Thriving in the new normal

Thriving in the new normal


To be sure, these are unusual and uncertain times.

But as Rowan University students and faculty begin online learning and teaching during the coronavirus pandemic, a sophisticated, multi-faceted plan is in place to support students—and help ensure student success. 

“Thriving in a New Normal” is an initiative developed by a broad group of administrators and staff from offices throughout the University with the single goal of helping students—individually and collectively. It focuses on Rowan’s undergraduate students while graduate and professional programs serve their students with specific support.

“On a personal level, we are all experiencing challenges right now,” says Vice President for Student Affairs Rory McElwee, who oversees student success and student life. “Students are concerned about finances, health and their studies. Some have concerns about housing or technology during remote learning. Others have concerns about losing their income.” 

“The retention planning team has been meeting virtually daily to take a look at how we can address the success and well-being of our students,” she adds. “We want to make sure everybody stays engaged and is connected.”

While the Thriving in the New Normal website offers information from various University offices and a comprehensive FAQ section where students’ common concerns are addressed, much of the responsibility to assist students falls on the shoulders of advisors, faculty members and many other dedicated staff, McElwee notes.

“It may seem strange to say this, but as the Rowan community rallies to meet this challenge, we’re developing strengths and solutions that will make a difference in student success long after this crisis passes,” said Dean of Students Kevin Koett. “There’s no substitute for the in-person vibrance of a thriving university community, but we are finding new ways to create a sense of connectedness and support. Fortunately, most of the building blocks were already in place for both students and staff.”

Faculty and advisors team up
Every semester, faculty members complete a progress survey for every full-term undergraduate course through the Rowan Success Network (RSN), also known as Starfish. On April 6, a second survey will go out to faculty. The results will help the University identify students who may be struggling, allowing advisors and support staff to intervene and provide resources and assistance to students who aren’t engaging in class.

“The team will be notified so that we can follow up right away,” McElwee says. “We’re looking at multiple sources of information to identify students who might fall off track.”

RSN also has a “Raise My Hand” feature that gives students the opportunity to request help, whether it’s financial, academic, wellness or access to technology, a category recently added.

Solutions to Common Challenges
With campus computer labs closed, “not every student has the technology they need for online learning,” McElwee says. Students experiencing problems completing coursework due to technology issues are encouraged to contact the Dean of Students:

Also, Rowan's IRT department has created a collection of resources to assist with any technological difficulties students may have, she notes.

For students with financial challenges, concrete resources have been put in place through recommendations from Rowan’s Affordability Task Force and the commitment of the entire institution to the pillars of affordability and access. For instance, the Bursar’s Office has suspended assessing late fees or placing holds on student accounts for those enrolled in a payment plan who are unable to pay their April 1 bill on time. For families that have experienced a loss in income, students may make an income adjustment appeal through the Office of Financial Aid. The Student Emergency Assistance Program also helps those who have experienced a personal or family crisis that would jeopardize their status as a student.

The SHOP and Fresh For All, both of which offer food free of charge, are in operation for students facing food insecurity. 

Advisors at the ready
Through any means necessary—email, FaceTime, WebEx, Zoom meetings or phone calls—Rowan advisors are ready to assist students, McElwee says. Each reached out to their students last week to offer assistance and gather their concerns about technology or other issues through a brief survey.

“Advisors are fully ready to go,” says McElwee noting that the University’s dozens of advisors are prepared for everything from counseling students through the registration process to helping them find resources to being a friendly, helpful voice to those who may feel isolated during virtual learning.

“Advisors are conveying not just information about academics, but, also, ‘We care about you. We are thinking about you. We’re here for you. We want you to be well. We want you to succeed.’”

Live chats soon will be available for more of Rowan’s offices, too, according to McElwee.

“We are thinking about every possible avenue to communicate with students, parents and families,” McElwee says.

Rowan Cares
To ensure that students get the support they need, the Rowan Cares Team continues to meet virtually. 

The team works to identify students who may be experiencing difficulty academically, socially, or due to a life circumstance. The team includes Dean of Students Kevin Koett, representatives from academic advising, Greek Affairs, Financial Aid and a host of other departments. Faculty and staff, parents, and even other students can notify the Cares Team if they are concerned about a student.

Promoting well-being, engagement
Now more than ever, mental and physical well-being are crucial for everyone. Campus Rec and Healthy Campus Initiatives are offering wellness and workout tips via social media, while the Student Center & Campus Activities is planning some virtual programs for students.

In the works is a virtual trivia series and twice-weekly gaming tournaments. The SCCA staff also is looking into offering virtual bingo and virtual open mic nights.

Additionally, Leadership Rowan will continue to offer virtual programming for students to finish their leadership certificates, while the executive board of the Student Government Association will continue to meet virtually and will hold virtual office hours. A virtual SGA Senate meeting is slated for April 6.

All virtual programming—from SCCA events to career workshops—is available via ProfLink.

Supporting charities
Community service is a longstanding tradition at Rowan, especially each spring. Back to the ’Boro, the annual event in which Rowan students assist Glassboro residents with home projects, has been cancelled this year. But two cancer fundraisers are expected to continue virtually.

The Rowan Chapter of Colleges Against Cancer is looking to take Relay for Life, the all-night American Cancer Society fundraiser, into the virtual realm, while St. Baldrick’s Day, in which students shave their heads to fund pediatric cancer research, also will have an online component.

Helping students who remain
Though nearly all of the University’s 5,000 residential students have returned home, approximately 200 have remained on campus due to hardships.

Gourmet Dining Services remains open to those students, providing nearly 220 takeout meals each day. On an average day during a typical semester, Gourmet would serve about 11,000 meals, according to Liz Jordan, resident district manager.

“The students have been really positive,” says Jordan, adding that the University’s move to online learning meant that the Gourmet Dining staff had to move quickly to distribute or freeze excess foods. Gourmet set up a farmer’s table in the student center and encouraged students to take fresh fruits and vegetables. Some of the remaining food was donated to a local fire company for distribution to needy families, Jordan says.

Gourmet’s dietician specialist, Melissa Eaton, is providing well-being tips via social media to encourage all students to make healthy food choices.

Teamwork at every turn
“We’ve just seen incredible teamwork here at Rowan,” says McElwee. “At every turn, people are really bonding together, with a lot of creative thinking—and a lot of hard work—to serve our students.”