Editor's note: This story first appeared in the winter 2020 issue of the Hearts Together, a special joint campus magazine publication of Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor.

Mind, body, and spirit. The pandemic attacked all three, yet Concordia employees have nimbly shifted to reinforce the university’s holistic approach to educating, nurturing, and equipping its students.

As a trusted physician for the nationally renowned Children’s Wisconsin, Dr. Ernie Stremski, who also serves as a professor within CUW’s School of Pharmacy, is a tremendous asset to Concordia. He stepped up to the plate this year to advise and ensure best practices as Concordia’s Student Health Center staff, led by Renee Gosselin, RN (right), implemented the multitude of new treatment, testing, and safety protocols brought on by COVID.

MIND—When it came to matters of the mind, Concordia’s solid history in the online learning sphere has proven a remarkable asset. Concordia has led in this arena since 1998 and as a result fared far better than most in the about-face switch from in person to entirely online last spring.

Still, a vital piece of the collegiate experience—especially at the undergraduate level—exists in the on-campus experience. That value motivated university employees to do all they could to achieve Concordia’s educational mission with as much face time as was safely possible. Under the leadership of Senior Vice President Dr. Gretchen Jameson, the university rolled out its COVID Conscious Campus initiative. The effort focused on the behaviors and mindset necessary for campus wellness in order to meet the challenge of the pandemic and keep campus open, all while protecting the well-being and spirit of the Concordia community.

Related: A time for personal growth

“We committed this year to offering the fulsomeness of the Concordia experience so that as many individuals in our community can grow and develop through a Christ-centered higher education,” said Jameson. “We do that with excellence online, yet we believe the uncommon nature of the Concordia community is best achieved when we can be face-to-face as much as possible.”

The university adopted a hybrid model of online and in-person instruction for 2020–21, and welcomed residents to its respective campuses beginning in early August. Those on campus were encouraged to limit in-person interactions whenever possible, always mask up indoors, and daily complete an online symptom tracker to aid in the health centers’ contact tracing efforts. Concordia remains transparent with its efforts through online dashboards that report the university’s COVID-19 cases.

Related: A time to take action

BODY—This year attention to “the body,” or students’ physical and emotional health, became a leading value. For the CUAA campus, this prompted the addition of a 24-hour telehealth service, called CUAA Health, that’s available to undergraduates every day of the week. CUAA Health supplements the services already offered through the campus’ Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) department.

Among its features is a resource named TalkNow, which grants students immediate access to a mental health counselor through an app. This service becomes especially vital in light of national data that shows COVID-19 has caused alarming rates of anxiety, sadness, and loneliness among college students. University Business reported in May that one in five college students (out of the 2,086 students surveyed) said their mental health had “significantly worsened” during the pandemic. That same survey found that more than half of the students polled wouldn’t know where to seek help.

“The key word here is access,” says CUAA Dean of Students John Rathje. “When in doubt about what is needed, our students can easily contact a health professional and get immediate answers. It takes the guessing game out of things for a student who is already in a vulnerable position.”

SPIRIT—Whether online or in person, Concordia’s Campus Ministry teams have produced a steady and robust stream of faith growth opportunities. Last spring CUAA Campus Pastor Randy Duncan eagerly picked up the charge to continue Daily Chapel in a virtual capacity despite sufficient roadblocks. His “Home Chapel” offered a daily Zoom one-man production of chapel messages and acoustic tunes for faithful audiences of students and employees.

On the CUW side, COVID-conscious Daily Chapels resumed this fall with limited in-person capacity and strong encouragement to tune in via livestream. The Campus Ministry Leadership Team cast a wide net with its offerings and effectively pivoted when necessary to aid in the mitigation effort. And campus tradition Tuesday Noon Bible Study returned in August in a virtual format to offer yet another opportunity for faith formation and much-needed fellowship.

Related: Timing is essential

“We’re in the midst of very troubling times, but Concordia is blessed to be able to openly talk about the One who never changes, who is always present, and who knows our needs better than we do,” says CUW Campus Pastor Steve Smith. “Christ got himself into trouble for us and became a bridge over troubled waters in order to connect us back to God. This truth certainly brings us peace each day in a troubled world, as our theme for the academic year highlights.”

The winter 2020 Hearts Together magazine hit mailboxes in mid-November. View a PDF version of the magazine here. If you are not on our mailing list, but are interested in receiving a free copy, email Jennifer.Hackmann@cuaa.edu.

— This story is written by Kali Thiel, director of university communications for Concordia University Ann Arbor and Wisconsin. She may be reached at kali.thiel@cuw.edu or 262-243-2149.

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