofford, the people who will teach you, work with you in your dorms, who will work with you in student affairs, we like each other,” says Jones. “I think that shows in the way we get along and the way that people will treat you. In general, if people like each other, the atmosphere on campus will be nice.”
The Office of Admission ended the recruitment season with 502 students eager to begin their first year of classes on campus in the fall; that’s the largest and most selective class in the college’s history.
Conquer & Prevail newsletter
The campus community, alumni and friends of the college remained connected to Wofford through a biweekly e-newsletter, Conquer & Prevail. The publication celebrated Terrier contributions to their communities and the world during uncertain times while keeping the community aware of upcoming virtual events related to the college.
“Current students, faculty and staff are away and alumni are spread across the globe, but we’re all having a shared experience during this pandemic,” says Jo Ann Mitchell Brasington ’89, interim vice president for marketing and communications. “It’s been important to document this moment and share how Terriers are living the college’s mission and values.”
Some of the stories captured in Conquer & Prevail include how Grace Gehlken ’22 and Kenzie Syiem ’23 used Wofford’s extended spring break and time away from campus to launch SEED (Sowing Empowerment Every Day), a social enterprise with intentions to promote sustainable change in communities around the world. A restaurant and inn owned by Frank ’89 and Amy Barwick Lesesne ’89 catered a meal for emergency room staff at Beaufort Memorial Hospital thanks to the donations of Wofford friends. Dr. Josh Fennell ’98 and Dr. Lang Foster ’90 covered the dental practice of Dr. Christopher Collins ’95 while he experienced an extended deployment in the Middle East with the South Carolina Air National Guard.
Wofford faculty and staff also shared words of wisdom in the publication, including the importance of self-care and how it’s OK to feel a range of emotions during a pandemic. The Rev. Dr. Ron Robinson ’78, Wofford’s Perkins-Prothro Chaplain and Professor of Religion, shared perspective during Holy Week while many wouldn’t be able to gather in houses of worship.
Virtual town halls
Communication is vital during a crisis, and the president’s cabinet hosted multiple virtual town hall events in April and May for students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the college. They answered questions through Zoom while social distancing.
Questions ranged from plans for Commencement for the Class of 2020 to the distribution of CARES Act funding to students. There were events for our newest Terriers in the Class of 2024 and for supporters of the college’s NCAA Division I athletics program. All of the town hall events have been recorded and transcribed and are available at wofford.edu/coronavirus under the town hall icon.
Career prep, investing in entrepreneurs continue
Professional development and networking are key activities at Wofford, and social distancing didn’t end those practices.
The Career Center and the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation took their events online and created additional opportunities that proved timely as upcoming graduates faced concerns about entering an uncertain job market amid the pandemic. The center hosted Zoom workshops, including “Networking during crisis: Leveraging the Wofford community and other resources,” and introduced students to alumni who graduated during the recession in 2008 and 2009.
The center also established a partnership with Parker Dewey to provide microinternships for students to get meaningful experience and help businesses identify potential talent. Terrier Talks, a podcast in partnership with the Alumni Association, made its debut while providing interviews with alumni focused on careers and lessons learned along the way.
The Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation’s Terrier StartUP Challenge took place for the fourth consecutive year. Nine startups founded by students competed for $10,000 in seed funding.
Instead of hundreds of people gathering in the volleyball arena of the Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium to hear pitches in a “Shark Tank” format, the contest went online. Entrepreneurs told their stories and shared visions through Zoom. Jeremy Powers ’21, owner of Sky Shutter Media, recorded presentations and packaged a video that was posted to Wofford social media accounts.
Three judges — Aru Anavekar, founder and CEO of Botsplash; Eric Dodds, president of Offsite and managing partner of Yield Group; and Jill Sorenson, executive director at SC Launch and SCRA entrepreneurial programs director — determined the grand prize winner and two runners-up while also selecting six teams to receive $500 in funding to further explore concepts. Fans watched the pitches through social media and selected a fan favorite to receive $500.
Grand prize: $3,500:
Vieable Cosmetics, founded by Amanda Vie ’22 and Savannah Talledo ’21, is a sustainable cosmetic brand offering clean makeup in clean packaging.
Second runner-up: $2,000:
Form, founded by Hannah Brown ’22, is focused on making functional footwear for yogis to wear to and from yoga studios and everywhere in between.
Third runner-up: $1,500:
Grace Upon Grace, founded by Grace Cromer ’21, is an adaptive clothing line for children with feeding tubes and children with special needs.
More than 1,200 votes were cast for a Fan Favorite award, which provided an additional $500 to Grace Upon Grace.
The Wofford College Resilience Project is a collaboration that began in 2018 to encourage and celebrate resilience. It collects and shares anonymous stories of how various people across Wofford, including alumni, have overcome adversity. The group also has developed a toolkit, which is available at wofford. edu/coronavirus, designed to increase resilience within the Wofford community.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, people away from Wofford have found the toolkit to be a valuable resource. International Faith Youth Core shared a link to the toolkit in an article about ways campuses are helping students stay healthy during the stress and uncertainty of coronavirus.
Dr. John Lefebvre, professor of psychology, feels a sense of pride in having an opportunity to witness students realizing how their work is appreciated.
“As a mentor, I am extremely proud of the student coordinators,” says Lefebvre. “They are incredible people and will do so many great things for our world. I am incredibly proud that they chose to volunteer for the Resilience Project. They are all very accomplished and busy on campus. Yet, they do not see this as a burden. And neither do the students who are contributing.”
The second volume of stories is underway.
Theatre and Art
Temporarily closing campus and social distancing requirements impacted the arts at Wofford.
“Cabaret” was set to be Wofford Theatre’s spring show. It was going to be the department’s first musical in four years, a dream come true for Mary Thalassinos ’20, who earned the lead role as Sally Bowles. Each year she hoped for a musical at Wofford, and this year it finally was going to happen.
A musical theatre class began preparing for the show in the fall of 2019, and a choreographer was hired. Auditions took place during Interim, and the cast was announced shortly before the start of the spring semester.
Three-hour rehearsals already were planned four nights a week and Sunday evenings quickly were needed and additional musical rehearsals were added.
“This show was by far the biggest time commitment I’ve been a part of,” says Thalassinos.
Soon, the show would be referred to as the greatest show never seen.
“Rumors of having to go on early break started to circulate and eventually the other schools in South Carolina began to follow the trend happening nationwide,” says Thalassinos. “There was nothing else to do except prepare for something new. What to do if we lost time to work? What to do if we lost the show altogether?”
They hoped to at least invite friends and family to open rehearsals, but that would draw too many people when social distancing was encouraged and offcampus guests had to be limited. So, they performed for themselves.
“There were some tears before we did that run,” says Thalassinos. “There were twice as many as we hugged each other afterward. The uncertainty of it all hurt most.”
Another group of seniors expecting to experience a first at the start of the spring semester had their plans changed. The 2019-20 academic year was Wofford’s first offering a studio art major.
Six seniors were anticipating an evening exhibit in the Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts and an opportunity to discuss their work in person. Before leaving campus, they had discussions with Jessica Scott-Felder, assistant professor of studio art, about continuing their work, but there clearly would be challenges.
“It was a heavy class,” Scott-Felder said. “The whole intention of the course was being shifted, and we didn’t know what it was shifting to.”
Scott-Felder says Wofford students are given a unique opportunity to use and take ownership of their studio space. The sudden displacement was jarring, but students adapted and were given an opportunity for a virtual exhibition.
“They wanted to continue this dialogue and were not discouraged,” Scott-Felder says.
Kendall Weaver ’20, Wofford’s 36th Presidential International Scholar, also presented her research from her experience studying international aid in the Middle East via a Zoom virtual exhibition. The senior art exhibition and the Presidential International Scholar exhibition are under the town hall icon at wofford.edu/coronavirus.
OneWofford and ForWoffordStudents
As the Terrier family joined the rest of the world in finding ways to cope during COVID-19, Wofford’s Office of Student Success and the Office of Advancement partnered to help students who struggled financially or with access to technology. Within the first few days of remote learning, Wofford learned of students struggling to pay for internet services and others who had outdated computers and software. A few families experienced job loss and at least one student cared for a family member with a serious health issue; no one in the family was employed and food became a concern. Another student was homeless.
Fortunately, the college was able to help through the OneWofford Fund, designed to offer assistance to students with financial needs across a variety of circumstances. It was created especially for times such as these. Now the Office of Advancement and the offices of Student Success and Financial Aid are working together to raise scholarship funds so students will have access to a pool of scholarship funds that will make their return to Wofford possible. ForWoffordStudents is part of The Wofford Fund, the college’s unrestricted annual fund, which gives the college flexibility to use the donations to best help students.
by Dudley Brown