By Gayle Guynup / Illustration by Laura Bucholtz ’04
It takes a team to deal with a situation as overwhelming as the Coronavirus pandemic. At Ringling College, that team included a multitude of unsung heroes, people you may not hear about but whose contributions were crucial to the College’s efforts to respond to the impacts of COVID-19.
Departments like Public Safety and Facilities worked on-campus throughout the pandemic to help ensure a safe and clean environment for everyone. Institutional Technology (IT) was instrumental to the College’s successful transition to remote instruction in March with notice of just two weeks. We can’t forget food services, led by our partner Chartwell’s, which made it possible for students, faculty, and staff to dine safely.
Public Safety provided a constant presence, on both the main and the Museum campuses, throughout the pandemic, helping to reassure students, families, faculty, and staff. “I am incredibly proud of the women and men who comprise Public Safety and their contributions in response to COVID-19,” said Don Strom, director of public safety. “Not once have they shied from their responsibilities to help ensure the campus could remain operational.” In addition to their typical duties, Public Safety officers stepped up to handle tasks to assist other areas whose staff was working away from campus. For example, the team was instrumental in ensuring proactive signage was in place across campus by helping to identify the types of signs needed and the locations in which they should be placed. Additionally, the Public Safety team helped coach students, faculty, and staff on the new behavior of using face coverings and helped manage access to buildings. “I think we owe so much to these team members and their counterparts in so many other offices on campus,” Strom notes.
Facilities, led by Viron Lynch, assistant vice president for facilities, worked to implement a series of protocols to provide enhanced cleaning across campus in an effort to mitigate the risk of infection. “We started additional wipe-downs, disinfecting of spaces, handles, and other commonly touched areas, which we do anytime there is a positive case on campus,” said Lynch. “We followed a basic protocol that we already had in place, expanding it when we found it necessary,” he said, adding that the biggest challenge was getting supplies when so many organizations were needing increased quantities.
The Facilities team also worked across campus to assess spaces to understand the impact of physical distancing on our space capacity. “We worked with academic affairs to determine the number of people who could be in a classroom at any one time and to identify the number of workstations that would be available, all of which helped reduce the density in spaces across campus,” Lynch said.
Along with Facilities, Environmental Health and Safety played a crucial role in helping the College protect the health and well-being of students, faculty, and staff. Carl Powell, director of environmental health and safety, is originally from England and has been with Ringling College for just over 14 years.
“I married an American woman who dragged me over, and now I wouldn’t leave,” Powell said. “I came to America in May of 2006 and applied for a number of different positions. Though I had three offers, it was the job at Ringling College that was the most appealing. The College had never had a director of environmental health and safety before, so it was a clean slate and I could build a department from the ground up,” he said.
“When COVID hit us in March, we had to think about how to keep people safe, not only here on campus, but also at home, where many faculty and staff members were working. We wrote ergonomic guidelines to assist people in setting up their home offices in a safe way,” Powell said.
Once the school went into lockdown, there were many new procedures that had to be established, including cleaning and disinfecting protocols, training, and guidelines for safely entering buildings. “From mid-March until the students returned in September, all of the buildings were locked down. We went to an electronic access system for buildings, which Facilities, Public Safety, and IT helped to set up. Everyone – staff, faculty, and students- all have badges that allow them access to buildings relevant to their needs. It is a change we have long been considering, and COVID gave us a reason to accelerate our schedule and get it done,” he said.
Facilities, Public Safety, and Environmental Health were also involved in identifying the types and locations of signage that was needed to help ensure safety protocols were clearly identified across campus. “It seemed like such a minor project,” Powell said, “but every building and public space has its own signage, so it was a much bigger project than I anticipated.” He went on to say that the project “really made me appreciate all of the work that goes into the creative process.”
Of the combined efforts of everyone across campus, Powell said, “It was amazing to see the amount of work that every department, every single person put in to make the protocols work. And it has all paid off.”
These areas represent only a small fraction of all the heroes at Ringling College making it possible for students to continue learning during this incredibly difficult time. There is also Institutional Technology staff, who worked tirelessly to support students, faculty, and staff as they transitioned from in-person instruction and on-campus work to remote learning and working; ensured provision of laptops for staff; supported first-time Zoom users across the College; and established innovative protocols to enable students to access the power of Ringling’s computing resources from anywhere with an internet connection. Our dining service partner, Chartwell’s, adjusted its dining spaces to mitigate risk of spread, worked with us to create more flexible meal plans that reduced the number of times students had to come to the dining facilities, and introduced an incredibly popular food truck that allowed students and employees to procure food outdoors. The staff at the Ringling College Museum Campus found innovative ways to bring art exhibitions and classes to the greater Sarasota-Manatee community. And there are many, many more.
“I couldn’t be more grateful to every single member of our amazing Ringling College community,” said Larry R. Thompson, president of Ringling College of Art and Design. “I thank everyone at Ringling College who has contributed to creating and maintaining an environment dedicated to the health and well-being of our community.”