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Adapt & Grow

OCU has proven our resiliency in the face of challenges time and time again. We will navigate these uncertain times with decisive confidence, remain true to our mission, and emerge from this crisis as the strong, vibrant university we have always been. —President Martha Burger
The annual matriculation ceremony ushered freshmen into university life. Students proceeded in small groups through campus and met in a variety of locations instead of just the Kirkpatrick Auditorium to allow for social distancing. Photo by Josh Robinson

—By Lindsey Marcus & University Communications

Early in the pandemic, Oklahoma City University convened its Emergency Operations Center members and worked to prepare for numerous possibilities and keep OCU safe. Oklahoma had its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on March 6, and on March 11, OCU announced classes would move online following spring break for at least two weeks.

A week later, all but essential university employees had transitioned to remote work, and a day after that, it was confirmed—the rest of the semester would be online.

When staff began returning to campus in June, signs reminded the OCU community to wear masks, socially distance, wash hands often, use certain doors as entrances and others as exits, and adhere to lower room capacities. In July, OCU implemented a COVID-19 alert level system, deans announced plans for in-person classes, and OCU modified the fall 2020 academic calendar to end classes before Thanksgiving. The university similarly modified the spring schedule, starting it a week later in January and skipping spring break.

Signs throughout the university remind the OCU community to maintain social distancing and wear masks. Photo by Josh Robinson

Campus housing operated dorm move-ins by appointment only, with students cleared after taking a COVID-19 test.

President Martha Burger sent a video message to the OCU community early in the semester, congratulating Stars on a safe start to the semester and taking the opportunity to encourage continued safety.

“Perhaps the hardest thing of all, do not gather in big groups or crowds, not on campus and not off campus,” she said. “I know it doesn’t feel normal, but if we do the hard work now, we will be much more likely to be able to finish fall 2020 together and then come back together again for spring 2021. I’m proud of our efforts as a community and have every confidence we will continue protecting each other by adhering to the protocols.”

Incoming freshmen lined up six feet apart and proceeded through the arch on their way to matriculation to begin the fall semester. Photos by Josh Robinson

A Look Back

From the time it was founded in 1904, the university has faced not one, but two global pandemics. In 1918, the then-named Oklahoma Methodist University was confronted with an outbreak of the Spanish Flu. Students were given an “influenza vacation,” resulting in an extended school year and the removal of all but three school holidays.

Student Life

OCU has reinterpreted everything from music rehearsals to cleaning protocols to the matriculation procession. The tradition of older students helping freshmen move into campus housing continued this fall, but with masks, social distancing, and spaced out timing to minimize crowds. Photos by Josh Robinson

Once again, a pandemic has changed the way students live and learn on the OCU campus.

In the spring, the Student Activities Council held online gatherings such as a meet-and-greet with pets and “Zoom Got Talent” to help students stay connected.

Incoming students were welcomed in the fall with Stars Week, featuring outdoor and virtual activities. Outdoor events included a screening of “Knives Out” and an open mic night. Virtually, students participated in diversity and inclusion training and a social media challenge. Additionally, OCU offered affinity spaces for connection to students of color, students who identify as LGBTQIA+, and those desiring an interfaith community.

Although the school year held many uncertainties, the Student Affairs staff remained optimistic.

“Students adjusted to life back on campus and are adhering to updated campus policies, practices, and procedures fairly well,” said Dr. Levi Harrel, dean of students. “We are learning about navigating the unknown together.”

Student Government Association President Abigail Banks hopes to create an environment of positivity for her fellow Stars.

“I truly believe that we can make it through this semester and come out at the end better, stronger, and closer than ever before,” she said.

Honors students gathered during Stars Week in August to meet and greet—outside, at a distance this year. Photos by Josh Robinson

Religious Life

Chapel is held on Facebook Live, with singing limited to soloists or ensembles, said the Rev. Elizabeth Horton-Ware, director of Religious Life. Evensong takes place in the Pavilion, weather permitting, and is shared on their Instagram account, @ religiouslifeocu.

Housing and Meals

Residential Life has also been busy with modifications. Beyond mask and social distancing requirements, the team removed triple room spaces from Walker Hall, increased deep cleanings, enacted new visitation policies, provided disinfectant throughout common spaces, and identified isolation housing for students as needed.

Students also noticed changes in the Caf, from expanded hours and a new overflow room to PPE-wearing staff serving food. As a final measure, plexiglass shields and contactless readers were installed at all dining locations.

In the Classroom

Artist-in-Residence Vincent Sandoval teaches a jazz class. A physician assistant student attends class with students spaced farther apart and all members wearing masks. Photos by Josh Robinson

Transitioning to virtual learning this past spring and preparing for the fall semester back on campus was a complicated endeavor. Deans have worked closely with Campus Technology Services to equip classrooms with technology for e-learning. Here are some other innovative ways OCU has modified the classroom experience in light of COVID-19:

Petree College of Arts and Sciences

No stranger to experiments, Dr. Stephen Prilliman, associate professor and chair of chemistry, has taken new approaches in the classroom. Small groups do guided-inquiry activities over Zoom while in the same room or in their dorms. Lab classes have extra supplies to limit how much students touch the same objects.

Finding inspiration on her back porch this summer, Lynette Atchley, instructor of the class Art by Women of Color, created a makeshift ceramic studio with her children playing nearby while she taught remotely.

Meinders School of Business

Long before anyone knew what “COVID-19” meant, said Dean Steven Agee, the business school had executive classrooms equipped for distance learning, an instructional designer for distance learning, and fully online MBA programs.

Using JoinProf.com, created by IT professor Dr. Robert Greve and his business partner, Luke Woodard, students can remotely participate in live class discussions.

Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Entertainment

For the dance school, collaborations are socially distanced or digital. In class, students are restricted to a six-foot taped-off square, said Dean John Bedford. Students alternate between online and in-person classes and received portable dance floors. With new technology, faculty can interact remotely with students, allowing those who might be quarantined to continue classes.

Campus Technology worked with dance school faculty to come up with a solution they call “Zoom Carts,” which are utility carts loaded with a big-screen television, computer, adjustable video camera, and a microphone, all controlled by the instructor. Students can participate in classes remotely in real time via Zoom. The instructor controls the camera angle with a remote and wears a headset with a microphone so students in the room and watching from afar can hear their instruction. The “Zoom Carts” themselves can be positioned in various parts of the classroom.

OCU’s long-running dance companies are on hiatus, but during the pandemic, OCU has created a virtual dance company, The Star Dancers, said Jo Rowan, Dance Department chair and American Spirit Dance Company director. The company, including 174 students, will perform in the virtual Star Dancers Christmas Kids Show, which will include 10 pieces of choreography, plus three senior solo shows and an introduction by Santa. It is being recorded with safety rules as a priority, Rowan said.

OCU School of Law

The School of Law has also taken many precautions to keep its students safe. Students are seated at least six feet apart in classrooms, with McLaughlin Hall accommodating larger classes. Class times have been adjusted to allow for cleaning between classes and to eliminate large numbers of students arriving and leaving at the same time.

First-year students have all their classes in the same room on the same day, with assigned seats. Some classes are held partly online or entirely online, and all semester exams will be taken before Thanksgiving.

OCU School of Theatre and Wanda L. Bass School of Music

Sophia Schölch, music performance junior. Photo by Josh Robinson

The show must go on—and indeed it will—in groundbreaking ways. Fall performances do not have live audiences but are being broadcast to audiences online. Music’s fall lineup included “Monty Python’s Spamalot Socially Distant Concert-ish Version” and a six-person opera, Mozart’s “Così fan Tutte.” Theatre planned similar socially distanced modifications for two mainstage and two StageII shows.

“Applause is a beautiful thing, but, as we have all experienced,” Dean Mark Parker told students, “no joy is greater than when we and our peers grow in a cast community.”

Rehearsals look a lot different, too, with mask coverings for the choir, sanitizing wipes in practice rooms, improved air quality, and resized classes and ensembles. Costume fittings are minimized and involve face masks and shields, along with hand sanitizer. “We’re going to grab this opportunity and use the improbable to drive us quicker than ever to the remarkable,” Parker said.

Kramer School of Nursing

Kramer School of Nursing conducted a drive-through pinning ceremony for graduating nursing students in May. Student Keely McGough poses with professor Gina Crawford after driving through a gauntlet of cheers to receive her pin and program. Dean Lois Salmeron greets students. Photos by Josh Robinson

The Kramer School of Nursing has many nursing programs, and Dean Lois Salmeron said each has adapted to deliver the curriculum in the best manner suited to the content and requirements.

Programs that teach in person are the traditional Bachelor of Science in Nursing and the BSN-to-Doctor of Nursing Practice, which require skills training and caring for “real” people in clinical sites. For other programs, students are able to attend sessions via Zoom, on campus, or a combination of the two. Although some faculty and staff are working remotely, all classes are taught in person on campus by faculty.

Several OCU alumni and students who serve as healthcare workers have been fighting the pandemic on the front lines. Claire Pedulla (BSN ’19) works in a quarantine COVID-19 unit at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center ICU in April. Jory Brownd (BSN ’17), an active duty Navy nurse, was called in April to serve on the USNS Mercy, one of the Navy’s two hospital ships, to free up hospital space in Los Angeles for COVID-19 patients. Read more about Stars on the front lines on OCU’s blog: okcu.edu/nova.

Giving Day

None of the work of operating a university in a global pandemic is easy or simple, as the faculty and staff can attest. It requires the dedication and commitment of the campus community and the support of people who love Oklahoma City University and its students.

April 30 was OCU’s first #TrueBlueOCU Giving Day online crowdfunding campaign (read more on the back cover of the magazine). Several in-person events had to be canceled, but the OCU community surpassed the $150,000 goal. Donations totaled more than $200,000 to the OCU Fund, supporting student scholarships and the university’s greatest needs.

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